26 firefighters complete HAZMAT class in Barrow

WINDER -- Earlier this month, the parking lot around Barrow County Station 4 in Auburn resembled a full-fledged chemical disaster. But there was no need to be alarmed.

The faux catastrophe was among the final drills of the weeklong Hazardous Materials Technician class, hosted by Barrow County Emergency Services. Twenty six firefighters from Barrow, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Jackson and Hall Counties, along with the City of Winder, participated in the class.

"This class serves as the foundation for hazardous materials response," said Training Captain Bryan Bullock, of the Barrow department.

Firefighters are required to continue working with hazardous materials teams to become more proficient in the subject. In addition, annual training is required to maintain technician certifications.

During the simulated training emergency, "a tanker carrying gasoline overturned just outside of Barrow County in Gwinnett County," said Barrow Chief Dennis Merrifield. "That incident could have happened in our county, which highlights the need for personnel to be trained in hazardous materials response."

Merrifield said that hosting a class of firefighters from several different agencies allowed his team to become familiar with neighboring departments.

"It's very beneficial for everyone to know the capabilities of surrounding counties, as we rely on each other in the event of a large incident," he said.

By the time a firefighter has finished the technician-level training, they have completed three courses for a total of 80 training hours. The other two courses include awareness-level training and operations-level training.

"It shows a huge level of commitment," said department spokesman Lt. Rob Nowakowski, a technician. "The classes aren't easy for the students when covering copious amounts of information, (and) the hazardous material suits they use during the practical portion of the class are cumbersome and hot.

"However, having personnel with this training is a huge asset to the citizens."