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Hazardous material training needed

By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
Just like the Atmore Community Hospital, the Atmore Fire Department has an emergency plan that will be enacted when disaster strikes.
The plan is solid, according to Fire Chief Gerry McGhee, but there is no such thing as enough when it comes to disaster preparedness.
A large part of the plan is having all the information gathered in one place with the contact telephone numbers of everyone who might be called on to help in the case of such an emergency.
McGhee said those include cellular telephone numbers as well as other numbers for key employees with the city, the utilities department, Alabama Power and the hospital.
The area departments get together and have mock drills. The last one was almost two years ago, McGhee said.
But when it comes to handling hazardous materials, the training and drilling is almost constant for the city firefighters.
"It is mandatory that we drill every year," McGhee said.
"We used to have to put in eight hours (drill), now it is up to twelve."
The hazardous material handling is what concerns David Jennings, director of the Emergency Management Agency, most.
Jennings said of the more than 400 firefighters in Escambia County, which are either volunteer or career firefighters, only about 20-25 are trained up to the hazardous materials technician level.
Training for haz mat can be very expensive. McGhee touched on that as well.
He said the instructor Atmore uses comes down from the fire college in Tuscaloosa to drill his men, but that it is costly.
McGhee is looking forward to the training that will take place at the beginning of the year. It is to be held at the Poarch Band of Creek Indians reservation, and will be offered free of charge to area firefighters who wish to participate.
"I talked to David Jennings Thursday," McGhee said. "The training is still in the planning stages."
But the training will go a long way toward filling McGhee's wish list for disaster preparedness.
"If there is a disaster, we have a plan in effect, we call the hospital, we evacuate certain areas," he said. "You can have equipment. We have two level A suits and six level B suits," for responders to wear in the event they have to deal with hazardous materials.
"But you can never have enough training. We need more haz mat technicians," he said.
At this time the Atmore Fire Department only has one firefighter who is fully trained as a hazardous materials technician.