Picatinny Arsenal firefighters navigate evolving hazardous materials exercise

By Eric KowalAugust 10, 2023

Firefighters assigned to the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department (PAFD) responded to a call related to a hazardous materials spill as part of mutual aid assistance with the nearby Dover Fire Department.
The July 7 call was part of an exercise to test the department’s emergency response assets.
Firefighters assigned to the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department (PAFD) responded to a call related to a hazardous materials spill as part of mutual aid assistance with the nearby Dover Fire Department.
The July 7 call was part of an exercise to test the department’s emergency response assets. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photos by Todd Mozes and Jesse Glass)
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PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - On what was arguably one of the hottest days of the summer, firefighters assigned to the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department (PAFD) responded to a call related to a hazardous materials spill as part of mutual aid assistance with the nearby Dover Fire Department.

The July 7 call was part of an exercise to test the department’s emergency response assets. While firefighters knew that they were going to take part in a drill, they did not know the details of how the training scenario would unfold.

As the exercise evolved, role players in the Directorate of Public Works reported a hazardous materials spill on a loading dock. Using dry ice and water to simulate a spill added authenticity to the scene.

Once notified through a call to the police, emergency responders reported to the spill location, where a role player told them of casualties inside the building.

Because of the uncertainty of the nature of the spill, the first responding officer kept his distance from the caller at the scene. When firefighters were told what chemicals were involved, they approached the scene after putting on their hazardous materials response gear.

With the heat index in the upper 90s, safety protocols were put into place. The responding officers were challenged by having to breathe through a mask while wearing extra layers of protective equipment, potentially triggering a heat-related medical issue.

“Train like you fight,” Fortunato Rubio, Picatinny Arsenal’s director of operations, said of the realism created by including high temperatures as part of the scenario.   “This could happen in real world. It could be 110 degrees when and if the fire department gets a call to respond.”

The firefighters removed a casualty from the scene, then decontaminated all others affected by the spill.

After the role players were rendered safe or treated for exposure, fire fighters then cleaned and contained the spill site.

Exercise evaluators, including members of the garrison command team, the installation’s emergency response manager, and the PAFD fire chief, watched and tracked the actions and decisions of the responding team. After the exercise, a “hot wash” review of actions taken allowed role players to discuss decision-making processes and tactics.

“As always, I was very proud of the firefighters we have here at Picatinny,” said Chief Christopher Foster. “During the spill exercise the firefighters showed they are extremely well prepared by their assistant chiefs and captains.

“The entire group that responded met the intent behind the exercise and successfully completed all the objectives. The beauty of an exercise is, as a team, we can evaluate and learn different techniques in a safe environment. Each person gets to practice and learn in a controlled environment then discuss ways to improve.

“The overall objective for the exercise was to demonstrate our ability to establish command, set up communications, assess the situation, develop an incident action plan, and perform practical application of the plan. Everyone on scene did their job and completed the objectives extremely well even in hot conditions. As the fire chief, I expected them to be successful, and I was extremely excited to see them recognize different parts of the scenario and react appropriately. I felt the firefighters left no doubt that they train and prepare for these types of events very well.”

Earlier this year, the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department (PAFD) was selected for Small Fire Department of the Year by U.S. Army Installation Management Command Directorate-Sustainment (ID-Sustainment).

The PAFD works to ensure the safety of military personnel, their families, and the public through off the installation through mutual aid agreements with local municipalities.

Firefighters assigned to the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department (PAFD) responded to a call related to a hazardous materials spill as part of mutual aid assistance with the nearby Dover Fire Department.
The July 7 call was part of an exercise to test the department’s emergency response assets.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Firefighters assigned to the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department (PAFD) responded to a call related to a hazardous materials spill as part of mutual aid assistance with the nearby Dover Fire Department.
The July 7 call was part of an exercise to test the department’s emergency response assets. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photos by Todd Mozes and Jesse Glass)
VIEW ORIGINAL
Firefighters assigned to the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department (PAFD) responded to a call related to a hazardous materials spill as part of mutual aid assistance with the nearby Dover Fire Department.
The July 7 call was part of an exercise to test the department’s emergency response assets.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Firefighters assigned to the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department (PAFD) responded to a call related to a hazardous materials spill as part of mutual aid assistance with the nearby Dover Fire Department.
The July 7 call was part of an exercise to test the department’s emergency response assets. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photos by Todd Mozes and Jesse Glass)
VIEW ORIGINAL