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A hazardous materials team sprays a plume of water vapor to disperse a gas and allow a team member to shut off a simulated leaking gas valve. More than five area emergency services teams were trained by Oklahoma State University fire service training instructors in hazardous materials containment and decontamination procedures Jan. 24-28 at Fort Sill.

FORT SILL, Okla. -- Reynolds Army Community Hospital's decontamination team reinforced its readiness to cope with a hazardous materials (hazmat) incident during a training and certification event on post Jan. 24-28.

Fire services training instructors from Oklahoma State University conducted a 40-hour hazardous materials operations class that certified teams to control a hazardous spill or release. The class included initial decontamination procedures for people who come in contact with hazardous materials.

Capt. Dane Kappler, chief of the RACH decontamination team, said the certification course helped his team comply with a U.S. Army Medical Command requirement that began Sept. 11, 2001 for all Army hospitals to have a hazmat team trained to the operations level. Although the RACH team was trained to the standard, Kappler said the regulation didn't define what this compliance entailed. RACH leadership decided to expand its decontamination team's understanding and knowledge by adhering to the Fort Sill Fire and Emergency Services Branch's certification standard.

Clint Langford, branch assistant fire chief, said the addition of certified hazmat personnel at the hospital will provide a second level of defense in the event of a natural or terrorist hazmat incident. Although firefighters are trained to a higher standard, when a decontamination tent is not set up at the hospital, those medical hazmat personnel could serve at the operations level of understanding as extra responders augmenting the fire department's trained personnel.

When a hazardous materials emergency occurs on post, the Fort Sill fire department hazmat team responds, contains the material and begins decontamination of anyone affected by the spill or release. Those people are then transported to RACH for a secondary, more thorough decontamination process.

"It's good for our hospital team to know exactly what the fire department is doing before they send people to us," said Kappler. "That way we can provide better follow-up care and ensure our hospital stays free of any contaminants."

He added in some situations hazmat victims may be transported to the hospital prior to the arrival of the fire department.

This on-scene, initial response training gave his team a better understanding of its responsibilities should that occur.

Kappler immediately recognized the benefit of the certification training as OSU instructors went more in-depth on specific types of hazards his team might face.

"Previously we'd trained to consider and respond to hazards such as a chemical, biological or radiological emergency, but these instructors used examples such as dealing with a sulfuric acid spill or an alcohol-based fuel and how different materials might change a hazmat team's response," he said.

The course consisted of 32 hours of classroom and hands-on training. Following a written test, the class concluded with eight hours of practical exercises to test what students learned in the classroom. The exercises began with team members having to get their required gear on correctly. Dale Winham, an OSU instructor, briefed the RACH crew on what would be expected of them and said the team would pass or fail as a team. Already checking each other's gear out, this stipulation reinforced the value to ensure each team member was ready to face each hazmat scenario.

The team was tested on product absorption, vapor dispersal and emergency decontamination scenarios.

In product absorption, applying an absorbent material, in this case dirt to a diesel fuel spill, was only the beginning of the test. Winham graded the team on its adherence to approach the spill site upwind so as not to breathe in any vapors. Then, once they began to cover the spilled fuel, he watched close to make sure none entered the contamination area.

Having passed, the team moved onto the vapor dispersal scenario. Employing a couple hand-held hoses from a firetruck, the team employed a heavy mist of water vapor to drive a gas cloud away. This enabled them to reach an open gas main and shut off the valve.

The final test, victim decontamination, required the team to move a person out of a contamination area, remove what contaminants and soiled gear they could then prepare the person for transport to the hospital.

The one-time hazardous materials operations training does require annual refresher courses to keep emergency response personnel up to date with hazmat standards.

Page last updated Thu February 10th, 2011 at 12:17