Firefighters Work Hazardous Material Spill Drill At University

Firefighters In Hazmat Suits Working Hazardous Material Spill Drill

Wednesday morning, firefighters were pulling out their hazmat suits and worked a University hazardous material drill.

The Urbana firefighters said this exercise reflects a very possible situation that could happen to students working in university laboratories.

Officials say they wanted to be ready for even the worst case scenarios.

Urbana firefighter, Jeremy Leevey said this drill could save lives in the future.

"If there is an accident, we're going to be the ones who come in and help them out, get them out of harm’s way, and rescue them,” Leevey said. “Also, mitigate the problem and clean up the mess."

When combined, the two spilled chemicals, toluene and acetic acid can be highly corrosive; so corrosive the chemical can burn through human flesh.

Monica Miller, Director of the Division of Research Safety, said she appreciates the Fire Department reaching out to the University with this drill idea.

"Well preparation is really the key,” she said. “And we haven't ever really had a spill like this, and one of the main goals of my group is to prevent [emergencies] and issues like this. And we don't have it very often, but we have to practice and consider the worst case scenario."

During the exercise, two student volunteers were in a staged exposure to the hazardous material.

Amit Patel said the experience was uplifting.

"I jumped at the opportunity to participate in this event because I thought it would be really important to see how the firefighters and paramedics would respond to an emergency situation, in addition to the university staff,” Patel said. “Of course, I did this cause it would be a lot of fun. And it’s good to show the students here that we do care and we are prepared to keep the environment safe for everyone."

Leevey said his team will be ready should any hazardous disasters happen at the University of Illinois.

"This is a fantastic team,” Leevey said. “These guys work hard every day, every shift comes in and works hard every day. Really supports the university and the city of Urbana."

There have been minor chemical accidents in the past, but nothing as large as the staged drill Wednesday morning. No one was injured and no actual chemicals were spilled.

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