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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Salem Fire Department equipped to handle multiple disasters

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Everyday two trucks transporting toxic waste travel through Salem. If they were involved in an accident, the city would have to be evacuated, according to Salem Fire Chief Heath Everett.He said the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management would call Chemtrec out of Little Rock. It would take them about six hours to arrive in Salem if a disaster like that occurred.But now the Salem Fire Department is equipped to handle these types of disasters.While most people are sleeping soundly in their beds Everett is often responding to some sort of an emergency call, perhaps even a HAZMAT call.Everett is not only the youngest member of the Salem Volunteer Fire Department, he has also been the fire chief for the past two years.His job includes responding to fires, motor vehicle accidents, emergency calls and HAZMAT calls.The Fulton County Sheriff's Office dispatches the emergency calls. He said all the emergency workers are equipped with pagers and radios.Even though their fire department is an unmanned facility, he said from the time they are paged out, it takes them about two minutes to get their truck in route. They have responded to 85 calls so far this year. Everett believes by the end up the year the number will rise to 100.Salem's fire department is the only one in the tri-county area that has a HAZMAT team.He explained the three levels of training in the state of Arkansas for HAZMAT certification. Level one is awareness of general knowledge. Emergency personnel learn what and what not to do with any hazardous leak or tanker accident. Level two is operations. It consists of teaching a responder the procedure to decontaminate a person contaminated with toxic materials such as acid or even anthrax. This includes containing and securing the scene. Level three is technician. This is the highest level. The firemen gear up in cocoon suits, walk up to the hazardous scene and take care of the problem. Level three training enables the responder to go in and handle whatever the problem is.Everett is hoping that after the first of the year, all 12 members in the department will be trained at the highest level. They are currently at level two.The firemen will need an additional 80 hours of training to be certified at level three. The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management will provide training to the fire department at no charge so they can get certified for this level, said the chief.The training will consist of learning how to stop leaks, how to protect against chemicals, and proper decontamination procedures. It will further train them how to approach chemicals such as acids, gasoline, flammables, vapors and toxic waste. They will also learn how to handle bio-terrorism and domestic terrorism."HAZMAT is the meat of the matter," said Everett. Salem is in the process of building a command unit and a HAZMAT trailer.The city of Salem's county-wide special operation response team will respond as an assistance team to help other departments with emergencies that go beyond normal firefighters. This special ops team will respond to all natural and man-made disasters to assist in road cleaning and treat victims, according to the chief. Each team member will be trained in the following: hazardous material technician level, urban and wild land search and rescue, swift water rescue, confined space rescue, structural collapse rescue, high angle rope rescue and mass casualty incident.This team will respond to all calls with a mobile command unit and a specially equipped trailer. An old ambulance will serve as the command unit equipped with computer, fax and Internet hook-up. It will be a mobile unit, used specifically for mass casualty incidents, according to the chief. The special operations unit is a trailer equipped with two generators, a cascade system for filling up firemen's air packs, an air compressor with tools, gas masks, suits and all mapping literature. It will have the capability of finding lost people, the chief added.The emergency crew will be able to respond to structural collapse, extricating victims and shoring up walls. He said, "In the absolute worst possible nightmare you can have, these are the two things that will help rescue you." The trailer comes equipped with food, blankets, water and all disaster equipment.The funding for the equipment comes from HAZMAT calls. The fire department invoices the companies that have created the problem. The money is used to replace equipment that was used on that particular disaster.Like most fire departments, Salem has a mascot -- Pickles, the fire cat. Everett said someone dumped the half starved cat at the fire station. Pickles jumped up in one of the trucks and has been a part of the fire department ever since.Everett said, "This fire department has come a long way. You cannot conceive how far it has come in two years." They recently acquired a new rescue truck. He said four of the firemen went to school bus extrication training. And four attended first responder school. One thing that inspired Everett to acquire the unit was when a tornado came through and killed a baby. "We were not prepared for this. It was a mess, it was chaos; firemen went in all directions," he said.

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