KY Special Response Team Hosts Multi-Agency Training Three Weeks After Fire

Firefighter facing away with turnout gear

Janie Slaven

Commonwealth Journal, Somerset, Ky.

(MCT)

May 20—An annual tradition for the Somerset-Pulaski County Special Response Team (SRT) has taken a hit the last couple of years but is still going strong.

The multi-agency training day was canceled outright last year due to the onset of COVID-19. Wednesday’s exercise went forward, less than a month after a devastating fire which not only took out the agency’s headquarters but their satellite communications truck as well as other equipment.

SRT Chief Doug Baker said he initially expected the event would have to be canceled. By the end of April 26 (the night of the fire), team members had loaded up what equipment could be salvaged onto SRT’s three remaining trucks and determined they were ready to continue with the training.

“This [exercise] was set up before our fire at headquarters,” Baker said. “Our people decided they still wanted to have it for two reasons. One, they love training with [the other participants] but more than anything, they wanted to show the community that we’re still here; we can still do what we’re supposed to. It may not be as pretty and as quickly done as usual but we are [able to respond].”

Chief Baker acknowledged some stumbling blocks early in the exercise, mainly due to the loss of SRT’s communications truck as a joint command center.

“We’ll use that as a training tool,” he said. “We’ve had a hard time talking to our people down range, finding out what they’re seeing while they’re seeing it in real time. But we now know what we need to do differently when we don’t have that available.”

While many trainings involve first responders knowing the scenario in advance, all the agencies knew for this exercise was the venue — Lake Cumberland Regional Airport. Chief Baker noted the exercise began at 8:30 a.m. when participants were dispatched to a “possible chemical exposure” at the airport.

The initial “victim” was symptomatic and transported for treatment, while responders were on scene trying to determine what actually occurred.

“It could be as innocent as somebody mixed two cleaning chemicals together and got overwhelmed by it,” Baker explained, “or it could be that it was someone trying to cause harm to airport personnel or the airport. Our job is to determine what that was, then our military partners and our federal partners come in with more sophisticated equipment to see if they can mitigate whatever the exposure is.”

Under most circumstances, the agencies would be able to conduct the exercise in a location which could be completely shutdown. On Wednesday, their tasks were made a bit trickier because the airport needed to be kept operating. The exercise was planned to end by late afternoon. In real life, the chief said, such a scenario might take as much as 36 hours to clear.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to get together and train here so we’re not learning in the middle of an actual emergency,” Baker said. “We try to find a venue every year that’s a little different so that we can do different scenarios.”

In addition to SRT, the training involved approximately 60 first responders representing agencies from the local, state and federal levels including Somerset Fire Department, Somerset-Pulaski County EMS, Kentucky National Guard’s 41st Civil Support Team, FBI, Louisville Metro Police Department, Pulaski County Emergency Management and Kentucky Emergency Management.

“They’re the military equivalent of us,” Chief Baker said of the 41st Civil Support Team. “We try to train together and have for about 20 years. We missed last year because of COVID so we’re just trying to get our feet back in the water, especially after the fire….

“With all of our equipment that got destroyed, if we can do what we’re doing today and still do it proficiently, even though it may not be as quick, we know that we can pretty well overcome anything,” he concluded.

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