By GARY POPP
Clarksville firefighters strapped on head-to-toe radioactive protective suits equipped with air-filtering face masks and carried Geiger counters during a simulated terrorism attack Friday.
The radiological training session at Clarksville Fire Department headquarters off Veterans Parkway was orchestrated to get firefighters prepared to respond to not only terrorists using radioactive weapons, but other incidents such as a automobile accident or overturned trains transporting radioactive materials or a incident at a cancer-treatment facility.
While the day’s training was focused on radioactive materials, it was another step toward establishing a Clark County Hazardous Material Task Force.
Clarksville Fire Deputy Chief James Hendrick and Jeffersonville Fire Chief Eric Hedrick were both on hand to oversee the training session. Both men are advocating for the formation of a countywide HAZMAT response team.
Hedrick said for years, Clark County has leaned on Louisville officials for hazardous-material responses, and it’s now time for Clark County to be able to handle those personally.
“We have grown to a point where we need to be able to take care of our own calls,” Hedrick said, adding that doing so is only possible if the county’s fire departments share resources and the financial burden.
“One single department can’t do it,” he said.
Hedrick said the Clark County Local Emergency Planning Committee is leading the way to establish the Clark County Hazardous Material Task Force
“The one hurdle that we have had is funding,” Hedrick said. “We are going to be reaching out to some different areas for some funding, even into the private sector.”
While it’s expected other county fire stations will be involved in the HAZMAT task force, he said JFD and CFD firefighters will make up the majority of the manpower and staffing costs.
“We plan on using the volunteer departments in a support role for elongated incidents, but as far as an immediate response, it would probably be in the technician levels, which will be in the professional departments of Jeffersonville and Clarksville.”
Hedrick explained that there are three personnel levels of HAZMAT preparedness: awareness, operations and technicians.
The awareness level allows a person to recognize a possible HAZMAT incident, operations level provides the knowledge of how to properly attack the incident and identify the materials on a scene and technician level prepares a person to approach the situation and mitigate the problem, such as plugging a leak.
Jeffersonville and Clarksville firefighters already hold certification in awareness and operations of HAZMAT responses, and the training that took place Friday was for radiological material response training.
The Clark County Hazardous Material Task Force, if and when it comes to fruition, would respond to traditional HAZMAT incidents and radiological incidents. Hedrick said in the coming months, both fire departments are expected to receive technical-level HAZMAT training.
The emergency planning committee has hired Bill Banta, a HAZMAT specialist, to coordinate efforts and help create the Clark County Hazardous Material Task Force. Banta said he has worked with firefighters from both departments who are eager to be part of the HAZMAT team and to make the county more safeguarded against emergencies.
“These men and woman signed the list, they weren’t told they have to do this,” Banta said. “They said, ‘We want this.’ They realize there is a need.”
Banta said the ultimate goal is to have the HAZMAT team established before the end of the year, but funding remains a significant deterrent. He said the majority of the costs associated with the team is equipment, which includes an array of HAZMAT meters, protective suits, and, at least, one vehicle to transport the equipment.
Banta estimated the equipment costs at $125,000
“Equipment-wise is going to be our hurdle. It is going to be our challenge,” Hedrick said. “That is where we’ve got to get the funding assistance.”
He said if the funds are not received, the effort to assemble the HAZMAT team will continue, and organizers are willing to put the team together one piece of equipment at a time, if they are forced to do so.
“To be quite honest, I am still campaigning, hoping that this need gets met,” Hedrick said. “We are taking care of the things that we can do internally and that is through the education and the training.”
Banta said he hoped more funding would have been received at this point, but not all possible funding resources have been exhausted.
“There is a definite need for a HAZMAT team,” Banta said.