Greenville firefighters prepare for the worst

Published 1:00 pm Thursday, May 21, 2009

Four victims unconscious, contaminated and dying in small room. Two individuals in Hazmat suits trying to discover the source of the problem. One very dangerous cylinder of chlorine leaking gas.

Greenville fire department personnel and first responders conducted a training drill at Beeland Park on Tuesday night concerning this very problem. But the problem with emergency situations involving hazardous material is – at least initially – knowledge is hard to come by.

“The thing is when you’re dealing with hazardous material and the possibility of contamination in either a small or large area you just don’t know what you’re dealing with,” said Lt. Les Liller, training officer for the GFD.

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A two-man team entered the lower level of the Beeland Park Recreation Center, discovering four individuals, (members of the Liberty Volunteer Fire Department who posed as victims), lying prone and in immediate need of medical attention. Those conscious were asked questions about their injuries and helped to safety, one individual at a time.

Liller and Fire Chief Mike Phillips admitted the drill was lacking in personnel because many firefighters and emergency personnel were on duty. For example, said Phillips, only one building entry team worked the entire scenario, as did the two-man team working the decontamination area outside.

“In a real situation we would have more people,” said Phillips. “We would have an entry team on standby to relieve the first team and we’d also have someone keeping track on how much air they had used in their suits.”

Volunteer fire fighter Jimmy Cole spent over an hour in his Hazmat suit and was drenched with sweat when the drill was over.

“That’s the exciting part,” said Cole, about removing the suit.

Liller said entry teams are trained to be cautious.

“It’s a slow, methodical process, but it has to be that way,” said Liller.

Liller said, overall, the exercise went well. Phillips agreed.

“This was a drill and the reason we have drills is to learn,” said Phillips. “It’s good experience because you never know when something will happen, whether it’s from a train accident or a truck crashing out on the interstate.”