First responders simulate search for bioweapon at Dixie State University

Posted at 8:54 PM, Feb 26, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-26 22:54:11-05

ST GEORGE, Utah - Firefighters searched Dixie State University for a bio-chemical weapon Wednesday. It was part of a training that brought in crews from several different states to learn the specialized skills.

The National Guard Eighth Civil Support Unit out of Colorado put on the training. The officers in the unit specialize in chemical attacks and conduct trainings in Utah, Idaho and Nevada. Unit commander Lt. Col. Kevin Black said the exercises are vital for when the real thing happens.

“Putting the suit on, we do that every day,” Black said. “But face-to-face working with the partner you’re going to support: That’s critical, and doing that as many times as you can do that, there’s no substitute for that, that’s the most important thing we do in training.”

The scenario at Dixie State focused mainly on bio-terrorism, and it sent crews into the tunnels beneath the university looking for a realistic replica of a terrorist weapon. Coordinators admit it’s an extreme situation, but St. George Fire captain Jason Whipple said those skills translate into everyday operations.

“We train a lot of men on incident command, operations, those kinds of things,” Whipple said. “It is good for us that way, we use that same system when we have structure fires or any other kind of incident that we go on.”

Because of their real life look, and despite public warnings, some residents thought it was real. Whipple said once they reassured residents it was just a test, those onlookers expressed gratitude for the officers’ dedication.

“They’re really like, ‘hey, that’s great. That’s great that we’re using these resources,” Whipple said. “Not just for the federal side of things, but actually on a local level. We’re seeing the benefit of those things.”

The crews have been running exercises all week, using different locations throughout St. George. The trainings will wrap up on Friday.