Chemical agent exposure training day – intense and uncomfortable

By Dana Simas, Public Information Officer

It’s the training day no California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officer will ever forget. Today is one of the most uncomfortable and intense days of the 16-week CDCR officer academy at the Richard A. McGee Correctional Training Center.

It’s chemical agent exposure training day and Delta Company’s time has come. On this day, Delta Company is in its 14th week of training and they’re just about to graduate.

After graduation the cadets will join the CDCR ranks as full-fledged officers, which means often encountering some very intense and overpowering moments. This exercise prepares the future officers for those very moments and so they are able to maintain their composure and get the job done.

First, the cadets prepare for the chemical agent exposure with classroom instruction. Academy instructors educate the cadets as to what will happen to them with each of the three different chemical agents they’ll encounter.

Vanessa Melendez

“We basically know what to expect,” Cadet Vanessa Melendez said. “Our throat tightening up, our chests, our skin is going to be irritated

… It’s all mindset.”

Some of the cadets have approached the impending exposure much more casually, and competitively.

“When I get in there I’ll just take it like it is,” Cadet Brandon Lugar said. “I made a bet with another one of the cadets that after the CS gas we’re going to do ten push-ups … I’m kind of looking forward to getting gassed right now.”

Brandon Lugar

Filing onto the bus, counting off as they step on, the cadets are taken to the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center operated by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.

As they file off the bus they prepare to march together to an open area with a small warehouse where they’ll be exposed to two different chemical agents, CN and CS gas.

Once at the warehouse, the cadets are given gas masks and reminded how to properly wear them. Then they line up inside and prepare themselves.

“It feels like you can’t breathe,” Cadet Lugar said. “You got to keep in mind that you can breathe; it just constricts you a little bit.”

Then the academy instructors deploy the chemical agent which fills the entire warehouse, filling the inside with a thick cloud of white smoke. Once the warehouse is engulfed in the chemical agent plume, the cadets must remove their masks and shout their company name to ensure the cadets have taken a breath.

The reaction causes the cadets to immediately begin coughing and shutting their eyes tight. They exit the warehouse holding on to each other, being led to the open grassy area and told to face the wind to help ease the burning sensations.

“Yeah it burns, it burns,” Cadet Melendez said as she wiped her face and eyes with tissue.

After experiencing both the CS and CN chemical agents, it’s back to the academy for the pepper spray exposure.

The cadets separate into two lines – one cadet receiving the exposure and the other immediately assisting him/her to the eye-wash station and the swamp fan.

The cadet lines his/her face up to the plexi-glass and prepares for the academy instructor to deploy a single burst of pepper spray onto the shield and indirectly into the cadet’s eye.

“It’s just instant burning and it did make me panic a little,” Cadet Melendez said. “I lost my breath for a minute but my partners helped me calm down.”

The cadets let water stream into their eyes, holding them open as they attempt to flush out the chemicals. They then head over to the swamp fan and let the air blown into them.

It takes approximately 15 minutes for the cadets to get back to normal, though their eyes are still clearly irritated.

After all of the exposures are completed the camaraderie is apparent, each cadet looking out for the other and helping each other however possible. It’s a bond that will continue into the institutions as the correctional officers report to duty day in and day out inside one of the nation’s largest correctional systems.

“At the end of the day I know for a fact that my fellow cadets will have my back if something happens and I would have their backs as well,” Cadet Melendez said.

Editor’s note: CDCR is experiencing higher than normal retirements, separations and promotional opportunities that have resulted in high vacancies in some Institutions.

The on-line application process can be found on the Peace Officer Careers  webpage, which also offers information about Correctional Officer pay and benefits, as well as information that potential candidates will need before they fill out their applications.

Here is a link to a previous story on a Correctional Peace Officer career.

(You may not be able to watch this video on a CDCR computer.)