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Barbour County, Ala. Emergency Equipment in Place

By Ann S. Smith, Eufaula Tribune

Barbour County is beginning 2005 with new equipment and a countywide team to respond to emergency incidents, ranging from chemical spills or natural disasters to crime scenes or even terrorist attacks, thanks to a $75,000 Homeland Security grant.

During the holidays the county received a mobile command incident vehicle that will provide a portable command center for the county's response team. County Homeland Security Coordinator Ronnie Dollar said the vehicle cost about $30,000. It is equipped with radio equipment to ensure communication among agencies, air heating and cooling and kitchen and bath facilities.

Other equipment purchased with the grant includes four multi-gas detection meters, and three Level A haz-mat (hazardous materials) suits, bringing the total number of haz-mat suits in the county to eight. The Eufaula Fire Department already owned five of the fully-encapsulated $2,000 suits, which department training officer Terry Walker described as looking "like the Pillsbury dough boy."

Dollar said the multi-gas detection meters, three of which will remain in Eufaula, can detect harmful gases and determine whether a gas is explosive, flammable or a poisonous gas that would cause asphyxiation. The meters cost about $3,000 each, Dollar said.

Walker said training of the 20-man countywide emergency response team that would man the command vehicle and use the equipment like the gas meters and haz-mat suits would begin this month. He said already several members of the team are trained in haz-mat response because they are members of the Eufaula fire or police departments. Some are also members of volunteer fire departments in the county.

Ken Killingsworth, who is chief of Clayton's Volunteer Fire Department and also works for the Eufaula Fire Department, is the team member placed in charge of the emergency response team's command vehicle.

Dollar said he made the decision to house the response team command vehicle permanently in Clayton, even though more than half the county's population lives in Eufaula, because Clayton is in the geographical center of the county. He said the Homeland Security Department grant was for the entire county.

Walker emphasized the Barbour County Emergency Response Team would not go in and take over the functions of municipal fire or police departments, but would offer assistance and supplement the local effort in the event of a major disaster, or a major crime scene.

"We could go in and ask, 'What do you need for us to do?'"

Walker said he would be able to assemble and dispatch a team anywhere in the county within 30 minutes.

Dollar praised the volunteer team, and said the members from Eufaula and throughout the county are "young and enthusiastic."

Walker said the members from the Eufaula Fire Department already have training in haz-mat response and other team members will not only be trained for that emergency, but for additional fire response, water rescue and crime scene response. He said the Eufaula Fire Department already has about 25 people trained at Level A (the highest) entry response for a hazardous materials situation. He also said he wants to see the county develope a stronger water emergency response team.

Walker said cross training will be an important part of the overall training so that team members will be familiar with all aspects of the operation, both from the public safety side and the law enforcement side.

While the term "homeland security" means to many, especially since 9/11, response to some kind of international or domestic terrorist attack, Dollar and Walker said the county now has much better capability to respond to things like a chemical spill that could occur from a truck wreck, an ongoing hostage situation or a natural disaster such as the tornado that demolished sections of Abbeville about two years ago.

Although the possibility of a terrorist attack in a rural county like Barbour seems unlikely, Dollar said the thinking at the federal level is the "potential is in the future that small towns would have to deal with acts of domestic or foreign terrorism. Homeland Security wants us to be prepared to deal with it."

Dollar said the county has also applied for a grant to fund an inter-operational communications system, a "bridging" system in which all public safety agencies in the county could operate simultaneously on the same frequency.

He said that equipment would be housed in the Eufaula Police Department.

Bids are also due soon on an equipment hauling vehicle, an F450 that could transport the instant command vehicle or the haz-mat equipment.

The Eufaula Fire Department also has a haz-mat trailer equipped with showers for responders to a hazardous materials incident. Walker said those responders have to work in teams, because, for example, when two people are suited up to "go in," two more must be suited up and ready to go in case something happens to the first two.

Dollar said much of the equipment the county has recently acquired or will acquire soon has already been in place in other counties.

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