St. Joseph County firefighters prepare for HAZMAT situation

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- It all unfolded in real time, with all of the equipment that would be used for a HAZMAT situation, all of the carefully calculated planning, and even three people playing the victims.

St. Joseph County firefighters suited up to fight a different battle than usual Saturday as part of an annual HAZMAT training.

“A firefighter usually runs in and puts water on the fire. When you’re dealing with a hazardous material or a chemical or a biological, we’re dealing with something that might not be seen, so we have to take a totally different approach,” South Bend Fire Department Operations Chief Jim Lopez said.

Today, the scenario mimicked the mixing of household cleaning products gone wrong.

“There’s so much to this it’s basically you get there and it’s hurry up and wait. You make sure that you’re ready and everything is good, your suits are compatible and you go in, so it takes quite a bit of time,” Indiana Firefighter Training Section Chief David Probo said.

This year's curriculum is new, updated from last year, to improve HAZMAT response.

“I’m coming up to kind of watch everything, critique from the instructors see how everything works, see if we have to make any changes to the curriculum or the testing package,” Probo said.

“Always improving, that’s our goal is to always improve our class and improve our team and improve our response to the community,” South Bend Fire Department HAZMAT Team Capitan Darrell Eiler said.

Operations Chief Jim Lopez says hands-on training like today's is the best way to learn to do it the right way.

“We can do all of the reading in a book, but until you actually do it and do it the proper way, you’re not going to know,” Lopez said.

Operations Chief Jim Lopez says after Saturday, there is just one written exam for those firefighters to pass in order to complete the course.

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