Traveling to Barrow, Alaska — the northernmost point in the United States — is no easy feat in July, much less in November. There are no roads to Barrow and the closest city of any size is Fairbanks, 500+ miles to the south. Extreme weather conditions can cause flight delays or close the airport altogether.
Despite the challenges, responders in this northern corner of the United States are eager for disaster response training offered by TEEX. The North Slope Borough Fire Department hosted two classes in November at Barrow Fire Station #1: a one-day Awareness Training for hazardous materials incidents and a three-day Operational Level Response to HazMat/WMD Incidents.
“Training in Barrow reminds us that some U.S. responders are truly on their own for quite a while if something happens,” said TEEX Instructor Lori Peace. “And they are anxious to learn.” Through scenario-based activities, participants learned to recognize hazards, analyze the problem and implement a plan to prevent the spread of the hazard to the public and the environment.
As one participant put it: “Before attending this class, I had close to no knowledge of the material (covered). I feel like I have gained a lot of knowledge about hazardous materials and can share this information with my fellow responders.”
Participants flew in for the training from as far away as Point Lay, AK, 180 miles away, and Nuiqsut, 140 miles away. Besides Peace, TEEX instructors were Kent Gardner and John Mickelson. The DHS/FEMA-funded training was offered by the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center under the Homeland Security National Training Program Cooperative Agreement.
Portions of the recent training sessions were also observed by representatives from the Alaska Department of Public Safety to determine if participants who pass the ProBoard HazMat Operations certification exam could easily transfer those certifications to an Alaska State Fire Certification, Peace added.
About 200 first responders in the area are seeking certification at the HazMat Awareness and/or Operations level, according to North Slope Borough Fire Department Assistant Chief Joseph Dingman.