Preparing for the worst: Clinic staff practice hazmat decontamination skills

U.S. Navy photo by HM1 Carl Poe

Sailors from Naval Health Clinic Patuxent River complete First Receiver Operations Training Oct. 26. The training culminated with an exercise that required them to practice decontaminating a patient exposed to a nerve agent.

As medical professionals, the staff at Naval Health Clinic Patuxent River have to be prepared for the worst, including a hazmat incident.

To ensure they’re ready, they recently completed First Receiver Operations Training (FROT). The 16-hour class culminated with a live decontamination exercise, during which the Sailors practiced decontaminating a patient exposed to a nerve agent.

First, they had to don personal protective equipment and set up a decontamination tent. Then they had to identify the kind of agent involved, apply triage and conduct agent-specific decontamination.

The result: “They crushed it,” said Brett Cass, the clinic’s Emergency Management Coordinator.

Despite being short-staffed, the Sailors were fully operational in just 6 minutes, 40 seconds, far below the 15-minute requirement, Cass said. They completed the entire exercise — under the watchful eye of a contractor from the Navy Bureau of Medicine — within 24 minutes.

“They knocked it out of the park,” Cass said. “They did more with less. Even short-staffed, it was just a phenomenal team effort, and they had to go above and beyond to get it done.”

The training is vital in the event of a neurological, biological, radiological, environmental or nuclear incident, Cass said. That could be anything from an anthrax attack to a gas spill.

Under the leadership of Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Ryan King, the clinic’s FROT team leader, 10 Sailors completed the class, which is required by the Medical Inspector General. They earned their Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) certifications from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The class was eye-opening, said Aviation Boatswains Mate (Fuel) 2nd Class Matthew Hardy, who works in Occupational Health at the clinic.

“Anything can happen at any time and we have to try to be prepared for that reality,” he said. “That’s why we train to try to save as many people as we can.”