When it comes to preparing for disaster, the Clallam County Fire District 3 Technical Rescue Team has to ask, “What if?”
On Nov. 14, the team of 20 and several brave volunteers simulated what would happen if students at a local school were sprayed or otherwise contaminated by a chemical substance that was causing major irritation.
The team assembled an 11-foot by 20-foot tent, divided into three sections, at the fire training center in Carlsborg to decontaminate volunteer students.
The tent houses a decontamination shower and can be set up in almost any flat and level parking lot or field, Public Information Officer Patrick Young said. It takes about 30 minutes to set up.
The tent, set up like a car wash bay, has equipment that heats both the tent and the water used in washing off hazardous materials and contaminants.
District 3’s Fire Explorer Post 1003, consisting of high-school-aged students who are interested in a career in the fire services, assisted with two Explorers, 16-year-old Eric Corral and 17-year-old Cody Robbins, volunteering to walk through the shower process.
The tent has separate areas for male and female patients and is set up so they are able to walk through or be rolled along a conveyer belt through the showers, Young said.
Firefighters participating in the drill wore special chemical-impervious clothing and breathing equipment that allows them to enter hazardous areas to rescue patients or access scenes. Then the firefighter transports the patient to the showers, removes the contaminated clothing and begins scrubbing the patient with brushes and sponges if necessary.
Fire Captain Chris Turner’s two children, Tyler, 9, and Ellie, 7, volunteered to be victims and wore their bathing suits despite the 38 degree weather so they could be decontaminated in the shower.
Young said because the peninsula is isolated, it is important for the fire district to have the equipment and training necessary to address hazardous industrial chemical spills or acts of terrorism or violence. The team trains locally, the second Monday of each month, and as part of a regional team that includes Jefferson and Kitsap fire department members.
Young said drills include building collapse drills, confined space rescue drills, restricted access drills, and high and low angle rescue drills.
On average, firefighters participate in 10-20 hours of training monthly, though specialized groups like the Technical Rescue Team add additional hours on top of those monthly totals.
“Drills like this are an important way to keep skills up to date and work out bugs that may exist in techniques or the equipment before a real emergency occurs,” Young said.