AP NEWS

Portage firefighters say hazmat training critical

May 17, 2019

No matter how unlikely, Portage Fire Chief Clayton Simonson says it’s better to be prepared than caught off guard when a hazmat team is needed for an emergency.

Eight Portage firefighters recently earned hazmat certifications after completing a 40-hour training course run by the Regional Emergency All-Climate Training Center in neighboring Juneau County.

Paid on-call firefighters Jason Dvorak, Dylan Shifflett, Charles Coppernoll, Travis Steiger, Jerad Royal, Nicholas Krueger, Lt. Matthew Gavinski and Capt. Michael Nachreiner have all earned their certifications, Simonson announced Tuesday.

The Portage Fire Department is almost uniformly trained in hazmat response. Simonson said all but nine firefighters have not yet completed hazmat training but will likely do so in the future.

Simonson estimated the department has responded to one or two hazmat calls in the last five years. “It’s very rare, but we train for it,” he said.

Gavinski recalled at least one such call in that time frame. He said Portage firefighters responded to a call at one of the two hotels located near Petro Portage and the Interstate 39/90/94 interchange. The hazmat team secured a leaking drum after multiple hazardous chemicals spilled and mixed together.

He said it’s crucial for firefighters to be on the same page, and having more team members continuously undergo training goes a long way.

The department has had trained hazmat teams for years, but training more technicians is always important, Simonson said.

Hazmat responses vary widely, from chemical mixing hazards to oil spills.

Simonson said firefighters learned which suits to use for different types of hazmat calls. The team of eight also trained to ground containers, cover ruptured barrels and tighten devices on train cars to stop leaks.

Perhaps the most challenging part of hazmat training was learning how to control breathing and move around in a cumbersome suit that restricts visibility and dexterity, Gavinski said.

“It all depends on how hard you breathe,” Gavinski said. “You can waste a 45-minute bottle (of oxygen) real quick.”

Methods for responding to hazmat calls are constantly evolving, and Gavinski said he feels confident the whole team is better prepared after earning their certifications.

“I’ve never really been in a class quite like that before,” he said. “It’s pretty important.”