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Police receive decontamination chamber

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

It's not as exciting as a new fire truck or as interesting as computer databases in squad cars, but in today's world it's every bit as important.

The Storm Lake Police and Fire Departments were the recipients of a portable decontamination chamber, made possible with a $10,000 donation from Buena Vista Mutual Insurance Association.

The police department demonstrated the equipment recently. It will be used to decontaminate both officers and suspects who may be exposed to hazardous situations like a methamphetamine laboratory, an anhydrous ammonia spill or any other hazmat situation.

When needed, the portable DECON chamber can be set up in under 10 minutes. It is stored in a military service vehicle used to carry various medical supplies for the police department.

Once set up, the DECON chamber has six chambers allowing two individuals to use the tent at once. They enter the red or hot entrance, where contaminated clothing is removed. The middle chamber on each side has a constant spray of water as well as a hand nozzle to allow an individual to wash off. The final chamber allows an individual to change into sterile clothing for transport either to a medical center or a safe area.

One of the biggest advantages of this unit is the privacy it allows officers and suspects, said Storm Lake Public Safety Director Mark Prosser. In the past, firefighters would hold up sheets to provide privacy while a contaminated individual was sprayed down with a firehose.

In the past 18 months, Prosser said there has been at least four situations that such equipment would have been beneficial. He said there has been a series of investigations that led to the locating of several clandestine methamphetamine labs where both officers and suspects have been decontaminated on site.

"It's not something a few years ago we would have planned on having in Storm Lake, Iowa," Prosser said.

The equipment is not something the department would have budgeted for, he said.

"Without Buena Vista Mutual's donation, this would have stayed on our wish list," Prosser said.

However, the DECON chamber can be used for more than just meth labs. In a world facing the threat of terrorism and the possibility of chemical spills in an agricultural area, Prosser said the new equipment will be beneficial to the entire region.

Ron Lahr, manager for Buena Vista Mutual Insurance, said his organization is glad to be able to help purchase such equipment. "We serve Buena Vista County and the counties around it, and wherever it helps it will ultimately help our customers and our area," Lahr said. "Hopefully it will serve a good purpose. I think it's a good gesture on behalf of the board of directors to do something like this."



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