Westport 10/10

Only a few weeks left in Firefighter 1 now, and the past week or two have been perhaps the heaviest in the three-month schedule. That's because we had a state instructor in from the Buffalo area to give extra lectures in Hazardous Materials (Hazmat), plus we had practicals last Saturday, six hours on extinguishers and vehicle fires.

The Hazmat stuff is a real eye-opener in a whole lot of ways. You have no idea what's traveling up and down the Northway and the railroad tracks. At least, I had no idea. In addition to learning what to do if some of these rather alarming substances spill (get upwind and uphill is the first rule of thumb), I also got a good insight into how fire departments can differ quite widely in the sorts of things they're called on to handle.

For example, a guy in the class from a nearby department doesn't have either the Interstate or any railroad tracks in his fire district. He stayed pretty relaxed. I, on the other hand, got sweaty palms. He's been in his company for a year, and during that time he's been called to two fires and two accidents. Neither accident was serious. I've been in for just a few months and have been called to no fires and three accidents, one of which involved a fatality and multiple injuries.

Our calls, in other words, are about 80% accidents, and most of those are on the Northway. Where the big rigs haul the bad stuff. Stuff like phosgene gas, developed as a nerve agent but also used in industrial applications. This is what killed several thousand people in Bhopal, India, in the 1980s-when a faulty valve leaked for about one minute. It's so lethal that using it for industry is against the law in the US.

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