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Responders train for hazardous environments

An Albany firefighter has the gaps in his hazmat suit sealed tight with duct tape during Wednesday’s lesson in WMD management. The nine-day program is conducted at the Albany Fire Department training center on Honeysuckle Lane and is sponsored by The U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

An Albany firefighter has the gaps in his hazmat suit sealed tight with duct tape during Wednesday’s lesson in WMD management. The nine-day program is conducted at the Albany Fire Department training center on Honeysuckle Lane and is sponsored by The U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

ALBANY — Resembling spacemen from a late-night movie and sounding like bad Darth Vader imitations, Albany first responders this week learned the proper way of getting in — and out of — their bright yellow “hazmat” suits.

Some 30 public safety personnel and industry representatives gathered at the Albany Fire Department’s training facility on Honeysuckle Lane. The purpose was to learn to work in contaminated environments and stay safe while doing it.

There to teach attendees were instructors from the Texas A&M University WMD (Weapons of Mass destruction) Program. According to Dan Rand, lead instructor with the program, WMD’s could be one or more of the CBRNE group — chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear explosive — and the responder teams are charged with dealing with those potentially lethal situations while keeping themselves alive.

“This certification training is an opportunity to improve the safety of our community,” said Albany Fire Chief James Carswell. “It’s provided for us through grants by the Department of Homeland Security as protection against possible terrorist activity. We furnish some materials and the facilities but it costs us very little for the course.”

According to Rand, while industrial accidents and the like are always going to happen, the WMD program is conducted with the idea that problems are caused by a perpetrator — a criminal or terrorist who’s forcing his agenda on the area.

“This is uniquely different from a regular hazmat (hazardous material) spill,” Rand said, “The situation we prepare them for is no accident. Someone out there wants to hurt people, especially first responders.”

Rand said that in terrorist and hazmat situations, the greatest key is in slowing down and assessing the situation.

“It’s unusual for a firefighter to make a good hazmat technician,” Rand said. “Firefighters are trained to get there as soon as they can — to hurry and rush in. A hazmat person can’t go fast because people get hurt. People get killed. We train our people on scene assessments. What to look for out there.”

Rand said that in many planned crisis situations, perpetrators intentionally set secondary devices designed to injure or kill first responders who rush to the scene before checking things out. The WMD course gives classroom instruction combined with hands-on demonstrations on surviving such lethal traps.

Rand said the WMD course includes seven “modules” of instruction on various areas of hazmat management over a nine-day period. Upon completion of the course Wednesday, successful participants will receive their Pro Board certification.

“That’s a national certification that will follow them anywhere they go,” Rand said. “This group could have chosen the standard certificate program, but this is more rigorous. Every student is tested by an independent evaluator to make sure they know what they’re doing.”