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First responders undergo hazmat training at Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport

‘Safety is our biggest priority, and so we want to make sure that if something does happen, we’re reacting to it.’

You may have saw some smoke coming from the Roanoke Blacksburg Regional Airport Saturday night.
You may have saw some smoke coming from the Roanoke Blacksburg Regional Airport Saturday night.

ROANOKE, Va. – You may have seen some smoke coming from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport Saturday night.

But there was nothing to be alarmed about. It was all a part of a hazmat training to keep first responders ready for any airplane emergency.

Rather than getting ready for takeoff, local firefighters were ready to battle a simulated airplane emergency. With smoke rising to the sky, 75 people participated in the hazmat training.

Chief of Public Safety Ben Cook said they have to focus on skills like forcible entry and searching in close quarters.

“It’s a little bit of a challenge, especially for an airplane because the seating is narrow, the smell, there is a lot of people,” he said. “So, we have to navigate around all that.”

In the cargo compartment, firefighters discovered a small fake fire caused by lithium batteries and an insecticide. The toxic fumes affected 22 passengers, young and old.

Director of Marketing and Air Service Development Brad Boettcher said normally they use real people as actors for the training. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, inflatable dolls had to suffice.

“Three years ago, we had 125 volunteers that we dressed up and so the first responders could actually see what they were dealing with,” he said. “This time we were using inflatable dummies with triage cards on them where it was more reading and thinking through things as opposed to being able to look and observe.”

Pulling passengers out one at a time, the firefighters, unfortunately, discovered that one did not make it.

The remaining victims were decontaminated under a water spray from a fire engine and then transported to LewisGale Hospital.

Boettcher said the full-scale training happens once every three years to help build up muscle memory.

“Safety is our biggest priority, and so we want to make sure that if something does happen, we’re reacting to it,” he said. “We’re not having to think through the different scenarios.”

After three hours of training, the team met for a debriefing to discuss the areas they could improve on for next time.


About the Author:

Alexus joined 10 News in October 2020.