Oklahoma team takes first place in LANL's Hazmat challenge

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By Roger Snodgrass

The results are in from the 13th annual Hazmat Challenge, hosted this week by Los Alamos National Laboratory. The competition featured hazardous response teams from New Mexico and Oklahoma.

This year’s first place winner was the Midwest City, Oklahoma Fire Department with the Farmington Fire Department in second place and Española Fire Department coming in third.

“Last year, Farmington won and Midwest City came in second,” Brad Lounsbury said. He is a longtime hazardous materials technician and the LANL hazardous devices team leader.

“Midwest City came in first the year before,” he said. “The competition is well established between the two. Kudos to both of those teams.”

Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and the Santa Fe Fire Department also participated in the technical training props, two special events and an obstacle course.

Held at the Laboratory’s Technical Area 49, the event challenged participants to respond to simulated hazardous materials emergencies involving a rail car, a clandestine laboratory, transportation and industrial piping scenarios, a simulated radiological release, as well as responding to an emergency in a confined space, according to Chris Rittner of the Laboratory’s Emergency Operations Division in a laboratory announcement.

The finale of the Hazmat Challenge is an obstacle course; teams are graded and earn points based on their response skills.

“The most worthwhile prop, the one I learned the most from, was the rescue prop,” Lounsbury said.

The rescue scenario involved plucking two victims from a vehicle. They were terrorists mixing chemicals for an attack, but the chemicals reacted more quickly than they expected and blew up on them.”

The emergency included identifying the chemicals and pulling full-weight rescue manikins out of the wreckage and then going through a decontamination line.”

Lounsbury said some of the events and emergency props are updated each year to lend more currency to the exercises.

“This year was more of a thinking man’s game,” he said. “You had to give some situations a lot of thought, rather than just act.

The Laboratory began the Hazmat Challenge in 1996 as a way to hone the skills of its own members. The competition now offers a training opportunity for other New Mexico and regional hazardous materials response teams. Winning teams receive a plaque.