Weatherford Democrat

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September 10, 2013

Commissioners scope out Hazmat preparedness

By JUDY SHERIDAN

Marking September as Emergency Preparedness Month, Parker County commissioners met Monday at the Hudson Oaks Public Safety Building, beginning their regular session with an overview of the sophisticated, high-dollar equipment used for rare but high-risk hazardous materials events.

Parker County Fire Marshal Shawn Scott, who gave the presentation, ushered members of the court and others through a yellow decon tent set up in the building’s parking lot. 

The tent, capable of decontaminating up to 50 people per hour, uses hot water from the outside and can adjust the temperature of the contained air, he said. Victims are brought in, disrobed, scrubbed and given a government-issued trash bag to wear. 

The water is collected and sent for treatment afterward.

Inside the tent, Parker County’s Emergency Response Team members dressed in the two suits they usually wear, which cost between $90 and $250, Scott said, depending on the level of protection needed. During events, the seams of the suits are sealed with chemical tape.

A Level A suit — fully encapsulated with contained air — can run as high as $1,100 and is good for just one use, he said.

Scott also pointed out non-sparking tool kits — made of aluminum and glass — and a portable mass spectrometer, which can identify up to 400,000 different chemicals or determine the makeup of an unknown chemical.

The purpose of a hazmat is containment and confinement, Scott said, not cleanup.

“It’s only to stop the emergency and minimize the impact on the general public,” he said. “A third party does the cleanup and disposal — whoever caused the incident takes care of that.”

 Combating hazardous materials is expensive, Scott said, and most of the county’s equipment has been purchased with grant funding over time.

In addition, he said, nuclear waste is transported through Parker County, so the state replaces and calibrates the county’s equipment on an annual basis.  

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