HazMat is a regional outfit

Published 4:41 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Demopolis Fire Department responded to approximately 800 calls in 2010, with less than 100 of those instances involving fire. The statistic highlights just how increasingly crucial the department’s flexibility is becoming to the city.

“If it is not a law enforcement issue then we want our department to be able to respond to any incident in this city,” Demopolis Fire Department Chief Ronnie Few said of the department’s ever-growing repertoire of response techniques.

Expanding that arsenal of preparedness has been a chief focus of Few and other department officials over the last few years as the department’s help has been needed in a rapidly expanding number of arenas.

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“We felt like we could and should be doing more for the community,” Few said of the philosophy of preparation maintained by the department. “If you work for Demopolis Fire and Rescue, then you know you’re going to have to train.”

One of the arrows in the department’s quiver is HazMat training, a skill set that enhanced considerably last year when the department became the official HazMat provider for Region 5. That territory includes all or parts of Marengo, Choctaw, Greene, Clarke, Sumter, Dallas and Hale counties.

“We wanted to take on that responsibility because it gave us a number of resources in our city every day,” Few said of the decision to except the responsibility of overseeing Region 5’s HazMat needs. “We got a wealth of resources that came with it.”

The decision to accept that responsibility brought with it hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and training for the Demopolis Fire Department all funded by FEMA.

“Everybody is trained to awareness level,” Few said, referring to the basic level of HazMat training achieved by DFD members. “There are some of us that are trained to commander level (the maximum grade for HazMat training).”

The training and equipment allows the department to attend to any hazardous materials need that may arise in neighboring counties but also prepares it to tend to any issue within Demopolis.

Given Demopolis’ industrial presence in addition to its placement along two major highways, near two important rivers and around a stretch of frequently utilized railroad, the probability of a hazardous materials spill is considerable.

“The potential for a mishap, you’ve got rail, water, highway,” Carl Johnson, assistant DFD chief, said. “The Army has even sent some packets so we’ll know how to respond to some of their special stuff that comes through here.” “Anything that spills on our highway or in our plants, we have the ability to contain on some level,” Few said. “That is good for any city to have.”