AFD: Recruits complete hazardous materials drills

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Moving around in "banana suits" Albany Fire Department recruits went through life-saving decontamination drills Wednesday at the department's training center.

The yellow suits were of Tyvek material, which companies such as DuPont make to protect emergency responders against hazardous materials. The skill performance drill for the day included dexterity practice in suits and heavy duty gloves.

With two 8-hour days of classroom lecture, outdoor skill training and a third day of tests the recruits prepared for certification from state and federal agencies.

"Fourteen of the 15 recruits are prospective employees of the fire department," said fire training Capt. Eugene Anderson. "We anticipate that all 14 will be hired providing they pass this course."

The training included dexterity tests where a recruit wearing a full Tyvek suit, boots, an 18-pound air tank and thick rubber-like gloves were required to disassemble and reassemble a Lego block construction.

The training was paid for by a federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security, said Greg Moreno, trainer in charge. The program, given by trainers from the Texas A & M System organization, included but was not limited to the dexterity test.

There were stations where the recruits, still wearing the heavy gloves had to rip a quarter-inch wide bit of Litmus paper and dip it in liquid to test for acid or base. This kind of test would help first responders decide what kind of hazardous material they were dealing with.

"There are several levels of response that we deal with," Moreno said "The first, awareness, is when people report the danger. Next is the operational level, which we are dealing with here."

Judging from classroom discussion before the outdoor drill, the operational level of response to hazardous materials involved getting people away from danger, decontamination procedures and evacuation.

In the next step, the technical level of response, technical staff trained to deal with hazardous material hands on would come in and get rid of the material.

The fire department has firefighters trained to deal with various types of dangerous materials such as chemical, biological and radiological threats.

One of threats that the recruits trained for was dealing with a banana suit that was torn open, contaminating their fellow firefighter.

They trained to take 13 steps in the correct order in the emergency decontamination process within five minutes. Taking longer than five minutes to complete the process meant instant failure in the course.

Failure to identify the victim and failure to assess the victim's air supply would also mean instant rejection.

"What this means is that if I have a problem and my suit is ripped," said recruit Jordan Markley, "They'll keep me alive."

The hazardous material response class of 21 was rounded out by participants from Marine Corps Logistic Base-Albany, neighboring fire departments and Dougherty County government.

"What we are doing here today," Moreno said, "is part of our national response to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and hazardous materials."