By David Irvin: Freedom Newspapers
The Clovis hazardous materials team is trained to walk through nerve gas, identify suspicious powders and plug toxic leaks.
Combining its efforts with other teams in the area, it could potentially respond to a terrorist attack 800 miles away.
Besides its proficiency in dangerous tasks, the all-volunteer group of local firefighters also showed a bit of industriousness at a HAZMAT competition last year in Los Alamos.
“We camped out ’cause we couldn’t afford to stay in hotels in Los Alamos,” said Rick Potter, who heads up the team. “And these guys, by lantern light, practiced everything they could think of probably till 10 or 11 at night.”
The competition between 13 HAZMAT teams from New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas presented mock meth labs and other hazardous threats. Even though the Clovis team slept under the stars, it came away with a sportsmanship award.
The Clovis team has been operating for about four years. Teams like this have sprung up all over the country. But the Clovis team, combined with efforts with responders in Portales, Tucumcari, Texico, Cannon Air Force Base and Melrose, may be to only regional response team in New Mexico. Sentence makes no sense
“After 9/11 you saw this really develop,” said paramedic J.R. Whatley. “After 9/11 … they (the federal government) said we’re not going to stand for this. They allocated and made money available for departments like us.”
To date, the city of Clovis hasn’t had to fund anything other than overtime hours for the operation of the HAZMAT team, Potter said. The members of the team, however, have put in hundreds of hours of training to stay proficient in the most dangerous of tasks.
Local emergency officials say the addition of the HAZMAT team to Clovis adds significantly to the safety of the community.
“It brings a huge value in the sense because we have (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) and all the truck traffic that carries hazardous materials,” said Curry County Emergency Director Ken De Los Santos.
He said Curry County received more than $400,000 in 2003 from Homeland Security, and more than $850,000 in 2004. De Los Santos is submitting the project list for the 2005 funding.
Recently, the HAZMAT team was called out to identify a suspicious white powder — which turned out to be benzoyl peroxide — that had been dropped into a mail box at PNM Gas office at 600 Georgia St. Benzoyl peroxide can cause eye irritation and may irritate the skin with prolonged contact.
Many of the same fire department personnel who man the HAZMAT team also volunteered for the newly created Fire Department Color Guard. More than just posting colors at events, the honor guard has a more somber mission.
“When you have a firefighter die (retired or in the line of duty death) the fire department is one big family; everybody takes care of everyone else,” James said. The last thing you can do for him and his family is bestow upon him the honor of being buried with dignity.”
The honor guard is raising money through fund-raisers to purchase 13 uniforms, which go for $659 a piece.