Camp Stanley training course teaches firefighters how to deal with potentially hazardous materials
Stars and Stripes March 30, 2008
CAMP STANLEY, South Korea — When firefighters arrive at a potentially contaminated area, they may have to wrestle with their instincts.
Lifesaving always comes first, Camp Red Cloud Fire Chief John Cook said. If someone can be grabbed and quickly saved, that’s one thing.
But if the firefighters, wearing regular uniforms, run into a building with an unidentified chemical leak, they may be putting themselves and others at risk.
“It’s just a choice you have to make on the scene,” Cook said.
On Friday, 11 of Cook’s South Korean firefighters from Camps Red Cloud and Stanley learned how to gather information at the scene of a spill and how to stop leaks as part of training as hazardous material technicians.
The firefighters already are trained in hazardous material operations, which authorizes them to take reactive measures such as setting up decontamination areas with supervision. As “hazmat technicians,” they can take active measures to stop chemical contamination.
Hazmat technician is the highest-level certification found at the emergency responder level in most cases, Cook said.
When they arrive on scene after receiving a potential hazmat call, firefighters use binoculars and interview witnesses to help determine their next action.
Once they determine the emergency could involve poisonous chemicals, they must fight the urge to charge to the scene. Instead, they must set up a decontamination zone and don their hazmat suits.
“You really have no idea what the hazard is, most of the time,” said Ken Williams, fire protection specialist and instructor. “If you rush to respond, you could be going into a hazardous situation and be contaminated, and not even know it.”
The suit used for possible exposure to poisonous gases offers the most protection, but on a hot day the temperature inside the suit can be around 130 degrees, Cook said.
Firefighters keep ice packs in the freezers and wear them as an “ice vest” so they can stay in the suit longer on hot days, Cook said. The crew keeps backup teams available to assist overheated firefighters when necessary, he added.
The certification the firefighters receive will be recognized by the Defense Department and non-military U.S. departments, Cook said.
The South Korean firefighters take a two-part test in English. Each part has 45 questions, and firefighters must answer at least 80 percent correctly to pass. Then they move on to skills training, followed by a performance test next month.
There are future plans to certify Camp Casey firefighters and others around South Korea, Cook said.