Aug. 26, 2005 – The Virgin Islands are unique when it comes to the dangers of hazardous chemical spills, according to Irvin Mason, the training coordinator for the Law Enforcement Planning Commission (LEPC).
He said Friday, "We have to contain it. It is going to be 72 hours before we can count on outside help."
This reason, along with mandates by Homeland Security, are the impetus for a flurry of training in the Virgin Islands the last few months.
The 33 students — representing government agencies from St. Thomas and St. Croix — who completed the weeklong course Friday in the basics of handling a chemical spill are the third class to do so.
Many of the students who have completed the course, called Hazwoper, have gone stateside to receive more specialized training. The students who finished the recent course administered by the University of the Virgin Island's Community Engagement and Lifelong Learning Center are planning to take courses in Alabama, New Mexico and Nevada soon. Mason said, "We have people going every month."
Mason said the goal is to have an emergency response team of 50 individuals in the territory.
Ovaldo Graham, St. Croix fire chief, said he is pleased with the training. He said since recent legislation turned responsibility for handling chemicals spills over to Fire Services, a focus on training has become a priority.
Federal funds for the course were funneled through LEPC. The course was taught by two instructors from American Emergency Response Training, located in Tennessee.
All the students in the course, according to instructor Scott Warden, passed their written exams on Friday morning.
On Friday afternoon students took part in a simulated hazardous materials incident.
Watching the students prepare for the event, Graham commented, "Just preparing to handle a chemical spill is time-consuming."
Warden said, "If there is no one injured, the emergency responders are going to take their time and determine how to react. They will do real detective work. If they do the wrong thing, they will make the situation worse." Participants' vital signs, such as blood pressure, were checked to affirm that they were healthy enough to participate.
Although the protective suits put on Friday were big, bulky and awkward, Graham pointed out that these were only training suits. The real suits are thicker. Graham said if the students had to wear them on a humid afternoon, "They would be sweating like cows."
He added that in incidents where the suits had to be worn on hot days, there were vests packed with ice that also could be worn.
The vests were not available Friday, but there were many bottles of water available to avoid dehydration.
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