TAVARES — When an emergency occurs and noxious gases are released in the air, Lake County Fire Rescue’s Special Operations Response Team responds to keep residents safe. But what happens when the rescuers also need rescuing?

The county's new Hazmat Medic Program is aimed at ensuring firefighters can be safely treated for toxic exposures at hazardous incidents.

“It is reassuring to know if our team members have a breach in their hazmat suits and are exposed to hazardous materials, the proper treatment can start at the scene and continue all the way to the hospital,” Battalion Chief Robert Fickett said. He is also the chief of the Special Operations Response Team.

New specialized equipment and medications are now available on all three of the county’s Special Operations Response Team units: Squad 20 in the north, Squad 76 in the center and Squad 90 in the south. Firefighters will be able to treat patients — including firefighters who are most susceptible — for exposure to gas irritants, asphyxiants, corrosive gases, hydrocarbons, cholinergics, cyanide and even weapons of mass destruction.

With the Hazmat Medic Program, patients can receive life-saving treatment onsite before being transported to the hospital.

“Lake County’s Type II hazmat team is the first of its kind in the state to offer this level of advanced medical capability,” Lake County Fire Rescue Chief Jim Dickerson said. “A program such as this is an asset to the county and is deployable throughout the region.”

The new equipment was funded through the state’s Hazard Mitigation Program.

For information, go to www.facebook.com/LakeCountyFireRescue or www.twitter.com/lakefirePIO.