Identify Your Resources In Planning for Disasters
The Volunteers Corner
When disaster—large or small—strikes, are you prepared to handle it? Do you know where you can get needed equipment and services that no fire department can be expected to maintain?
Now is the time to start collecting phone numbers of businesses and agencies that can help you when the unusual occurs. You should determine before disaster strikes what legal powers your department and your municipality have to ameliorate the situation, and you should learn how far your municipality will extend itself to support your fire department in handling a disaster.
If your department has succeeded in extinguishing a ravaging fire only to wind up with remains of a building that threatens to cascade onto an important thoroughfare that cannot long be closed to traffic, who has the power to condemn the building and have it torn down immediately? If the municipal building inspector has such condemnation power, you should confer with him and then both of you should ask the municipality’s chief executive how far he is willing to go to support this power.
Payment issue: In most states, there is legal provision for a contractor to place a lien against a property owner to force him to pay for the demolition of a valid and immediate threat to the public. However, most contractors are reluctant to take on a job for which they won’t be able to collect for six months to a year or more. Ask your municipality’s chief executive what he has to say about this.
At the same time, ask the chief executive whether your fire department can call on the highway department for the use of bulldozers, loaders and trucks to take away debris or to haul sand for dikes around liquid spills.
At a building collapse, a crane may be needed to carry out search and rescue operations safely. Does your highway department have a crane, or are you authorized to call on a private contractor for a crane with an operator?
When multiple dwellings—or many single family homes—are involved in an incident, where will the residents go for temporary shelter? You should have the answers right now. You should know through discussions with the proper authorities what assistance the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other organizations can offer and whether schools, parish houses, armories and even some fire stations can be used as emergency shelters.
Obtaining food: When people are placed in emergency shelters, there is a need to provide food for them. Where you can get food and how it will be paid for are two questions that should be answered before the need arises.
Emergencies do not restrict themselves to ordinary business hours, so you should have an understanding with food suppliers about ways of getting groceries when their businesses are closed. During and immediately after a hurricane, blizzard or flood that has brought a community to a standstill, you may need to get food for your fire fighters. This is quite likely to happen in volunteer fire departments where meals are not customarily eaten in the firehouse. However, in times of disaster, fire fighters may remain on duty for a couple of days or more.
Try to make arrangements with a grocery store owner who is willing to help you in an emergency. It may be necessary to send a car to pick up the owner at his home and take him to the store. I once had an understanding with a grocery store owner who said that if he didn’t feel like getting up in the middle of the night, he would give us the key to his store.
Highway incidents: Loaders, bulldozers and even cranes sometimes are needed to handle truck accidents. Find out where you can get this equipment. Also, remember that cargo that has to be removed from a damaged truck can’t be dumped on the side of the road.
Learn in advance what companies can provide a box semi-trailer and what ones provide semi-trailer tankers with off-loading capability. A phone call to the nearest oil company bulk plant will get you the name of a company that can off-load petroleum product tankers. Similar information can be obtained for LPG tankers.
Find out the location of the nearest truck terminal operated by a trucking line that specializes in transporting chemicals and gases—hazardous and nonhazardous. Then arrange to talk with the terminal manager about what assistance he can provide at an accident involving chemicals or gases. You will find that these specialized trucking lines help one another when an emergency incident occurs. Each trucking line knows that it may need help from another line some time and resolving the emergency situation as quickly as possible minimizes the attendant problems for everyone.
Your environmental protection agency can identify contractors who specialize in removing spills of contaminants and hazardous materials. Experience indicates that if the phone numbers of these contractors are available to your dispatcher, you will get the fastest response to your request for special equipment.
Local and state police also should be in your emergency plans. F’ind out if either—or both—can provide safety-designed equipment for transporting explosives to a legal storage or disposal area. Finally, while you are talking with the police, reach a mutual understanding on your needs for traffic control and assistance in evacuating an area.