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HAZMAT Training Prepares N.M. Responders for Dangerous Incidents

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. -- The goal is being prepared, being ready for special needs patients and having a plan in place when a mass casualty incident involving hazardous materials occurs.

Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center personnel, fire departments, paramedics and emergency medical technicians attended the "Hospital-based First Receivers of Victims from Mass Casualty Incidents Involving the Release of Hazardous Materials" training at GCRMC on Wednesday.

The training was conducted by Tim Yackey of the New Mexico Department of Health. Yackey is also the DOH emergency operations center representative with the Bureau of Health Emergency Management.

"This is designed primarily for the hospital personnel," Yackey said. "It gives them an introduction to it. The hospital certifies their personnel as to their level of training. It's the hospital's responsibility to certify them. This is a training and informational session. It gives them a chance to look at stuff and identify any issues that they may have."

He said the training gets participants thinking about being prepared for real life emergencies and scenarios.

"It could be biological," Yackey said. "Weapons of mass destruction or a case of smallpox shows up. It's up to the state police, fire department and everybody who responds to it together on how exactly to respond to it."

GCRMC safety officer Ken Gipson said the hospital offered the training through the Department of Health as part of their continuing education requirements.

"We're working on getting our hazardous materials team trained because we're constantly training and retraining our people as they leave," Gipson said. "We want to make sure we have a trained hazardous material team in place or ready to respond to a situation. We will have a training exercise at the hospital coming up. We do one a year. We're planing one sooner than later because it's been a while. You use it or lose it."

Alamogordo Fire Services operations manager Jim LeClair said he believes the most important aspect of the training is for his personnel to learn the proper way to decontaminate victims and proper use of the hazardous material suit with the powered air purifying respirator.

"We have to make sure the equipment is put on by the responders to protect them," LeClair said. "With Alamogordo Department of Public Safety, we have to have the annual hazardous material training to satisfy certain training requirements that's required through the insurance services for the fire departments. It's more of a refresher for us."

He said it was beneficial to fire services personnel in attendance to be able to be in a hospital and use a practice dummy.

"To actually come in to the hospital and see how the hospital deals with emergencies is beneficial to us and ADPS," LeClair said. "To actually remove the clothing off of a practice dummy and put the clothing into a decontamination bag the proper way was beneficial for us."

New Mexico Environment department specialist Bobby Lopez said first responders and the general public have little knowledge about radioactive materials.

"I think there's a real mystery associated to the materials," Lopez said. "There's also a fear associated with it. Sometimes they get overwhelmed responding to an incident involving radioactive materials. With the hospital, there's an expertise within the nuclear medicine department. I want to instill there is somebody with radioactive expertise within local hospitals."

He said materials are in every home that give off a low level amount of radioactivity.

"Fiesta Ware and counter tops give off a little signal of radioactive material within our homes," Lopez said. "It's in our environment. We don't live in a world without something that gives off a radioactive signal. It's there in some form or fashion, but it's not going to hurt us. It's more of the level of the radiation and amount of radiation. It's what they need to know and respect."


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