News: Service members practice for hazardous material safety
Story by Lance Cpl. James Smith
IWAKUNI, Japan - Service members and firefighters aboard station took the opportunity to train as first responders in a Hazardous Materials Awareness and Operations course provided by Bucks County Community College Department of Public Safety from Doylestown, Penn., held at the station firehouse June 3-7, 2013.
The course taught students several techniques in dealing with hazardous substances, including identification, what type of personal-protective equipment is needed for specific dilemmas and the order of controlling a spill.
For a majority of students, they had no prior knowledge of HAZMAT operations or the way certain chemicals affect the environment.
"I never knew there was a lot that can go wrong in my hometown," said Lance Cpl. Sabastian Cronen, station administration clerk. "I'm now aware my hometown has farms that use fertilizers and a lot of stuff in the fertilizers can be hazardous. Plus, I never would've thought that milk would be harmful toward aquatic life. Now I know that it sucks oxygen out of the water."
During the first two days of training, students learned the essentials of using an Emergency Response Guidebook, which holds information on the potential hazards certain chemicals possess, evacuation processes and emergency response procedures.
The next couple of days provided students with examples of certain operations, such as how to build an underflow dam, performing vapor suppression and properly executing an emergency decontamination.
On the final day of training, instructors tasked students with completing a 110-question multiple-choice exam and five HAZMAT scenario operations while wearing a protective suit.
All students passed each portion of the final exam.
"Everyone did very well with the practical skills," said James Johnson, course instructor. "Military and firefighters gravitate more towards hands-on versus cognitive learning."
With training complete, servicemembers now have the skills to respond in the event of a chemical crisis, whether it’s a simple spill or a terrorist attack.
"Military personnel are going out to places where there are weapons of mass destruction: dirty bombs, mustard gases and chlorine," said Johnson. "It gives them background from the civilian side and it helps on the military side."
Along with the skills, instructors made one constant evident during the course.
"The essential lesson behind this course is safety," said Joseph Moehler, course instructor. "Every time you learn something new, it will protect you and everyone else around you."
Even if service members don't pursue a career in HAZMAT operations, the training provides those service members with valuable skills they can use when applying for jobs on the civilian side.
"You can have a (Department of Defense) firefighter in the states that looks for job openings and wants to move his family to another (geographic) area in the states, and training officers and chiefs check to see what type of certifications they have," said Johnson. "They're well ahead of the game now from when they leave their military life and take a civil service job."
For some of the students, this will conclude their training. For others, another two weeks of training await them as they tackle an advanced course in hazardous materials. The goal of the next course is to train students in how to work with certain types of containers as well as performing operations in a vapor-tight HAZMAT suit.