Using Caution: Matamoros, local firefighters team up for disaster training

HARLINGEN — The Matamoros bomberos, the firefighters, had their hands full.

A rail tank car was leaking chlorine, and victims were piling up at the decontamination tent.

Miles away at the Harlingen Emergency Operations Center, the disaster response was being directed in real-time via Skype video. It was a first for Texas, and possibly the United States, officials said.

The mock haz-mat incident yesterday morning was of course a training exercise at Casa de Amistad’s parking lot, one that involved a dozen U.S. agencies in addition to 20 or so Matamoros firefighters.

Officials said “border” was just a word when it comes to a leak of wind-blown hazardous gas or other material, whether it originated in the United States or Mexico. It capped a week of training here for the Matamoros bomberos.

“We’re allowing the border to be non-existent when it comes to emergency responses,” said Brownsville Fire Chief Carlos Elizondo.

“We’re so close to the border especially with these chemical plants over there that exist now, it would take us a long time to cross the border and assist them,” he said.

“So if they’re there and already trained as first responders to take care of their own emergencies, we’re in support to those emergency needs,” he added. “It’s a great event between Harlingen and Matamoros … and I’m glad it’s happening.”

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