Area IV firefighters equipped to respond to toxic situations
The U.S. Army’s fire stations in southern South Korea now are equipped to handle the kinds of chemical, biological and other terror-related hazards that became part of their duties in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, officials said Wednesday.
The Army’s Area IV Fire Department has received about $700,000 in state-of-the-art hazardous-materials equipment, said Area IV fire chief Bobby Purvis. The department maintains fire stations at Camp Walker and Camp Henry in Taegu, Camp Carroll in Waegwan and Camp Hialeah in Pusan.
The equipment is used for what firefighters call hazmat, or hazardous materials, incidents. It will be used in responding to CBRNE — chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive — incidents, Purvis said.
New items range from breathing tanks and hazardous materials suits to meters that detect toxic agents and explosive materials at the scene of an emergency, Purvis said.
“The fire service was already into hazmat response … meaning fuel, some of your other chemicals in labs and such,” Purvis said.
“But really, when it came down to the new CBRNE response, that was kicked off because of 9/11,” Purvis said.
Since the attacks, he said, the Defense Department assigned fire departments a key role in responding to emergencies involving CBRNE.
“Fire service has been put as key players in any CBRNE response,” Purvis said. “The fire department more or less takes a lead on that incident.”
Military Police “are of course part of first responders, and they will be more or less securing the area and helping evacuate. But the fire department will set up the decontamination zone and start the rescue operations,” Purvis said.
The first shipment arrived in June, said Purvis, and a final shipment came in last month.
“It’s such a large order it kept coming in pieces,” Purvis said.
About 70 percent of the gear has been distributed to area fire stations, and firefighters were trained for its use the same day, Purvis said. Firehouses will receive and train on the rest of the equipment this month, Purvis said.
“When we distribute it to them, that’s the time we train them, the same day,” Purvis said.
“The new equipment that the fire department has received significantly upgrades their ability as first responders to respond to incidents such as hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction,” said Kevin B. Jackson, chief spokesman for the Area IV Support Activity at Camp Henry. “It also upgrades our ability to provide better force protection for the military communities within Area IV.”
Because of the shipments, firefighters will be able to pull up to a hazardous materials scene wearing improved breathing equipment, including an air compressor that will fill their air tanks, and air tanks that contain a 60-minute air supply, twice that of previous tanks, Purvis said.
“Now we meet all the standards and it’s the 60-minute, not the 30-minute,” he said. “It says ‘60 minutes’ but a working fireman might be closer to 50 [minutes’ supply],” Purvis said.
Among other equipment: “turnout gear,” which is coats, pants and boots, and Level A and Level B hazmat suits — “Level A is the highest protection fire service has,” Purvis said. “Level B is just a step down from that. Depending on the agent and what protection it requires, determines what level you go into” at an emergency scene, he said.
Other items include an inflatable shelter system used in decontamination efforts at a hazmat scene. Among its uses would be initial treatment of the injured.
“It would be the victims we rescued and decon’d, say if they had a severe bleeding cut on them or a fracture or something,” Purvis said. “We would try to stabilize that before passing them on to the medical folks.”
Still other items the fire department received included decontamination scrub brushes, shovels, equipment for absorbing and containing the spread of hazardous liquids, plugs for sealing leaking drums and other containers and drain guards for sealing manholes “so that we can contain the spill from getting in the drain system and leaving the base,” Purvis said.