January 24th, 2021

HAZMAT team ready for the unknown

By Jensen, Randy on October 14, 2020.

Firefighters Ryan Chollak and Antony Smith leave a staging tent to take part in the Lethbridge Fire and Emergency Services Hazmat Team training session Tuesday morning at the Fire Station No. 4. training centre. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


The Lethbridge fire department Hazardous Materials team held a special training session at the department’s training grounds at Fire Hall No. 4 on Tuesday.

The HAZMAT team is made up of 36 volunteers from the department and serves the whole region, explains team lead Chris McLennon. They respond to about 400 calls per year to all types of industrial accidents or situations where chemical dangers might linger. They also often assist police in identifying substances like fentanyl or methamphetamine. Most calls start with an unknown odour complaint.

“The suits you see today are Level A chemical protective suits; so those are the be-all and end-all of chemical protection,” McLennon explains as two men in orange spacesuit looking things get ready to enter a tower-like structure on the training grounds. Training like this is key to success and safety where chemicals are concerned, he says.

“The guys were going into a tower to do what we call chemical hide-and-go seek,” McLennon explains. “I’ve hidden some chemicals in there, and the guys are going in with some detection gear. They have to make an attempt to find out where it is located, and then bring it out to use some of our other advanced monitors to determine what that chemical was.”

With fires and road accidents the risks are better known, and can be accounted for, says McLennon, but with HAZMAT situations it’s what his team members don’t know that puts them at greatest risk even with all their training and experience.

“Unknown is the biggest thing,” he states. “We go in and we don’t know what we are dealing with. The biggest challenge we have is identifying what that product is.”

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