Pelham, Alabaster first responders unite for hazmat training

PELHAM – Several local first responder teams joined forces for three days of training exercises with the Alabama Army National Guard on the campus of what used to be Valley Elementary School on U.S. 31 from Tuesday through Thursday, June 13-16.

The Pelham Fire Department’s hazardous materials team, Alabaster Fire Department’s decontamination team, Pelham Police Department’s tactical response team and the Alabama Army National Guard’s 46th Civil Support Team Weapons of Mass Destruction unit gathered with the purpose of building a strong relationships just in case there’s ever a situation in Shelby County that threatens the safety of residents.

Between the different agencies, about 40 first responders participated in the training.

“We like to get to know each other in advance so that we’re not just meeting for the first time in the event of an emergency,” Pelham Fire Chief Tim Honeycutt said.

Throughout the training exercises, Honeycutt said the teams worked with various hazmat chemicals that could be encountered in the line of duty.

Pelham and Alabaster fire departments are responsible for providing hazmat and decontamination services for the entire county. In the event of a hazardous materials incident, Honeycutt said teams from both fire departments would be deployed to the scene.

“This training is beneficial for us because we get to see the capabilities of each unit,” Honeycutt said. “To be honest, before Tuesday I didn’t know what the Alabama Army National Guard team was capable of. Now I know that if a particular agent is present then that’s something we need their help with.”

If an unknown substance is present during an incident, Alabama Army National Guard Capt. Scott Massey said his team has the analytical capabilities to figure out what the substance is and how it needs to be handled.

“Very few fire departments have the capabilities to identify substances, so that would be a situation where they would call on us for help,” Massey said. “We can also help them mitigate situations and offer our advice.

“We work for the civilian authorities,” Massey added. “We don’t come in and take over anything.”

Massey said his team is self-sustaining and has a complete decontamination setup that can be assembled on site.

During training, the teams were presented with scenarios to see how they managed each incident.

“This gives us an opportunity to correct ourselves and see if there is something that we could be doing better,” Honeycutt said.

Massey said his team travels throughout the state participating in training exercises with various first responder teams. The team receives federal and state funding that allows them to participate in at least one training per month.

Honeycutt said he’d like to train with the Alabaster Fire Department and the Alabama Army National Guard team at least semi-annually. Massey said every training is different in an effort to keep the teams on their toes.