Firefighters train with mock chemical spill

 SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Firefighters from all over Michiana took part in a simulated chemical spill Saturday. The HAZMAT-sponsored training session served as a test for firefighters looking to get certified in the handling of dangerous materials.

Like any well-tuned machine, regular upkeep is crucial.

"We don't get a lot of incidents, but when you do, you have to be prepared," Jim Lopez, Chief of Special Operations for the South Bend Fire Department, said.

That's why firefighters from all over Michiana suited up, and marched into a simulated contaminant spill.

"When you're dealing with a house fire, you go in and try to put the fire out, because you're dealing with something you see," Lopez said. "When you're dealing with HAZMAT (hazardous materials), you're dealing with an unknown."

And there were plenty of unknowns for first responders.

Saturday's scenario involved two victims, and a white powder substance.

"There's so many different incidents you could deal with," Lopez said. "That's why we try to take the all hazards approach."

"This is about a collaborative effort between multi-jurisdictions in order to reduce the loss of life, and/or save lives," John Buckman, State Fire Training Director with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, said.

Even after firefighters get their sample, the job is far from being done.

Contaminants have a tendency to linger, and crews can't take any chances. They have to be cleaned off, and then, the hazardous material can be tested.

"These firefighters and other public safety personnel have to know lots about chemicals," Buckman said. "They have to know a lot about response; they have to know a lot about organization."

Organization, that may very well pay off later during a real chemical spill.

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