A look inside Vermont's hazmat team - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

A look inside Vermont's hazmat team

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BURLINGTON, Vt. - When Chris Herrick, chief of Vermont's hazmat team, started his job as a firefighter in 1985, the state of Vermont had no hazmat team-- nobody trained to respond to dangerous chemicals, bombs or drugs. As the state created the hazmat response group nine years later, Herrick was plucked to lead it.

Herrick said he loves his job; it is a satisfying profession, he says, “All these people go home knowing they're safe and there is some real satisfaction in that."

The team works in conjunction with local fire departments to handle potentially dangerous chemicals. The squad showed off its training Thursday in Burlington's Old North End when an employee from the HowardCenter called in a suspicious package. Draped in their neon green or blue suits, the hazmat team arrived, prepared to determine if any chemicals are hazardous.

Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling said someone had written “nerve agent” on a bag they had taken to the needle exchange site.

Members of the hazmat team are all former firefighters, and they carry over 40 pounds of equipment on each mission. Using a special oxygen tank, each team member can walk into harm's way and stay for over an hour.

“The reason for that is if you're in a contaminated zone, you have to be decontaminated so we have to build that time in,” Herrick said.

Thursday, hazmat pros identified the substance and cleared the area within 30 minutes.

Thanks to a new instrument, the hazmat team is now able to identify almost any chemical.

"The beauty of this instrument,” Herrick said, “Is we need a very small amount, maybe five grains of whatever the substance is.”

It's called the hazmat ID 360; it can identify almost any chemical. Thursday in Burlington, it showed there was no nerve agent at the site, but the hazmat ID 360 is critical in the state's response to meth labs. The team can also test a powder right in the field to find out if its methamphetamine.

As the hazmat team nears its 30th birthday, it can now service every part of the state. It's a FEMA Type 1 hazmat team which means it's capable of responding to almost any chemical disaster in the state.

Related Story:

Police: Suspicious package in Burlington a hoax
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