By Sean Barron
It’s been said that milk does a body good, but on occasion, it can be good for causing a response from the Mahoning County Hazardous Materials Response Team.
In two incidents within the past few years, a truck overturned on a ramp off Interstate 76 in Jackson Township, spilling buttermilk and regular milk into a creek that feeds into Meander Reservoir.
Both required the local HAZMAT team because milk inevitably spoils, which results in a buildup of harmful bacteria that kill many fish, leading to more bacteria that can contaminate the region’s drinking water, noted Lt. Adam Noble of the response team, who was on the scene during both accidents.
Dealing with contamination related to fires, however, is much more common for HAZMAT teams than cleaning up spilled milk. But both show the diversity of situations that can require such a response, he explained.
To that end, Noble and other HAZMAT officials were among those at Saturday’s “Feel the Heat” demonstration outside of the Mahoning County Career & Technical Center, 7300 N. Palmyra Road.
Also on hand was the American Red Cross of the Mahoning Valley, along with firefighters from several area departments.
The gathering featured a 20-foot metal trailer in which two fires were intentionally set to simulate what first-responders typically deal with in house fires. Also, a few Red Cross volunteers spoke on how the agency helps victims recover from such disasters.
“They’ll be ready for a real house fire and the heat, smoke and darkness,” Noble added.
Firefighters used a high-pressure hose to cool the trailer’s exterior and extinguish the first conflagration in which straw and wooden pallets had been set ablaze. At one point, the temperature reached close to 1,000 degrees, noted Capt. John Lightly of the Youngstown Fire Department, who also was an instructor.
In the second simulation, three chairs were set on fire. Furniture and numerous other household items normally burn hotter — and present an additional challenge to firefighters — because many such materials are made partially from byproducts of oil, Lightly explained.
Consequently, the second fire produced a heavier, thicker, black smoke and a temperature between 1,700 and 2,000 degrees. The type of smoke a fire emits tells safety forces a lot about what they are about to deal with, noted Mike Blythe, the Green Township Fire Department’s assistant chief.
Before the fires were set, Ted Everett Sr. and other Hazmat officials gave a demonstration on their equipment, which includes self-contained breathing apparatuses, evidence-collection boxes and decontamination suits. The team also uses cameras that can provide vital information to save time and lives.
Various Hazmat operations have become increasingly sophisticated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, noted Everett, the response team’s chief and director.
Even though the Red Cross is known more for responding to high-profile calamities, the bulk of its work includes addressing the immediate and essential needs of victims of local disasters and tragedies, noted Karen Conklin, executive director.
“We provide clothing, food, shelter and emotional grounding that they need to move on with their lives,” she explained.
Such services include temporary lodging and connections with other resources, Conklin continued, noting that her agency receives no government money and that 91 percent of its funds go to victims’ needs.
Regardless of the amount of training and experience firefighters receive, each situation they face presents unique challenges and potential pitfalls, so it’s impossible for first-responders to fully know what to expect, Blythe said.
“A fire is a living, breathing thing,” he added. “Each fire has a personality.”