The Batesville Fire Department is working with the Office of Emergency Management to develop a plan to better deal with hazardous materials and chemical accidents in Independence County. In reviewing the equipment in their hazardous materials response trailer Batesville Fire Chief Brent Gleghorn realized much of the equipment they have is either obsolete or unusable.
When asked why isn’t new hazardous material equipment is purchased and issued each year, he said it was probably an administrative error.
The hazardous material gear is expensive and only has about a year lifespan, compared to durability of the heavy turnout uniforms they wear for fires, which have a 10-year lifespan.
“I’m not asking for money, I’m just wanting to get a list of what we have available,” Gleghorn said.
They are also asking businesses and industries to share any resources they have available that would be helpful in responding to a hazardous chemical incident. The Batesville Fire Department has 12 techs certified in hazardous materials, and there are probably about five more certified people throughout the county.
If there is a hazardous material incident here, teams from fire departments in Searcy and Walnut Ridge can help, but they are 1.5 to 2 hours away.
“I want to make that response time a lot shorter,” Gleghorn told representatives of local industries attending a meeting at the fire training center on the University of Arkansas Community College Batesville campus.
Another part of the plan is knowing what is out there, so they are asking local businesses and industries to provide a list of any chemicals they use. The list will not be public, rather it will be kept by the fire department so they can determine what incidents might be presented requiring a response and what specialized equipment would be required to protect/rescue employees and fire department personnel.
“It will strictly be used to let the fire department know what kind of chemical they might be dealing with,” Gleghorn said.
While most vehicles that transport hazardous materials have a placard on the side that lets firefighters know when there is hazardous materials on board, big box store trucks are exempt from that requirement. They can be hauling pool chemicals, propane, car batteries. A tractor trailer accident with any of those items on board would be troublesome for firefighters.
“The worst accident we’ve had is when a gas truck turned over on Ramsey Mountain. It was January 2007. We had the road closed for 12 hours. I remember that day because it was a cold, dry day,” Glehorn said.
Weather is another reason the fire department would like a heads-up on what kind of chemicals are being used in the county. Chemicals react differently in different types of weather, causing them to condensate or evaporate or become more unstable.