VICKSBURG, Miss. - Firefighters have a dangerous job: entering burning buildings, performing rope rescue and vehicle extrications. Recently, Army Reserve firefighters added another precarious situation to their training.
Soldiers with the 683rd, 493rd and 379th Engineer Detachments (Firefighter), all out of Pascagoula, Mississippi, and the 468th Engineer Det. (Firefighter) out of Danvers, Massachusetts, participated in hazardous material technician training in Pascagoula Aug. 18 to 29.
"With this certification, there are things we can do that a normal firefighter can't do," said Sgt. Michael Higgins, 683rd Engineer Det., team chief. "We can actually go behind certain lines if there is a chemical that is dangerous in that environment, we can actually go in and get right up on that product if we need to rescue a person or even take care of that situation, whether it's with water or with certain extinguishers, whatever the proper extinguishment is, we can do it. Every firefighter can't."
The Soldiers received certification on HAZMAT testing and rescue training.
"On top of receiving the certification, it just gave us better knowledge of hazardous materials and how to react to them, whether it's rescuing someone in a HAZMAT area who has been exposed or not, what to look for and what proper (protective gear) to wear at that time," said Higgins, a Memphis, Tennessee, native.
The goal of this training was to prepare the units for an upcoming exercise.
"The mission is an urban search and rescue for us. It's homeland defense," said Sgt. 1st Class Bruce Dunckel, 493rd Engineer Det. (Firefighter), acting commander. "If something goes down in the United States, a natural disaster or a dirty bomb someplace, the local fire departments and emergency responders get overwhelmed, then we get alerted and we go in and we can actually operated in that dirty environment."
While the certification is preparing the unit for a training operation, there are other real-world benefits gained.
"It was important because of the unknown of rescues and calls," said Higgins. "There can be a man down in the wood and then there is an unknown chemical released. We have the knowledge to be able to test and find out what that chemical is and know the proper gear to wear to go downrange and help rescue. It's just better knowledge and understanding of any potential call we could have."
Being able to respond to any situation is important to these firefighters, but their opportunities to participate in this training are usually limited.
"In the Army Reserve we don't really get that opportunity. It goes to the (chemical) Soldiers," said Dunckel, a Battle Creek, Michigan, native. "But this makes us a more well-rounded search and rescue team."
While these opportunities aren't always available to the units, Higgins believes the training his unit has received just this past year had an exponential impact.
"I'm happy the Army has allowed us to receive the training we have received because compared to a year ago, we as a whole are just much better as a unit than we were," said Higgins. "There are so many things we can do now that we couldn't do just a year ago. That is because of the Army and the training the U.S. Army allowed us to do."
The firefighters continue to train, preparing for search and rescue missions in any contingency.