Haz-mat team undergoes drills for emergency

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – Jonesboro firefighters in the Hazardous Materials Unit Sunday underwent training for real-life scenarios. Two members of the haz-mat team went through a series of drills in a Level A Suit, which is designed for handling toxic chemicals.

"Just the basic skills that it takes to be in a level a suit," said Brett Winstead, Battalion Chief. "A level a suit is a totally encapsulated suit, I mean from head to toe, shut off any outside air, anything, and it's the highest level we have in hazmat."

According to Winstead, firefighters practiced putting on the suits and performing various tasks with the suit on. Temperatures inside the suit exceeded 100 degrees.

"It's really hard to work in, so once a year we'll run our guys through like an obstacle course. They'll put the level a suit on, we have several tasks for them to do, some fine motor skills," said Winstead. "It kind of keeps them comfortable in the suits; it keeps their skills up to par because in hazmat, it's nothing to do with fire fighting."

Winstead said JFD's haz-mat team is much like the SWAT team of the Jonesboro Police Department. He said the unit is called to handle serious chemical spills and other situations.

"A lot of spills are in 55 gallon drums, forklift hits it, somebody drops it, and what we'll do is in an actually situation you would go in, you would patch the drum, and then take the drum and put inside what's called an overpack, which is like a larger plastic drum, you put it in, you seal it off," said Winstead. "It happens actually quite a lot, like I say, forklifts are always puncturing them, the good thing is, and it's nothing really bad."

Winstead said many times the haz-mat team is called to handle factory spills.

"A lot of acid in town, a lot of the factories, we've got a couple of factories that have a resin, and what they do is they have two chemicals, you put them together and they have a reaction together, it causes heat to make another one," said Winstead. "A lot of tight spaces in factories, you never know where the spill is going to be, sometimes in these suits, you'll have to maneuver through tight spaces but you have to think with the air pack on your back, you've added a foot or two."

"With a level a suit on, you can't really get down and crawl around and roll around, you don't' want your suit touching it because that's your only protection against a chemical, especially if it's a poison gas or something, you don't want any pinholes in your suit," said Winstead.

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