HAZMAT called to new construction

Published 8:46 pm Wednesday, April 6, 2005

By By RANDI K. PICKLEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - A call was received late Tuesday morning that a 55 gallon barrel had been found buried at a new dental office that is under construction at 123 Marmont St. in Niles. The barrel contained an unknown liquid.
Project Manager for Hansel Associates of Niles, Bill Clark of Altona, Ill., is the on site supervisor for the new clinic. Concerned that the liquid in the barrel might be hazardous, Clark placed a call to the health department who notified the police dispatcher who, in turn, alerted the fire department.
According to Lt. Bill McAllister of the city fire department, when the Niles City Fire Department receives notice from the police dispatcher of possible chemical contamination, a dispatch tone is issued for the city's fire department. A request is also sent to the Niles Township Fire Department's hazardous materials personnel. In turn, the Niles City Police notify their own hazardous materials team, and the three departments work together to investigate the situation.
Protocol also requires that the Berrien County hazardous materials team be notified. They offer additional resources and, if needed, join the other departments either on site or at the fire station.
An initial team is sent to the site to evaluate the nature of the situation, as well as what equipment and supplies might be needed. Usually one fire engine accompanies them.
Then the HAZMAT team arrives. HAZMAT stands for "hazardous materials". All of the officers and fire fighters in both the city and township are trained in HAZMAT procedures. There are three levels of training they must complete to be able to completely address a situation.
According to McAllister, the first level is called "awareness" and enables them to decide if there is actually an incident occurring.
The second stage of training is called "operations" which prepares them to contain the incident as well.
The third stage is the "technical" level. In addition to the previous two capabilities, this stage allows the team member to control the situation.
HAZMAT team members must update their training each year as well.
The construction site on Marmont Street was tested by the initial team which used meters to determine that the liquid in the barrel was not explosive nor did it contain acids. Team members then placed the barrel in an "overpack", which is a large plastic drum into which the barrel is placed, along with a 2 foot square section of soil that surrounded the barrel.
The liquid will be further tested to determine its chemical components and what degree of danger it represents.
The owner of the property, Dr. Richard Beckmeyer, who is building the new dental clinic said, "I'm concerned for the welfare of my patients and staff. We want this building to be safe." Dr. Beckmeyer took over the dental practice from Dr. Ed Martins in 1996.
On orders from Clark, all the workers were sent home until the situation could be evaluated. Once the barrel was removed, he said, "We'll have somebody watching the ditch at all times to make it secure according to the fire departments' recommendations."
The fire department is currently testing the contents of the barrel and will issue a report at a later date.