Miami Dade Fire-Rescue showcased its emergency response procedures and equipment during a hazardous material drill Monday amid fears over nuclear radiation leaks in Japan.
The situation in Japan has sparked concern over South Florida's Turkey Point nuclear power plant.
"We are prepared to do mass decontamination of a lot of patients," said Sparky Thomson, of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's hazmat team.
As the sixth-largest fire department in the U.S., Miami-Dade Fire Rescue has all the tools and training necessary for a major radiological emergency.
"This situation in Japan is just an example of what could happen," Thomson said. "By training for the worst-case scenario, we are ready for it."
In fact, every year, the department stages an elaborate training scenario at Turkey Point. Using state-of-the-art equipment, rescuers can detect dangerous radiation levels.
"If you had a particular spot, it would tell me. My alarm levels would go up," Thomson said.
A piece of equipment that looks like a car wash is actually a decontamination hot zone, and an innocent-looking trailer is a hazmat resource that could save numerous lives.
Once inside the mass decontamination trailer, people will be asked to take off all their clothing, put them in a bag, seal it and send them out to be destroyed. Then, they will wash with soap and water and rinse off at another station. After another washing and another rinsing, the affected people will be given clean clothes and then rescanned to see if they are still contaminated.
The system is even equipped to handle patients on stretchers.
"Their clothes would be cut off. We would then wash them down thoroughly, flip them over and wash them down, all while maintaining medical procedures," Thomson said.
Workers wear protective suits as they survey those who might be contaminated.
The hazmat team has never had to use the tools in a real emergency, but having the right equipment to protect themselves and others is great assurance.
"It increased our chances of survival," said Alvaro Tonanez, of Miami-Dade Fire Hazmat Rescue. "The longer we can stay there, the quicker we can do our job and rescue as many people as possible."
Although he has never had to wear the heavy-duty hazmat suits, Tonanez, a 15-year veteran, is confident the teams could handle the worst if it ever happens.
"We never have to worry about it. But if the case comes up, we are well trained and are ready to go," he said.
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