BRI hosts safety sessions for local firefighters; MFD receives tour of secure campus building

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Surrounded by a nine-foot tall, sharp wrought iron fence, Pat Roberts Hall appears intimidating in the hot morning sun.

And if that’s not enough to tip visitors off to the high level of security, the barrage of cameras and heavy, automatic-opening doors operated by guards only should do the trick. But for local firefighters, what they learned inside the building will save lives.

About 20 firefighters from the Manhattan Fire Department visited the Biosecurity Research Institute of K-State in Pat Roberts Hall for a presentation on safety and emergency procedures.

The BRI, which is not associated with the soon-to-be-built NBAF, conducts research on Biosafety Level 3 pathogens. The BRI also trains researchers from across the U.S. on safety and handling of BSL-3 pathogens that affect the agricultural industry, including animals, crops and food processing.

The presentation was designed to inform emergency responders on the types of safety training provided to BRI staff members, the safety equipment used and procedures in place for various types of emergencies. The firefighters also took a tour to familiarize themselves with the layout of the building and emergency exits. Further presentations are planned for other emergency response personnel, including the Riley County Police Department, K-State Campus Police, Mercy Emergency Services and the Kansas Highway Patrol.

“We want to make sure we are, first and foremost, safe and compliant,” said Scott Rusk, director of the BRI.

Rusk said the presentations and tours were not new, but part of a continual effort to ensure safety at the BRI. As part of the BRI’s certification with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control, they are required to do annual drills with EMTs, Rusk said.

Lance Luftman, head of security for BRI, said they have safety in mind for all types of emergencies, but the focus of the presentation was on the two most likely scenarios: medical emergencies, such as injury or heart attack and fire. Luftman said employees of the BRI, including the janitors, are all CRP and AED certified.

In addition to the intensive staff training, the building itself is designed with many safety features to prevent any kind of accident or contamination from escaping. Some of the safety features include differential air pressure, which is used to ensure the air flow in the building goes in only one direction, double airlocks that cannot open unless one set of doors is closed and all of the biosafety cabinets are equipped with two High Efficiency Particulate Arrestor, or HEPA, filters.

Rex Worden, battalion chief of the Manhattan Fire Department, attended the 1 p.m. seminar. Worden said many of the firefighrers went through a similar presentation and tour when the building was first constructed about three years ago, but this was an opportunity for new hires since then to become acquainted with the BRI, as well as a refresher course for those who had visited it before.

“The whole thing was very interesting,” Worden said.

He said he had no worries about the safety of the BRI, or of the possibility of pathogens escaping.

“The building construction is just tremendous,” Worden said. “There’s virtually no chance of anything getting out of that building. The more we can educate the public on the precautions they take, the more comfortable they’ll feel about having this type of facility in town.”

Director Rusk also said he wants to educate the public on how the facility works and said information will be provided during K-State’s Open House each year.

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