HAZMAT team trains with drill

It sounds like the latest script from a science fiction movie – men in bright green, full-body jumpsuits search an abandoned warehouse for a dangerous substance leaking into the atmosphere.

But for the Catawba County Emergency Services’ HAZMAT team, it’s just another day on the job.

The 35-person crew, comprised of volunteers from area emergency management teams, conducted a training session Thursday to prepare for an evaluation of their services in November.

“This is for us to test our capabilities – our instant command level, our capabilities, everything,” said Ryan Monteith, HAZMAT coordinator for the Catawba County Fire and Rescue Division. “There’s probably going to be some kinks thrown in there that we have to work out.”
The county recently received grant funding to pay for an outside agency evaluation of HAZMAT team’s response.

“The whole point is for us to get better,” said Catawba County Fire Marshal Mark Pettit. “It’s not a pass or fail. No one is going to get in trouble. … If we ultimately get better (as a result of the funding), it was money well spent.”

The team received a hypothetical scenario prior to Thursday’s drill, which gave members information about a theoretical chemical spill in a Newton warehouse.

Based on the information provided in the scenario, the HAZMAT team had to decide how to respond to the situation.

They were told that a Newton Police officer smelled a strong odor near a warehouse storing chemicals, and one person remained inside the building.
The HAZMAT crew went through typical protocol for handling the chemical leak, which includes donning protective full-body suits, 30-pound air tanks and heavy-duty boots.

“It’s not for the claustrophobic, that’s for sure,” said Tank Townsend, Hickory Fire Department Training Division captain of the green HAZMAT suits. “You’re totally enclosed in a completely separate environment.”