In yesterday’s 80-degree weather some of Warwick’s finest [firefighters] worked throughout the day at a sunny City Park. If the heat alone wasn’t enough, the Warwick Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) Team donned full gear of oxygen tanks and masks under their neon yellow full-bodied suits.
The team responds to numerous situations including chemical spills to carbon monoxide issues. They secure the problem to ensure the safety of not only the public, but also the environment. The team can respond to any issue in or out of state. The Hazmat team also handles and identifies potentially hazardous chemicals Battalion Chief James Kenney explained.
“We deal a lot with the airport too because it is such a high profile area,” Kenney said. “The airport receives a lot of packages and there is a lot of traffic through there. The Hazmat team can determine whether or not packages have harmful substances within.”
Throughout the year the Warwick Hazmat, one of six teams in the state, holds training days where for three to four hours the team practices a particular drill of their trade, but on Monday the team spent eight hours bringing all their drills together in a full training scenario. This helps to simulate a real world experience as practice for the team.
The training day, organized by Assistant Chief James McLaughlin, had about 20 of the 60 Warwick Hazmat technicians participate in a full-scale response. The team acted out their response if a local chemical distributor had chemical filled drums spill over due to an accident with a worker.
Scott Jensen, from the Special Hazards Team, said, “We have dangerous chemicals in this city from industries distributing it and using it in manufacturing to old thermometers with mercury in them. We are here if those ever become a danger.”
The team was in full gear, with all the necessary vehicles and tools, to guarantee that the day played out as realistically as possible.
The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) participated in the training. The two organizations work closely together in cases concerning hazardous materials.
Kenney said, “There is a great working relationship between the two. They bring special resources such as different tools and meters.”
DEM’s Oil and Hazardous Materials Specialist, Raymond Meunier, who was present for the training day, said, “DEM has their own Hazmat capabilities, but we don’t have the manpower like the fire department. We play a support role for the fire department; we provide tools like this $50,000 First Defender [a handheld chemical identifier]. We take the pressure off the fire department; they handle the emergency while we acts as contractors. DEM deals with the responsible party and hires people for cleanup.”
There was obvious energy despite the heat as everyone prepared for the day. There was an excitement to put into use everything they had trained for.
Chris Sullivan, who has been on the Hazmat team for nine years, said, “A day like today is good for familiarization, even to just put the suits back on. There aren’t a lot of issues that call for this kind of response, so it’s a refresher for everything you’ve learned. There isn’t much we can’t handle.”
Mayor Scott Avedisian looked excited as well while he walked up to the teams in preparation.
“I am a big believer in training,” Avedisian said. “It is important to have the best and highly trained team in our department. It even just builds morale for the team to be working together,” he said while pointing to the men suiting up, helping each other with straps, tanks and zippers.