Two died when a methamphetamine lab exploded Tuesday, but that didn’t deter them from rejoining their surviving counterparts when a truck involved in an accident started leaking chemicals onto the highway.

The “deaths” were part of a training scenario as firefighters from Guymon, Norman and Oklahoma City joined McAlester firefighters for training at the Southeast Expo Center.

“We’ve had training all last week and we’ll finish it this week,” said Assistant Fire Chief Eddie Sanders.

The training course on hazardous materials was put on by the Oklahoma State University Fire Safety Training division.

It’s a required course for many fire departments, especially if those departments have, like McAlester’s, received Homeland Security funds for certain items or programs.

In McAlester’s case, the program includes more than $451,000 worth of equipment that will enable the department to answer numerous calls.

“We’ll be a regional hazmat response unit,” said Fire Chief Harold Stewart. “But we can use it for anything we deem necessary.

“We’ve been training on this equipment for the last three years, even though we didn’t have the equipment yet.”

The new equipment includes a $67,000 four-wheeled drive crew cab truck with a 125-gallon diesel reserve tank and a winch capable of pulling 12,000 pounds. It also includes a $157,000 trailer that, when fully furnished, will contain an $85,000 hazmat identification system, satellite communications system, computers and more.

The hazmat identification system will allow operators to quickly identify any hazardous samples put into it, Sanders said, adding that will preclude human error in identifying — and therefor containing — a hazardous material.

A telescoping light pole at the rear of the trailer enables operators to light up an area with little difficulty. The lights themselves can be adjusted by remote control so their beams can be thrown farther out or closer in as necessary.

Since it has its own 20-kilowatt generator, the trailer can be taken to a location and left, if necessary, while the truck goes elsewhere.

The command center trailer and the truck that pulls it can be used to assist with any type of emergency, Stewart said, adding “We’re going to integrate it into our emergency operations plan.” Examples of emergencies that the new equipment could be used for include major fires, tornadoes, terrorist attacks and, of course, hazardous material spills.

Since the equipment is provided by the state Homeland Security office, the governor can order it to be dispatched anywhere in the state in the event of a disaster. “If it’s dispatched by the government, it won’t cost the city any money,” Stewart said. “As it is, none of this equipment is costing the city one penny.”

Neither is the training the firefighters are receiving. Eight relatively new McAlester firefighters had to undergo the basic hazardous materials technician course, since they weren’t in on the initial training. Twenty-four others had to have refresher courses.

“That’s a requirement every year,” said Clint Greenwood, an instructor and Oklahoma City firefighter. “These new guys will bolster the team they’ve got right now.”

The scenario Wednesday involved an accident in which unknown chemicals leaked from a truck.

“Anhydrous ammonia, toluene, ammonia — you wouldn’t believe how much of this stuff is moving up and down the highway,” Greenwood said.

Although most of the shipments are in relatively small volumes, such as one-gallon containers of bleach, the sheer number of containers shipped can prove a hazard if they’re spilled in an accident — especially if other chemicals are also spilled. For example, ammonia and bleach mix to form chlorine gas, which can be deadly.

That’s why the firefighters dress for a hazardous material response in head-to-toe suites that fully encapsulate them and their air packs.

“Nothing can get in those suits,” Greenwood said. “They’re really good.”

That’s also why they have to go through decontamination after initially identifying and eventually containing and cleaning up a hazardous material spill.

“It can be dangerous,” Stewart said. “That’s why we train on this constantly.”

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