Passersby at the Van Alstyne Community Center last week may have noticed an odd sight in the parking lot: men in yellow humped plastic suits plugging holes in 55-gallon drums and standing in kiddy pools.
Odd as it may have seemed, the 11 Van Alstyne firefighters donning those suits and standing in those plastic pools may one do use what they learned in that parking lot to save your life.
Members of the VAFD participated in hazardous material training from June 14-27, donning those plastic hazmat suits with self contained breathing apparatus strapped to their backs in the summer heat to earn their hazmat certifications. The 80-hour course taught firefighters on containment techniques in case of a hazmat emergency so that they could, as VAFD Chief Landon Smith put it, “take offensive actions for our department and our city.” Firefighters learned how to contain hazmat spills, respond to those emergency situations and practiced decontamination methods.
Hazmat emergencies can be anything from an overturned tanker on the highway, an upended rail car carrying toxic materials or even a poisonous combination of household items that prove to be toxic to inhale. The amount of toxic chemicals all around us is dizzying and relatively unrealized throughout the general population. The explosions in West, Texas, however, were a prime example of an extreme hazmat situation. And here’s the really scary part: there is currently not a hazmat team in all of Grayson County certified to handle just such an emergency.
“I think it would be a great asset to Van Alstyne,” said Smith. “”It’s something for our community, especially where we are and with Hwy. 75 becoming more [accessible].”
To that end, Smith applied with the Texas Department of Public Safety more than a year ago to get the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) training held in Van Alstyne. Though he already has two firefighters who are hazmat certified it takes a minimum of five personnel to be considered a hazmat “team.” Following the nearly two-week course, those participating in the course took their certification testing on Tuesday morning. Smith said it should take a couple of weeks to get the results from the testing back. Those in training had already passed their skills testing.
If VAFD has enough certified firefighters for a team it will be the only one in the area. Even Collin County, as big and wealthy as it is, has just one team, that being in Plano. It would be an obvious boost for the city to have its own hazmat team but a big boost to have one in Grayson County, as well. In those hazmat situations, non-certified firefighters are often required to stand down and wait for a hazmat team to arrive on scene, if there is even one close enough to respond.
While certification is the first step in the process the second is to get the equipment. The department currently does not have hazmat suits, for instance, nor does it have the proper gas detection equipment, though that is spec’d out on the new fire engine the department is getting.
With the advanced hazmat training VAFD personnel received the future of Van Alstyne looks a bit safer.