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UK Against Fluoridation

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

'Basic Firemanship': Hazardous material exercise hones skills

'Basic Firemanship': Hazardous material exercise hones skills
BY ELLEN BROWN
Staff Writer
PIGEON FORGE -- Firefighters from Sevier County and other surrounding areas participated in a Tennessee Emergency Management Agency Hazardous Material Exercise recently at the Pigeon Forge water plant.
"This will conclude the 80-hour portion of a very long class," said Matt Lovitt, Pigeon Forge firefighter and instructor. "It starts off as a basic firemanship class, then builds and builds. Federal law mandates that we have this so we're prepared to deal with things like unknown chemicals, big fuel leaks and acids."
Firefighters performed the exercise according to the following scenario:
A truck driver is making a delivery to the water plant and is securing his truck. When he turns the valve, he gets stung by a bee. He doesn't close the valve completely, and it results in leakage. The driver can't re-enter the area because of the strong nature of the chemical, so he calls for assistance.
"We've set up parameters, and we have a representative from the water department," Lovitt said. "Because they're much more familiar with (the chemical), we consult them and eliminate the threat."
Water Department plant operator Mike Huskey said the liquid fluoride is corrosive; if it traveled into a steam, for instance, it could kill fish and other wildlife.
"This area is a moderate threat, as far as the interstate coming through," Lovitt said. "With a major theme park and other attractions, there's always a possibility of something going awry. The more people we have trained, the better response we'll have."
Regional response trucks are like "rolling tool boxes" for responders in the community, he continued.
"We're hoping it will become a much better equipped unit," he said, pointing to a regional response truck on the scene. "We want to spread throughout the county and have a lot more people and equipment."
The suits the firefighters wear are rigid and hot, especially in warmer weather -- it's not uncommon for a participant to lose five pounds in one day from the exercise. Hand signals are learned because communication can get complicated, and numbers are taped on the back of the suits for identification.
Once participants contain and cap the leak, they move to a decontamination station where they are literally scrubbed down.
Throughout the exercise, they are judged on a point scale by five evaluators.
"This training is great -- what you're seeing is a movement of all Sevier County fire departments working together," said Pigeon Forge Fire Chief Tony Watson. "We can be better if we're working together.
"We're saving resources, saving money for the taxpayers."

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