On one of the last balmy, hot and muggy nights of August, nearly 50 emergency responders gathered for a drill meant to simulate the "what ifs" and "what could happen" in a hazardous materials incident.
The drill, staged on Hill Climb Road just outside the Village of Dickeyville, gave emergency responders from 12 departments the opportunity to test plans and equipment designed to handle dangerous chemical spills. Participating Departments included Dickeyville Fire and EMS, Cuba City Fire Department, Jamestown Fire Department, Potosi EMS, the Jo Daviess-Grant Hazardous Materials Response Team, Grant County Emergency Management, and the Grant County 9-1-1 Communications Center.
A tanker carrying refrigerated carbon dioxide was provided by Air Liquide of East Dubuque. The carbon dioxide was used to safely simulate an anhydrous ammonia leak while adding realism to the drill.
Some departments were active participants and some came to observe the drill and become more familiar with how the HAZMAT team operates.
Grant County has maintained a great partnership with Jo Daviess County for nearly 20 years now, to respond to any events involving hazardous materials.
According to Grant County Emergency Management Director, Steve Braun, Jo Daviess County has a highly capable and well-equipped HAZMAT response team, made up of volunteers from fire and EMS departments throughout their region.
"More recently, personnel from a number of Grant County fire departments have received certification as hazardous materials technicians, and help to augment the personnel from the Jo Daviess County Team," Braun said. "With the help of federal grants, in recent years both counties have been able to greatly enhance our response capabilities for these types of emergencies."
The hazardous materials team is a resource for local communities when certain events exceed their capabilities. When the hazmat team responds to an emergency, some people expect that they just show up and "take it over." That's not the case. The HAZMAT team is a tool for the local fire chief and always works under his or her direct oversight. They offer advice on how to handle challenging situations, and bring specialized training and resources to the table that can save lives and mitigate these types of events. But the local jurisdiction always maintains overall control of an emergency scene.
Braun said the HAZMAT team serves a very large area, and resources must come from some distance away. "We have equipment and personnel spread out throughout the two counties, so the response time for the first personnel to arrive on scene is not very long," Braun said. "The first arriving personnel will work with the local fire department to formulate a plan of action, and as additional resources continue to arrive on scene the response takes shape."
In addition, HAZMAT technicians are trained to work in atmospheres that can be imminently dangerous to their life. Responding to those types of emergencies require the personnel wear specialized protective equipment, which can take some time to put on as well as following very strict safety rules to minimize the chance of injury.
Braun said there is a substantial time commitment involved in training. "In order to get basic certification as a hazmat technician, firefighters take a series of classes that total about 65 hours," Braun said. "The members of the HAZMAT team meet and train on a monthly basis, and members also attend conferences and training seminars throughout the year."