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Suppose a student in the research labs at Northwestern University mixed up a couple of chemicals that didn’t like each other and an explosion occurred, resulting in injuries. How would you handle it?

That was the scenario that formed the basis of a multi-agency training drill on the campus Thursday morning, involving the Evanston Fire Department, Northwestern police, the university’s Office of Research Safety, and the regional Hazardous Materials Response Team that consists of personnel from a number of surrounding fire departments.

First, the “injured” students, portrayed by actors, were loaded into ambulances and whisked off to nearby hospitals. Then the alarm went out for the regional haz-mat team to arrive, complete with an array of tools and protective gear that would make them look like creatures from another galaxy.

Here’s what the haz-mat team member’s portable “office” looked like:

Next, it was time to get dressed in gear that would protect them from any wayward chemicals–either solid, liquid, or vapor–that they might encounter when they entered the lab.

All the while, a strange chirping sound was heard that officials said was the personal alarm contained in each suit that would go off whenever the occupant was not moving. This comes in really handy, firefighters said, when someone goes down while fighting a fire, as it summons a colleague to come to the rescue.

The haz-mat team entered the lab, two at a time, taking pictures of the damage and marking the location of any potentially hazardous material.

Meanwhile, outside the building at the Incident Command vehicle, respresentatives of the various agencies gathered to monitor the action and decide what to do next.

The primary goal of the exercise was to enhance response to a hazardous materials incident by bringing the key players together to refine response protocols of all agencies via teamwork and communication.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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