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V.I. HAZMAT Team Training for the Worst

June 3, 2005 — Mirroring the U.S. mainland’s continuous attempts to keep the nation safe from the threat of terrorist attacks, the V.I. Hazardous Materials Training Team similarly hopes to contribute to the protection of the territory’s people by instructing and certifying individuals in proper response techniques for nuclear, chemical and biological threats.
"You never can tell when something’s going to happen," said team leader and Fire Department Chief Glenn Francis. "We’re on an island, so we’re isolated … safety is the most important thing."
Conducted at the University of the Virgin Island’s Community Enrichment and Lifelong Learning Center, the rigorous four-day (or 40-hour) training program sought to combine the efforts of the island’s Fire Department, Narcotics Strike Force, Rescue Team, and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources in order to facilitate a multi-agency powerhouse equipped for handling the most difficult situations.
"We need to make sure that we’re prepared," said training coordinator Irvin Mason. "In case of a real emergency, we have a core group of guys who have been working and training together. Here on the island that’s important because we have to be able to sustain ourselves for 72 hours before we are able to ask for any outside help."
With the completion of this session's training, the HAZMAT team will have a total of 25 individuals fully trained to respond to array of crises. "Our additional sessions will raise that number," said Mason, concluding that instructors will be further pooled throughout the territory in order to raise response and preparation levels. By year's end, the team hopes to have 50 trained members.
Sponsored by the Law Enforcement Planning Commission, the training program is making great strides. On hand to help ensure the team's progress and efficiency are national LEPC members Scott Warden and Brian Woods, both of whom maintain that (thanks to training and the recent acquisition of resources and technologies) the Virgin Island’s ability to act against threats is "definitely at its best."
"People develop thousands of new chemicals all the time," said Warden. "You have to do what you can. And this is only the beginning … the learning only stops when we stop training."
Members from the V.I. team will continue their instruction at centers in Alabama, New Mexico, and Nevada in order to strengthen their backgrounds in radioactive and explosive scenarios.
Friday, on the grounds of the Cell Center, the team finally demonstrated its skills publicly with a chemical spill response simulation — using actual fire and LEPC response equipment, including local fire trucks, protective body suits, and special breathing units.
"If someone calls in an emergency," Francis explained, "an incident commander from one of the agencies will be on the scene with this team. They will research the situation—like identifying the chemical, etc.—and then, they will contain the threat."
The training team also quickly constructed a detoxification area alongside the simulation site, aiding each other with various activities in order to complete the process. "Two individuals will actually go and contain the spill," said Warden, "and two will wait outside the area for backup." During the simulation, the other team members worked to remove the chemical residue from the gear of the initial responders.
"They do remember that safety comes first," Francis said. "This process should not be rushed. If it takes less than 40 minutes, that’s great."
After the demonstration, Francis commended his team for a job well done, concluding that "this team did an excellent job and is definitely ready for future scenarios."
The team’s next UVI training session takes place on June 28.
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