Hazmat team uses homeland security equipment for training

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Team members used hand-held radiation detectors to test a museum's newest acquisitions.

The Jackson-Sikeston-Cape Girardeau SEMO Hazmat-Weapons of Mass Destruction Team tested four pieces of U.S. Army equipment for radiation Friday at the SPEC-OPS Plaza, an outdoor memorial exhibiting military equipment at 2387 W. Jackson Blvd. in Jackson.

The testing achieved two objectives, said Dr. Charles Pewitt, owner of the museum.

Pewitt needed equipment tested for radiation for safety purposes per an agreement with the U.S. Army to house them at the museum and, coincidentally, the hazmat team was looking for a training ground where equipment purchased with grant money from the federal Department of Homeland Security could be used.

Hazmat team members outfitted in radiation suits used hand-held radiation detectors to test the museum's newest acquisitions -- an M109 howitzer propelled gun, M114 command carrier, M42 Duster tank and a M551 Sheridan tank. A report on the status of the machinery will be submitted to Army officials.

The requirement to test for radiation is issued through the Army's USA TACOM Life Cycle Management Center, Pewitt said.

Ernest Friday, TACOM's donations compliance officer, told Pewitt it could send a team from U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., to do the testing.

Pewitt worried over the expense of that and contacted the hazmat team for help.

Jackson fire chief and SEMO hazmat team co-coordinator Brad Golden said the team would welcome a chance to use the high-tech radiation unit in a training session, Pewitt said.

"This is a good situation to work together," Pewitt said.

The effort falls neatly into Pewitt's many objectives for the museum.

Pewitt said he created the memorial to be a teaching tool for students and an interactive history lesson for visitors, who are not charged to visit the memorial.

Pewitt has committed 10 acres of his property to the museum, which is also the location of the Jackson Medical Center, where he is a physician.

In addition to the machinery tested Friday, the museum also houses three cannons from 1820s British warships and a Civil War cannon, he said.

Friday was the first time the hazmat team had the opportunity to train at the museum, he said, and he hopes there are other opportunities in the future.

Other plans include working with the Eagle Scouts for various projects, inviting area students to have an interactive history session with veterans who have used the equipment at the museum, and inviting the Cape Girardeau U.S. Army recruitment office to bring applicants to the museum for a tour, Pewitt said.

The hazmat team, first formed in 1999 and enhanced with tactical components in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks, provides protection in the event of a terrorist attack in Southeast Missouri and support larger communities should there be an attack.

It is one of 28 hazmat teams in the state, said Golden.

Hazmat teams are regional groups of communities that join to meet the Homeland Security team requirements to provide medical and emergency medical treatment, law enforcement and hazardous-material handling in the event of an attack.

Holden said for the first two years grant funding was used to purchase equipment to get teams as prepared as possible in the event of an emergency.

"Most of the teams in the state have got all capabilities met with equipment," Golden said. "Today there's money available through 'sustainment' grants to keep products up-to-date."

In 2003 the SEMO hazmat team acquired a $400,000 hazardous-material response vehicle with an integrated response center and accompanying support trailer. The trailer contains various hazmat suits and instrumentation complete with air monitoring capabilities for monitoring atmospheric gases in large crowd situations up to three miles away, Golden said.

Radiation counters used in Friday's training exercise at the military museum were purchased in 2004, Golden said.

Golden said he looked forward to the exchange, crediting the museum's dedication to honoring military members.

"I've got several firefighters that have served in the military, and some currently serving in the military and one's been to Iraq," he said. "And this veterans museum is great."

carel@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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