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EMA examines response to rare emergencies

Lawrence County emergency services officials are examining their options to provide a more rapid response to out-of-the-ordinary emergencies -- such as accidents involving hazardous chemicals, drownings, and incidents that are not usually within the scope of area agencies.

Lawrence County Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Boster said he, state EMA officials and several fire department chiefs have met three times recently to discuss how other counties handle such emergencies, and what would be best for Lawrence County.

"We've been trying to explore the different options for what it might take to make response better," Boster said. "We could form a hazardous materials or rapid response team.

We're mainly looking at what we can do to make things better, and be a support to area fire departments and to be a resource in the early stages of an incident command. We don't want to overshadow any agency or take over, but to work with the agency in jurisdiction."

Boster said right now, those involved are looking at training requirements, liability insurance issues and other basic concerns that must be addressed early.

"We're going slowly and methodically," Boster said. "Right now we're laying a framework. And we're trying to involve as many agencies as we can."

Boster said a hazardous materials team may involve not only emergency services workers, but chemical experts from area business and industry who can lend their expertise when it's needed.

In late June, members of the Lawrence County Fire Fighters Association met with county government officials to get their blessing, should they decide to organize a rapid response team. This came shortly after a Rome Township youngster drowned in the Ohio River. County agencies had to ask for help from Cabell County W.Va. Their EMS service has a DIRT team. Cabell County sent a boat and divers to locate the child's body.

At that time, Rome Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tommy Burcham pointed out that large scale emergencies often require more equipment and more training than area fire departments currently have.

"It's something that's been needed previously," Burcham said. "Not just because of the drowning. The need's been there for years. If a tanker overturns, no one here has the equipment to handle this," Burcham said. "We need chemical suits and other things no one in the county has."