Hazmat training gives firefighters hands-on experience

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Saving lives is part of the job description for any firefighter or medic. But when that lifesaving situation involves dangerous chemicals, biological agents, or even radiation, the stakes are much higher. That's why intensive training is needed to beat the odds.

Instructors from the Biloxi-based company Decon are not playing around. It's serious business. This training is realistic in every way.

"We get the equipment out, we make sure it's completely functional, operational, we'll field repair it. Get all their personal protective equipment out, make them wear exactly what they're going to wear in the real deal," Training Manager Tom Bocek explained.

Water plays a key role, water that is used to wash down contaminated patients. That's important to know for Battalion Chief Andy Mason with the Biloxi Fire Department.

"It's invaluable. There's nothing like realistic, real life, real speed training. Just like we're going to do it on the scene," Mason said.

The firefighters and medics soak it in for good reason. One of them is Keesler Medic Ahna Schroeder.

"It means more in-depth De-Con, as well as how the local departments do it. So that when we do ever have to have a local response, the Keesler medics, we know what each team has and how to work together," Schroeder said.

While Thursday's training involved several scenarios, the most likely one to happen here on the coast is this: a train loaded with very dangerous chemicals derails in a populated area.

This type of training could help save lives, according to Biloxi Firefighter John Parker.

"This is just crucial that we learn these things and we can apply them when the time is here. You don't want to learn this when the accident has already happened," Parker said.

Skills learned now could mean the difference between life and death in the event of a catastrophe. But the main lesson learned is to never let our guard down.

"I think vigilance is preparedness," Tom Bocek said. "Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Benjamin Franklin said that."

Members of the Biloxi Fire Department undergo this type of training at least four times a year.

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