Firefighters in Miami preparing for worst

BY JENNIFER MALONEY
jmaloney@herald.com

When Miami firefighters arrived Tuesday morning at the Miami Jai-Alai Fronton on Northwest 37th Avenue, they found eight maintenance workers and their attackers heaving and screaming.
It was only a drill -- the terrorists and maintenance workers were played by volunteers, and the white powder strewed on the ground was flour, not a deadly pesticide. But for the six fire departments that participated in the drill, it was a chance to prepare for the worst kind of emergency: a weapon of mass destruction.
''On the whole, it was a very successful drill,'' said Chuck Lanza, director of Miami-Dade's office of emergency management. ``Relative to the way we were two years ago, we're much more prepared. We just need to never sit back and say we're ready. We're always going to be planning for the unknown.''
The drill Tuesday was the culmination of a $500,000, yearlong training program, prompted by last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the ensuing anthrax scare.
It was designed to test the county's ability to respond to a chemical, biological or nuclear attack.
Miami Fire Engine No. 6 was the first to arrive on the scene, shortly after 9 a.m.
It was followed by 25 more fire and emergency vehicles from Miami-Dade, Miami, Coral Gables, Hialeah, Key Biscayne and Miami Beach.
Firefighters participating in the drill were not told the details of the scenario: a botched attempt to put malathion -- a deadly pesticide -- in the building's ventilation system.
After evaluating clues at the scene, including the symptoms of the victims and the white powdery substance on the ground, the rescue workers donned gas masks and sprayed coughing maintenance workers with water.
The terrorists, fulfilling their roles, tossed fistfuls of the powder at the firefighters.
Within an hour, Miami police officers had restrained the mock terrorists, leading them to a decontamination area in a nearby parking lot where a hazmat team washed them down in portable showers.
At 10:10 a.m., the mock terrorists lay on the ground, clothed in white hazmat suits.