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EMA to help DFRD purchase safety vests

When members of Alabama’s Homeland Security Region 3 met in Demopolis on Monday, one of the items approved for the $280,000 Homeland Security grant program was the purchase of safety vests for the Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department.

Marengo County Emergency Management Agency director Kevin McKinney said that since it became four-laned, U.S. Highway 80 has a different classification for roadside safety, and the department needed high-visibility vests when they respond to an incident on the highway.

The vests are required through a law that went into effect last November requiring anyone working along a highway to wear a high-visibility vest. According to ResponderSafety.com, more than 50 firefighters, rescue personnel and police officers were struck while performing duties on the road last year.

“We’re going to put our vests on people from upper-level administration to every firefighter that is out on the scene,” said DFRD chief Ronnie Few.

Steve Austin of the Cumberland Valley Firemen’s Association spoke about the need for the vests by rescue personnel.

“While there won’t be someone out there issuing a ticket for not wearing a vest on a federally supported highway, it’s essential that responders obey the law,” he said. “It’s up to the chief to enforce the rules just as they would any other.

“We’re also asking [drivers] to use their common sense. Everyone knows it’s dangerous to be operating along a highway.”

The department plans to get 30 vests, including some that would identify staff and others to be made available for others who come onto an emergency scene without one.

“There have been so many firefighters who have been struck on expressways and highways,” Few said, “even police officers as well. We will be able to hand them a vest if they come onto the scene as well. Everybody (on the scene) should have a vest. We knew that, when they passed this law, we had to get those vests.”

McKinney said he needed to get approval for this project and others requested from regional representatives last Monday. He said he expected a response from Homeland Security around mid-August.