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First responders learn how to identify, safely handle meth labs

  • A retired law enforcement agent puts a controlled top on a Gatorade bottle containing chemical substances. Northampton's Police, Public Health and Fire departments put on a clandestine-lab training event for first responders and others at the Hadley Farms Meeting House on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • A lithium strip from a battery is disposed of through a chemical reaction. Northampton's Police, Public Health and Fire departments put on a clandestine-lab training event for first responders and others at the Hadley Farms Meeting House on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • A retired law enforcement agent places three chemical solutions on the presentation table, each from a different point in the meth lab cooking process. Northampton's Police, Public Health and Fire departments put on a clandestine-lab training event for first responders and others at the Hadley Farms Meeting House on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • A retired law enforcement agent mixes a chemical solution on the presentation table. Northampton's Police, Public Health and Fire departments put on a clandestine-lab training event for first responders and others at the Hadley Farms Meeting House on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Above, a retired law enforcement agent, wearing protective gear, reaches for substances on the presentation table during a clandestine-lab training event for first responders and others Tuesday at the Hadley Farms Meeting House. Right, a chemical explosion occurs in a frying pan.

  • Northampton's Police, Public Health and Fire departments put on a clandestine-lab training event for first responders and others at the Hadley Farms Meeting House on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • A retired law enforcement agent pours alcohol into a mason jar containing ground marijuana. Northampton's Police, Public Health and Fire departments put on a clandestine-lab training event for first responders and others at the Hadley Farms Meeting House on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • A retired law enforcement agent gestures to the butane vapor produced in the first step of making butane hash oil at a law-enforcement training May 30, 2017. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • A retired law enforcement agent shows the audience a pot of fake crystal meth that was cooked during the presentation. Northampton's Police, Public Health and Fire departments put on a clandestine-lab training event for first responders and others at the Hadley Farms Meeting House on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • A retired law enforcement agent puts a pot containing fake meth and a solution on a hotplate. Northampton's Police, Public Health and Fire departments put on a clandestine-lab training event for first responders and others at the Hadley Farms Meeting House on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • A retired law enforcement agent shows the audience the end result of a one-pot meth demonstration. Northampton's Police, Public Health and Fire departments put on a clandestine-lab training event for first responders and others at the Hadley Farms Meeting House on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • A Retired Law Enforcement agent puts a controlled top on a Gatorade bottle containing chemical substances. Northampton's Police Department put on a clandestine lab training event at the Hadley Market Meeting House on Tuesday, May 30, 2017.

  • A chemical explosion occurs in a frying pan. Northampton's Police Department put on a clandestine lab training event at the Hadley Market Meeting House on Tuesday, May 30, 2017.



@ecutts_HG
Wednesday, June 07, 2017

HADLEY — Learning to recognize the signs of an illegal drug lab is becoming more important, law enforcement authorities say, because the processes used and drugs produced are becoming more dangerous.

That’s why more than 250 police officers, firefighters and emergency responders gathered at the Hadley Farms Meeting House May 30 for a daylong clandestine-lab training session.

“This is the only investigation where the evidence could hurt you or possibly kill you,” instructor Michael Cashman said.

Cashman, a retired federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent, now works for Network Environmental Systems, traveling the country to give presentations and training to first responders. The company developed the first Basic Clan (short for “clandestine”) Lab and Site Safety Officer programs for the U.S. Department of Justice and the DEA.

“This investigation, you can’t do yourself: It’s got to be a combination between fire departments, law enforcement and DEA because these are so dangerous,” Cashman said before the afternoon session began Tuesday. “When we take these things apart, you’ve got to do it very carefully.”

The training was put on by the Northampton public health, police and fire departments.

Attending the morning session about fentanyl, Merridith O’Leary, Northampton’s director of public health, said the training was aimed at educating first responders and others about the drug and its derivatives.

“The potency of fentanyl and its synthetic derivatives are so strong that they are actually harming first responders. Something as small as a grain of salt can be absorbed through the skin.

“If you are opiate naive — meaning you don’t use — you can go into overdose,” O’Leary said. “It is very important that they know when they come into situations where there might be fentanyl or its derivatives to wear their personal protective equipment.”

Cooking demonstrations

O’Leary said her department does a lot of housing inspections. She said Tuesday’s training helped raise their awareness and expertise about the signs of clandestine labs and associated dangers.

The training comes on the heels of a series of overdoses by users in the city, said Northampton Assistant Fire Chief Jon Davine. Nationally, though, there have been recent reports of first responders accidentally overdosing when responding to calls. On May 17, a police officer in East Liverpool, Ohio, overdosed after brushing a white powder off his uniform with his bare hands. The powder turned out to be fentanyl.

The morning part of the training consisted of lectures. During the afternoon, instructors from Network Environmental Systems showed how drugs are made, demonstrating a one-pot methamphetamine operation, a butane hash oil extraction and a THC extraction.

Watching such demonstrations gives first responders and officers a chance to see how easy the drugs are to make, Davine said.

“You can go to Home Depot and get all the ingredients in 10 minutes,” he noted.

From a police officer’s perspective, Sgt. Corey Robinson said understanding how a methamphetamine lab works helps him do his job.

“When you go into a house and you see precursors and you see things that are used to make meth, you can go in front of a judge and explain to a judge why you believe this is a meth lab,” Robinson said.

Officers who have received the training are better prepared to conduct investigations and testify in court, and are also safer on the job.

“When you come into a house and somebody is actively cooking meth, what do you do?” Robinson said. “If it’s in the bottle, you’ve got to make a decision on what you are doing,” he said, referring to a typical one-pot meth operation.

Being able to recognize that they’ve walked into a volatile situation is important for first responders, Robinson explained. The signs not only include the physical ingredients but also smells.

Cashman said responders can taste the meth lab in the air. It’s the smell of ammonia or a cut battery, both common ingredients used to make meth.

“The firefighters and the first responders, if they recognize it, know they are walking into a very explosive situation. One-pots, they blow up,” Cashman said.

“If they recognize that, they also have to realize that it is a very volatile environment, but that is what they are trained for and they know to stabilize it and let law enforcement get there and they work together as a team to process the drug laboratories.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.