Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum Engineer Donald Bentley checks Firefighter Josh Haynes for radiation contamination during a recent class.
COVINGTON — Newton County firefighters are prepping for a big test.
On April 17, about 250 public safety personnel from various agencies and numerous counties will converge on Stanton Springs, an undeveloped multi-use park, for a federally mandated drill along U.S. Highway 278 between the park and Ga. Highway. 11.
The drill will simulate an accident involving nuclear waste, said Deputy Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien with Newton County Fire Service. Interstate 20 is a transportation corridor for hazardous materials, and the federal government mandates emergency drills in communities along the corridor. The drills are rotated from community to community along the corridor stretching from Savannah to New Mexico.
County firefighters won’t know exactly what they’re facing that day, but to be as prepared as possible, they are undergoing Modular Emergency Response Radiological Transportation Training, a course covering the basics of what to do when responding to transportation incidents involving radiological material, including how to check for and treat contamination. An instructor with the U.S. Department of Energy was on hand to lead Thursday’s class, where some firefighters got a refresher course and others were learning the material for the first time.
“This is one of several classes that will offer training on proper response and monitoring equipment,” O’Brien said.
Newton Fire Service is the responding and responsible agency for all hazardous incidents in the county, as outlined by the Local Emergency Operations Plan, O’Brien said.
“We have personnel who are qualified to test but we would need the assistance of surrounding fire departments and their equipment to accomplish this. We can handle gross decontamination and again be assisted by other fire departments for further decontamination,” he said. “Regardless of who assists us or responds with us, Newton County Fire is responsible for and will manage all hazardous materials incidents in our community. Fortunately, Newton County Fire Service has great working relationships with surrounding departments and when assistance is needed on emergency incidents, the color of the trucks or jurisdictional boundaries do not stop us from delivering service.”
More details about the April 17 drill will be provided to the public prior to the event. A portion of U.S. 278 is expected to be closed that day.