Imagine a worker for a public utilities department makes his normal rounds to check on the municipal water towers. This one happens to be the Slidell water tower on Robert Boulevard, next to a nursing home.

While checking the supply of chlorine in the cylinders at the tower, he finds that one of the cylinders has a minor leak. He attempts to stop the leak, but is unable to do so. The leak becomes worse, so he exits the facility and calls 911.

This was the challenge St. Tammany Fire District 1 recently faced for a practice drill. They went through all the steps of how they would respond to such an emergency call.

On a recent morning, St. Tammany Fire District 1 received the practice call, dispatched a report and sent fire units to the scene.

Responding units were advised that the wind direction was from the north to south. The first arriving officer on scene established incident command and surveyed the scene. The incident commander determined that the nursing home next door to the water tower would need to be evacuated. He requested additional units and began to plan the evacuation.

Slidell police units arrived on scene and blocked off Robert Boulevard. Additional fire units arrived and established hazard control zones. The firefighters set up the decontamination corridor and began to prepare hazardous materials technicians to make entry. The news media arrived and was met by the Fire Department spokesperson for a briefing. The drill began.

According to fire Chief Chris Kaufmann and information in a prepared Hazardous Materials Team Facts Sheet, there have been 251 real-life hazardous-materials incidents since 2011. Fire District 1 has responded to 53 meth labs since 2004.

The Hazardous Materials Team was formed in 1986 and there are 31 hazardous materials technicians on the team.

Specialized training includes chemistry, the incident command system, decontamination, chemical agents, biological agents, radiation, nuclear, explosives, railway, highway, pipelines and more.

Special schools that team members have attended include U.S. Homeland Security’s Center for Domestic Preparedness and Rural Domestic Preparedness Consortium; U.S. Army Dugway Proving Grounds Chemical/Biological School; the Department of Energy Nevada Test Site Radiation School; Texas A&M Disaster City; New Mexico Tech Explosives School; LSU National Center for Biomedical Research and Training; SERTC Rail and Highway School; and National Fire Academy’s Emergency Management Institute.

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