Boardman students, area firefighters get hazmat training

By kalea hall |


Boardman firefighter Jessica Kollmorgen’s mission was to provide the intricate details of pieces of a PVC-pipe puzzle to her partner Nate Miller while dressed in full hazardous-materials gear.

“If they don’t get the job completed, then the next team has to come in and do it,” said David Ware, hazmat instructor from Cleveland State University and an Akron firefighter.

With frustration, Miller tried his best to follow his partner’s radio instructions while bearing the 30-pound air tank and other gear, but in the end they had to move on to the next phase of their instruction.

Two teachers from Cleveland State came to the Boardman Fire Department this week to show 10 Boardman students and other departments how to work with hazmat calls.

The department received a grant from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to have four classes, including confined-space awareness, confined-space rescue, hazmat training and alternative-fuel vehicles. The department had the confined-space classes in January.

“We are running into more and more hazmat [calls],” Fire Chief George Brown said.

Some of those calls include fuel spills, hospital calls and methamphetamine labs.

In January, a tractor-trailer running on compressed natural gas, traveling on U.S. Route 224 in Boardman, caught fire. Brown said he would like to have three to four hazmat technicians on each shift.

“You have to make sure your directions are precise,” Kollmorgen said.

Kollmorgen has been with the department full time for 21/2 years, and Miller has been with the department full time for more than a year.

“It is frustrating [because] you spend a lot of time moving your arm in and out of the sleeve,” Miller said of the hazmat exercise.

But both of them see the importance of having the communication skills, manual dexterity and visual acuity for hazmat calls.

Often, hazmat crew members go into a situation where they need to be able to communicate with outside workers of a facility in difficult situations.

In addition to the hands-on learning, the students also learned in a classroom setting. On day one of training they are in the hazmat suits.

“[We] make each day a little different and a little more difficult,” Ware said.

By day two, visibility was taken from the students, but they were given a radio to communicate, and by the third day of training the students worked until they ran out of air.

“We have timed it to where it is almost impossible to finish without running out of air,” Ware said.

The fourth day also became more difficult to prepare the students for the “big scenario,” where all of the ingredients are put into one situation and the students have to come up with a strategy of how to end the scenario successfully.

“Being able to make decisions is the most-important part,” Ware said.

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