MARSHALL - Like it or not, modern industrial civilization relies on a huge number of chemicals which are toxic, flammable, corrosive, explosive and even radioactive.
Fortunately hazardous material (hazmat) emergencies are not common, but when they do occur they require highly specialized knowledge and equipment to deal with. On Friday and Saturday about a dozen First Responders from around southwest Minnesota came to the Marshall MERIT center to learn a new system of identifying and dealing with hazmat emergencies.
"We're here to learn how to better assess chemical situations," said Jessica Kesteloot from the Marshall office of the Southwest Minnesota Chemical Assessment Team. "We usually have several a year. We've been dispatched to chlorine releases at water treatment plants, chemicals released at derailed railroad cars, equipment malfunctions in industries, and also unknowns. Unknown containers that have been abandoned and discovered in ditches, sidewalks and public places."
The Southwest Minnesota CAT invited Milton Painter and Steve Hergenreter, former fire fighters representing the firm HazMat IQ, to train area First Responders in a new system designed to reduce the time required to assess chemical hazards.
"It's a system First Responders can use on a callout," said Kim Rupp, administrative assistant at the Marshall Police Department. "It's in the form of simple charts, because they often don't respond very often and it's difficult to remember. This teaches in a different way that makes things simpler."
The charts contain information about a few hundred dangerous chemicals that allow first responders to find what the dangers are and what equipment is needed quickly.
Is the substance dangerous to breath, to touch, carcinogenic, flammable, or explosive? Does it react with other substances? Is it heavier or lighter than air?
From this, responders can know which of four levels of protection to wear, from insulated coveralls and gloves to a Level A airtight environment suit.
"Lots of times people used to default to the hazmat suit if they didn't know the danger," Painter said. "But you don't want to wear a plastic suit in a flammable atmosphere. The beautiful thing about this program is, it tells you when you should or should wear a Level A suit."
According to Painter, the HazMatIQ system allows responders to do in minutes what might have taken an hour or more to figure out.
"Hazmat callouts are infrequent," Painter said. "People were intimated and paralyzed. This system has really led to a simplification in how to be safer and much more efficient when you run a hazmat call."
Funding for the training was made available through the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education.