Training targets hazardous materials exposure

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comDecember 18, 2012 

— Several fire and medical personnel received training this week to make sure patients are decontaminated before they are admitted to the hospital after hazardous materials exposure.

This month alone, there were three hazardous events, including one in Atwater at the Dole plant in which 75 employees were evacuated, said Gabriel Santos, battalion chief with Cal Fire-Merced County Fire Department.

There was also an incident in Hilmar and one in the Los Banos area.

Santos said contamination isn't uncommon in the valley because of all the materials used in agriculture and related industries.

These kind of events don't happen often, he said, but officials need to react quickly and be properly prepared to deal with such incidents when they do arise.

The two-day training consisted of classes Monday and hands-on activities as well as a tour of Mercy Medical Center on Tuesday, Santos said.

The training was sponsored by Cal Fire-Merced County and the Merced City Fire Department. Participants in the training included personnel from Mercy Medical Center, Madera City Fire Department, Madera County Fire Department and Merced City Fire Department.

Typically when there's a hazardous event, those affected are decontaminated at the scene before being transported to the hospital, Santos said. However, there are people who drive themselves to the hospital without being decontaminated.

A person cannot enter the emergency room without being decontaminated because they could spread the contamination and can cause parts of the hospital or the entire facility to shut down, Santos said.

A small incident can quickly turn into something larger, he added.

Hospital staff need to respond carefully to avoid that taking place.

Mercy has a decontamination room near the emergency room with a back entrance. That's where a patient would be directed to shower and scrub with soap to get rid of the chemicals, said Adam Amaral, fire apparatus engineer with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. If the hospital staff needs assistance with the decontamination process, fire personnel are trained to help.

"We want to make sure that the patient is clean before they enter the door," he said.

Capt. Mark Walker of Merced City Fire Department explained the decontamination process to some of the participants standing around him.

"Ninety percent is gone once the clothing is off," he said, adding that the other 10 percent comes off with water and soap.

Vincent Arroyo, emergency room technician at Mercy, was among those taking part in the training. "They are good," he said of the instructors. "We can be prepared. Everybody can be prepared."

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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