AUGUSTA – Tapping your inner Phil Mickelson is tough when you’re when you’re wearing a tarp, but Alex Theberge wasn’t making any excuses.

“Except the fact you can’t see anything, the mobility is pretty good,” Theberge said.

Theberge and his putting partner, Adam Mason, were one of nine, two-person teams from across Maine to compete Friday in the 10th annual Haz-Mat Team Challenge outside the Augusta Civic Center.

The competition, sponsored by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, is designed to give industry and municipal hazardous-material first responders a chance to have fun while increasing teamwork and problem-solving.

The challenge is part of the Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference, a two-day conference featuring a wide range of workshops on responding to emergencies.

Theberge and Mason, who competed for Brunswick-based Midcoast Hazmat, struggled with the par-5 golf course, dubbed “Augusta National.”

The layout included a 30-foot fairway of grass better suited to feeding cows than playing golf; and a water hazard, in this case a children’s swimming pool, that was about twice the size of the green.

“Next year, I’m going to give them a par 3,” said the DEP’s Lee Thomas, who judged the event. “There have been a lot of eagles. There’s a lot of skill here.”

There were five competition stations that required teams to do everything from carry water in a measuring scoop while navigating a course to throwing hula hoops around traffic cones.

As if the tests were not hard enough, the competitors were required to wear full protective gear: air tanks, a mask, rubber boots and a hooded, tarp-like suit that, except for a large, clear visor, looks like it could have come from the neighborhood hardware store.

The contestants also are required to wear multiple layers of gloves, which gave organizer Linda Doran of the DEP a chance to exercise her sinister side.

“One year I had them pick up coins off the ground,” Doran said, smiling at the memory.

While Theberge and Mason were shanking golf balls, other competitors were using wooden pegs, shims and clamps to stem water leaks in a 50-gallon metal drum and a free-standing, steel pipe system.

The timed event, called “the leak tree,” most closely simulates what the team might actually run into on the job, said Steven Mallory of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

“You never know what you’re going to run into,” he said.

Teammates Arthur Allen and Chris Cote, of NewPage Corp., came in at just under four minutes — for them, a big disappointment.

“You never know,” Allen said. “One year we did it in under a minute.”

The team sporting the bull’s-eye this year was Phil Larou and Ryan Thomson of the Portland Fire Department. The men have won the past three challenges and were in good shape halfway through this year’s competition.

“There is a hint of competition in the air,” Larou said. “It’s friendly competition between all of us.”

Competitors are encouraged to come up with creative ways to complete obstacles the fastest.

And while it was all good fun, the skills demanded of the contestants were meant to help responders in the event of a disaster.

Thomas gave extra points to golfers who memorized the name on their golf balls, since gathering detailed information is important when responding to an emergency, Thomas said.

“It’s gives them an idea to pay attention to what they’ve seen,” he said.

A hazardous-material crisis, as with the competition, can throw a lot of unique challenges at responders, said Bryon Miller of Midcoast Hazmat.

“It’s all training for anything that comes up,” he said. “It’s getting used to working in the suit.”


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