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 September 27, 2003
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Students Learn HAZMAT Skills
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Landmark Medical Center
Woonsocket Fire Department

Getting ready to respond in case of a major bioterrorist attack is no game.  In fact, these high school seniors take it very seriously. Today is just a drill but what they're practicing for could help save thousands of lives.

"I never thought i'd be doing this. But i'm glad to know that i'm doing it," says 17-year-old Lucy Malo of Woonsocket.

These three girls are all students at the Woonsocket Area Career and Technical Center.  They're just a few of the dozen or so high school students that are now fully certified in biohazard decontamination after training with Woonsocket Fire Department's Hazardous Materials Team.

"Since 9/11, we've realized that first responders can't be everywhere at every time. The same level of expertise in training these kids is given to firefighters through out. No corners were cut," says Woonsocket HAZMAT officer Steven Preston.

The training is done in conjunction with the school's Health Occcupations class, which prepares kids who are considering a career in health care.  After days of intense training, the students participated in a mock disaster drill at Landmark Medical Center in May, proving they're an integral part of Northern Rhode Island's emergency response team.

"This is a way for hospital to get extra resources," says Preston.

"They're very enthusiastic. I can tell they're very comfortable when they walk through the emergency department and that they're well trained," says Landmark's Chief Nursing Officer Betsy Haker.

The training has not only given them invaluable experience but also the confidence that they can play with the big boys and help out in the most dire situations.

"God forbid anything does happen. It's a pleasure to be able to do this," says 16-year-old Sara Paul.

"It taught us something new. Not a lot of people get to do that," says 16-year-old Maria Ortiz. 

Their teacher is Registereed Nurse Eleanor Pierannunzi who says, "Sometimes we undermine what teenagers are capable of and this really demonstrates how wonderful they can be and what contributions they can make."

This is the first time a Rhode Island community has used high school students in such a program and it's already catching on.  Davies Vocational School in Lincoln is working on training some of its students in biohazard decontamination.


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