By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — For a clandestine drug laboratory to be successful, the key is not to attract attention. The longer it can blend in with a community, like recently discovered drug labs on Christopher Street and inside a Rowley storage unit over the summer, the longer it can stay in operation.
Knowing that all too well, a regional law enforcement committee is hosting a training session tomorrow night at Newburyport City Hall aimed at helping local responders, including police, firefighters and EMTs, to spot underground drug labs and then secure the scene until trained professionals arrive.
The 6 p.m. lecture, called First Responder Clandestine Laboratory Awareness Training, is sponsored by the Northern Essex Regional Emergency Planning Committee (REPC) in partnership with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and Newburyport-based Enpro Environmental Services. Members of REPC include Newburyport, Amesbury, Merrimac, Newbury, Rowley, Salisbury, West Newbury, Boxford and Georgetown.
REPC chairman R.J. Wolcik said the roughly 75-minute training session includes a lecture by a DEA official, who will give first responders tips on what to do should they find a drug lab, including reporting it to the necessary agencies.
“Who would you call and how would you get ahold of them,” Wolcik said.
Enpro, which has a contract with the DEA to clean up drug labs and secure evidence, will also set up a mock lab that includes the types of chemicals typically used and the types of containers used to store them, Wolcik added.
“We thought it would be a good idea to invite all first responders as an awareness training,” Wolcik said.
Merrimac police Chief Eric Shears, a longtime member of the DEA’s clandestine lab enforcement team, said the session should prove invalable to first responders who may not yet be aware of how volatile and unstable the labs can be. Shears added that the seminar should also help police departments sniff out drug labs.
“There are a lot of labs that are missed,” Shears said.
In January, Newburyport police closed off Christopher Street, a quiet side road off Jefferson Street, shortly after emergency units responded to a medical aid call involving a man lying on the ground near the home. EMTs and police conducting a well-being check of the house discovered a gray haze inside the kitchen. A search of the house found chemicals and laboratory equipment, leading local police to call in state police, state Hazmat units, a DEA rapid response team and other resources.
Newburyport police Lt. Rick Siemasko said police are continuing its investigation into the Christopher Street house, but no new information has been released.
According to reports, the state fire marshal’s office stated the house was a “possible meth lab.” But other possibilities could include club drugs such as MDMA, DMT or Special K. Last June, police raided a large drug manufacturing center inside a storage unit just off Route 133 in Rowley. Days later, a Georgetown man accused of operating a Special K or ketomine conversion lab inside the self-storage unit turned himself in to Rowley police.
Siemasko stressed that heroin sales and use is a more pressing issue in town than clandestine drug labs, but called “meth labs” scary and dangerous places.
“But it’s only a matter of time,” Siemasko said, referring to another meth lab being established inside city limits.
Both Siemasko and Salisbury police Chief Thomas Fowler said even before REPC organized tomorrow’s training session, their departments were in the process of establishing in-house training.
“It’s fortuitous timing,” Siemasko said.