How the Omaha Fire Department prepares for hazmat calls

OMAHA, Ne. (WOWT) - First-responders put their lives and health on the line every day.

That situation played out Wednesday when the Omaha Fire Department responded to a hazmat situation at Nathan Hale Middle School.

"This is a level A hazmat suit. He's fully encapsulated, no atmospheric gas or anything is going to get through this suit," Battalion Chief Coby Werner said.

On Friday, Werner and other firefighters explained how they prepare to respond to hazardous materials.

Before a firefighter can work in a hazmat situation, they have to go through 80 hours of training. This covers a wide variety of safety and rescue tactics.

But training doesn't stop there.

"Every one of our hazardous material technicians receives at a minimum, 30 to 40 hours of continuing education per year — and some of them receive far more than that," Werner said.

The suit, while necessary, makes it harder to work quickly. Thick gloves make it hard to grip and the window you look out of has limited vision — not to mention, your breath instantly starts to fog the suit.

Omaha firefighters said they tend to keep rags inside the suit with them to wipe condensation off the inside of the suit.

Omaha Fire said they can respond to more than 1,500 hazardous material calls a year. Usually, a few hundred of those require the bright orange Level A suits.

Werner said Omaha's variety of large roads and railways are often the scene for a hazmat call.

"You see a lot of cargo tankers, bulk cargo tankers, and it can be anything from a toxic substance such as a gas, a liquid or a solid," he said.