Volunteers waiting for haz-mat classes - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Volunteers waiting for haz-mat classes

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) -

By Sylvia Hall – bio | email

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Some of the people who want to help with any cleanup in South Mississippi had their first face-to-face meetings with BP officials Sunday in Ocean Springs.

The city, company representatives and volunteer coordinators organized four information sessions throughout the day. They handed volunteers garbage bags and deployed them to the shorelines, asking them to clean up any debris they can, before the oil comes in.

They also promised to schedule haz-mat certification classes soon, that would qualify volunteers to help clean up oily debris.

Armed with garbage bags, a handful of South Mississippians braved the foreboding weather to clear the beaches in advance of the encroaching oil slick.

"What we're doing [Sunday] is strictly being proactive right now for any oil that comes ashore," said Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran. "There really is a sense of urgency here."

At Sunday's training sessions, company officials gave volunteers basic safety reminders, like wearing sunscreen or avoiding fatigue or dehydration. They warned people to stay away from any oiled debris or wildlife, and handed them hotlines, listed below to report any such instances.

The company also announced plans to hold four-hour Haz-mat training courses for volunteers, that would qualify them to clean up any oily mess that comes along. The courses would be reduced from the traditional 40-hour training, and would qualify volunteers to help Tri-State, the company contracted by BP to remove any oily debris.

"When you have volunteers come out, one of the things you want to do is be mindful of not putting them at risk," said BP spokesman Andrew Van Chau. "And so the haz-mat training is designed to make sure that if you are dealing with oiled material, here are the precautions to take."

Company representatives said they are still in the process of setting up times and locations for such courses, and don't know how many volunteers they'll train. The lack of answers enraged some volunteers.

"Ten days," said Mary Ann Oberhofer, who is prepared to undergo training to clean a potentially toxic mess. "It should have been here now. We should be trained already. We shouldn't be, 'Well, let's see what comes aboard.' It should be it's this, this or this, and be ready for all of those things that could be happening."

Don Abrams co-founded www.oilspillvolunteers.com, a potential volunteer roster that has already amassed more than 4,000 names. He said he's concerned the company isn't actively recruiting the help of these volunteers.

"I asked in this meeting [Sunday], how can I get in touch with BP? How can I put BP in touch with our volunteers and with our qualified people to make things better for everyone?" said Abrams. "To cost BP less money in the cleanup, and to protect our marshes and our seafood industry. And I got no response."

Company officials said they appreciate the overwhelming offer of help, but they're focusing on making sure volunteers are trained to work safely.

"When you have volunteers come out, one of the things you want to do is be mindful of not putting them at risk," said Andrew Van Chau, a spokesman for BP. "It's about how can we get the number of appropriately trained trainers, and then how quickly can we get them down here and get our communities to set that up."

Until then, city officials ask everyone to do what they can now to protect the coastline.

"This is going to be massive," warned Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran. "We went through Katrina. We waited 12 days for people to show up, and we're not waiting anymore."

Jackson County is set to declare a state of emergency Monday. Moran said after that happens, the city will do the same.

The company handed out these information hotlines:

Community Information Line: 1-866-448-5816

Claims: 1-866-440-0858

Wildlife Hotline: 1-866-557-1401

To report oiled wildlife, call the hotline with the following information:

1. The exact location of the animal/bird

2. your name

3. your phone number

4. your address

MEMA has also opened a call center for questions about the oil spill. The number is 866-920-MEMA (6362). The hotline is open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Volunteer signup opportunities:

www.oilspillvolunteers.com

The Pascagoula River Audubon Center: http://pascagoulariver.audubon.org/issues-action/oil-spill-efforts.

The City of Biloxi: http://www.biloxi.ms.us/Volunteer.asp.

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