Harvey County Emergency Management Director Gary Denny came before the county commission this week with a plan. Stemming from the whole of community approach to emergency management, he also wants to make sure first responders are prepared to work together to handle a wide range of scenarios, which is why he is seeking a hazardous materials emergency preparedness grant.
Grant funds would be used to provide planning and training for local entities — namely Newton Medical Center and Newton Fire/EMS, but Denny noted it would be open to all county agencies — to increase their effectiveness when dealing with hazardous materials accidents or incidents.
Currently, the plan is to host the training sessions in late February/early March 2019 at Newton Fire/EMS Station #3. Partly to help NMC meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, Denny noted decontamination will be the focus of the training — and establishing a more diverse approach in such situations.
"There's several applications for decontamination. It doesn't always have to be associated with a hazardous materials release, but they're kind of one and the same," Denny said.
Scenarios where decontamination comes into play that Denny listed included chemical spills, infectious diseases or threats of biological weapons (i.e. anthrax). The training would not only address decontaminating the site of the incident, but how to treat victims, the chemical specifics — like identifying potentially unknown hazardous materials — and more.
"If we're blessed with this grant money, then we're also blessing our first responders with a higher level of specific training that they may not be getting today," Denny said.
Regardless of if that funding is received, Denny said the plan is go forward with the training since there is a clear need. There are a handful of Newton Fire/EMS and NMC personnel trained for decontamination, but Denny said the goal is to get even more prepared to adequately set up and run a decontamination station (including outside of the hospital setting) and utilize the necessary equipment (i.e. a powdered air purifying respirator).
Denny said if there is room, seats in the training session will be opened up to regional partners as well because no matter the scale, he knows collaboration will be key for any entities to be fully prepared for such emergency scenarios dealing with hazardous materials.
"What we've learned in the past is that no single entity can handle major catastrophes on their own, that it is a whole community approach. That is specifically true when we deal with hazardous materials because we do know that we don't have local resources to the quantity or volume that we would really need for a major incident, so then we need to start building and relying on these partnerships," Denny said. "Building those partnerships between our health care partners and first responding partners will do nothing but enhance the capabilities of our community."