The Robert M. Casey Medical and Dental Clinic hazardous materials, or hazmat, team conducted decontamination training at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Dec. 1, 2016.
The hazmat teams train so they can appropriately handle people who have been exposed to chemical waste or any hazardous material.
When people are exposed to chemical waste, through accident or through warfare, they need to be medically treated. They can’t simply walk into a hospital though. If they do, they put everyone at risk of being contaminated and they render the hospital unserviceable by contaminating everything in the building.
“Some people may not realize they are contaminated with anything,” said T.J. Bocek, the senior decontamination instructor with the clinic. “Nerve agents take a while to show symptoms. If I walk into a hospital and I haven’t been properly treated, then I track it through the hospital. It seeps through the ceiling and the vents, and it puts everyone in danger.”
To prevent situations like this, hazmat teams go through training for two days.
“We have a classroom day and a field training day.” said Bocek. “In the classroom we talk about all the different jobs that are involved in the decontamination process and make them aware of the type of substances that people could potentially be exposed to.” Bocek also said they train the team the next day in the field with all the equipment and mock-patients, on that day they’re evaluated on proper procedures.
The decontamination process happens quickly, and the hazmat team has to work together in order to be successful. They only have 20 minutes to set a three-line articulating frame shelter, attach a water heater and get dressed in their hazmat suit.
The team is also given patients to decontaminate. Ambulatory care patient is able to walk through the tent with instruction from the hazmat team, and the other patient is unconscious and requires help from the team to wash off all contaminants.
“When people know their jobs and communicate, everything works smoothly” said Seaman Clarence Matthews, a member of the clinic hazmat team. “Without it, it would have been a long, difficult task, and we wouldn’t have finished in 15 minutes.”
The decontamination training is taken very seriously. It’s vital for not only the team to know why training like this is important, but for everyone else who may be affected by chemical waste or any other material that could harm them.
“Sometimes accidents happen, so do your research,” said Matthews. “The more you know the more prepared for it you’ll be. There are signs to tell differences between materials that people can be affected by and having the ability to tell what those signs are can be vital to giving someone proper treatment.”
Decontamination training helps the base respond to real-world chemical contaminations and allows the sailors to react to circumstances like this in a timely manner.
By Pfc. Gabriela Garcia-Herrera