Ayer Fire Dept. gets decon unit from state
By C. David Gordon

AYER -- It's a 15-foot-long, eight-foot-tall white aluminum trailer with a side door as well as a full door taking up the entire rear. It has a row of small lights across its front edge, its two axles and four tires indicating that an especially powerful truck is needed to pull it around.

When this trailer was brought to Ayer Fire department's Central Fire Station on Feb. 13, it caused Engine 3, used now mainly for brush fires, to lose its place in the overcrowded station, instead taking up residence at the Shirley Fire Department's North Shirley substation (this is only temporary, as the new fire station will house both vehicles when completed).

Inside, however, is something like $60,000 worth of equipment and materials. Firefighters/EMTs will soon have a field day when they pull things out of boxes and set the contents up. That setting up will take Ladder 1's entire bay, when it takes place.

This special trailer, which contains approximately $60,000 worth of equipment, is a decontamination unit. The state provided the unit to the department free of charge, as it will do for every fire department located in a community with a hospital. In addition, for each fire district across the Commonwealth, one additional trailer will be placed with a local fire department. Ayer is part of Fire District Six; it is not yet known which town's department will receive that district's extra decon unit. According to the Department of Fire Services Quarterly, 92 custom designed mass decontamination units are being issued in the state.

These decon units, the publication states, "will allow fire departments to rapidly decontaminate hundreds of people who may have been exposed to chemical, radiological, or biological agents." Should a major release of contamination, either from a major transportation accident or a deliberate act of terrorism, this unit can decontaminate people who, while not necessarily requiring rescue, could spread contamination wherever they go. The unit can decontaminate hundreds of people in the space of an hour.

The state's purchase of 23 of these units has been done through federal funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, with added Justice Department anti-terrorism funds paying for 69 others. The trailers are designated as Rapid Response Transport and are manufactured by TVI Corporation of Glenn Dale, Maryland.

The Ayer department's three captains -- Paul Fillebrown Jr., Timothy Johnston and Robert Pedrazzi -- have taken a two-day class on these decon units at Westford. Pedrazzi said that the captains and another firefighter were able to set the unit up in 16 minutes during a test run. Each firefighter taking the class received a training booklet and other supplements. Training has now begun for others in the Ayer department.

The decon unit involves three tents to be set up in a series. People are moved into the first tent where contaminated clothing is removed and placed outside of the tent for disposal. They shower in the second tent, from which water with contaminants flows into a special bladder for removal. In the third tent, each individual receives a set of new clothing made of a paper-like substance.

According to Pedrazzi, three corridors are established through the three tents -- one for men, a second for women, and a third for emergency staff. People go through on rollers. The unit comes complete with its own generator to provide power for lights and heat.

"Everything has a place," Pedrazzi said, adding that the whole unit is color coded for quick assembly or organization.

Although the firefighters are amazed and pleased with the new units, Pedrazzi spoke for the entire department when he said, "We're hopeful we'll never have to use them."