Tina Reddick pulls on a camouflage chemical protective suit, pulls on butyl rubber boots and gloves and then – for the finishing touch – dons an M40A1 protective mask and steps into a room where emergency responders are training with toxic nerve agents. Depending on what day it is, she’ll be in a training venue where responders are training with GB (Sarin) or VX nerve agent. On another day, she may be with responders who are training with ricin or anthrax.
At the CDP’s Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological Training Facility (COBRATF) where Reddick, age 35, has worked as a contract employee for the better part of 13 years, these training venues are referred to as the “Hot Zone”. For Reddick, working in the COBRATF’s “Hot Zone” is just another day at the office. In fact, on Jan. 2, Reddick became the first CDP employee to achieve 1,000 entries into the COBRATF’s “Hot Zone”.
“It’s just exciting,” Reddick said, speaking of her work. “It’s so different because it’s the only place in the country that we do this type of training, so it makes it much more special and exciting.”
The CDP provides all-hazards, hands-on training to help civilian responders prepare for mass casualty incidents caused by acts of terrorism or natural disasters. Several CDP courses include training in the COBRA Training Facility, where responders engage in scenario-based exercises that require critical-thinking skills related to the selection and use of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRNE) detection and sampling instruments.
“The COBRATF is the only facility in the nation that offers state, local, tribal, and territorial emergency responders a hands-on training experience with toxic nerve agents,” explained Gary Milner, Assistant Director of the COBRATF. “The result is overwhelmingly increased confidence that they can respond to and survive a chemical or all-hazards environment by trusting their personal protective equipment and operational practices.”
Each time Reddick enters the “Hot Zone”, she spends at least three hours in full protective gear in and around lethal doses of nerve agent. A full-time employee working 40 hours a week, logs about 2,080 work hours a year. For Tina, this means she has spent about a year and a half of her work life in personal protective equipment in an environment with nerve agent. During a typical training session, Reddick will dispense enough lethal doses of chemical agent to generate a massive number of casualties in an unprotected setting. It’s no wonder that, looking back, Reddick said she had some trepidation about working at the COBRATF.
“Once I actually did it, I said, ‘This is nothing like the job description. I can’t do this! Who would want to do this?’” said the Anniston, Ala. native.
COBRA students range from emergency managers and police officers to hazardous material technicians. To date, more than 50,000 responders have trained in the COBRATF’s Hot Zone, including several Boston police officers who responded to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The officers had just attended the training the year before. One of the officers spoke at the CDP’s 15th anniversary celebration and shared with the CDP staff how grateful he and his fellow officers were to have had the training when they responded to the scene of the bombing.
“To know that this place offers that type of comfort and support to the nation – and to know I play a part in that – it’s awesome,” Reddick said.