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Area fire departments reinstate hazardous material training

Caption
(Kyle Bursaw – kbursaw@shawmedia.com)
In a simulation, DeKalb firefighter/paramedic Greg Thornton (front) and Rochelle firefighter/paramedic Jason Underwood search for signs of a chlorine leak in the water treatment plant on West Dresser Road on Thursday in DeKalb.

DeKALB – Responding to a major chemical spill that could have fatal consequences could be stressful for many firefighters.

Doing so in a puffy blue suit with limited mobility and visibility only adds to the difficulty, which is why DeKalb Fire Department Battalion Chief Jeff McMaster was happy to practice with his specialized hazardous material team Thursday for the first time in years.

The Mutual Aid Box Alarm System Division 6 HAZMAT squad, comprised of firefighters from DeKalb, Sycamore and Rochelle, practiced responding to major chemical spills for more than five hours at the water tower on West Dresser Street in DeKalb.

It was the first time in years the county's MABAS was able to do such training because the DeKalb City Council restored some money for the department's training budget.

"It's always great when we are able to come together as a team," said McMaster, who leads the unit. "We're all trained, but different people develop their own techniques and other departments have different equipment, so it's important to see what they have."

As a squad that could be deployed anywhere in the state, or even the country in extreme situations, they need to sharpen their skills, McMaster said. On Thursday, the practiced dealing with emergencies involving chlorine and corrosive chemicals.

Participants practiced in difficult and bulky HAZMAT suits and reviewed how to communicate using hand signals. They also learned to use technology in the truck that showed responders what suits to wear and what chemicals to use for different chemical spills.

Jim Carani, the HAZMAT team coordinator who joined the 24-member squad in 2004, said he understands why training was cut back in recent years because of how expensive it is to operate a HAZMAT team, but the training is invaluable.

"I really like the cohesiveness of the group," he said. "We've got a great group of guys, and we always appreciate the opportunity to train."

DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks said many people do not realize how dangerous some common chemicals such as chlorine can be, which is why it is important for emergency responders to always be ready. He said he hopes to have the MABAS Division 6 technical team train next month as well.

"You never know what's going to happen," Hicks said. "We have to be ready."

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