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Disaster in the Making

Sometime here in September, probably on a Friday, the Huerfano County Emergency Services is planning to hold a disaster drill.

    And the Huerfano County Fire Department wants you to know they’re ready for just about anything.

    “We’ve got the right equipment, and people trained, to deal with just about any emergency,” said Captain Paul Gomez recently. 

    The HCFD, which is overseen by the Huerfano County Fire Protection District, currently has 15 volunteers on the force, and more manpower and equipment is available from neighboring fire departments.

    Last month, county officials held a tabletop exercise, where a fictional train carrying sulfuric acid crashes into a car at the intersection of 4th St. and Main.  Roughly the same scenario will be played out again, but this time, streets will be blocked off, emergency crews will respond, and local citizens may be asked to ‘evacuate’…  at least pretend to evacuate.

    In this scenario, the Fire Department will be the ones to respond to the chemical spill and initially contain and begin the cleanup.

    “We have the equipment and protective gear to respond to this type of emergency,” Gomez continued.  The Type A HazMat suit is just a Tyvek onesie, with which rubber gloves would be worn, and possibly a respirator.  The Type B HazMat suit is sturdier, and definitely designed to be worn with a respirator, and the Type C HazMat gear is for the really toxic stuff, where the SCBA breathing apparatus is inside the suit, and there is a built-in microphone in the facemask, so you can hear the person talking under all the layers of shielding.

    Perhaps more importantly, the Fire Department also has the trained personnel to respond to a hazardous materials situation.  Two department members are fully trained technicians, and the rest are trained at the observer level- “They should be able to identify the type of hazardous material by reading-from afar- the placards on the tanker or train car,” Gomez said.  The tricky part is not all the trained personnel are in town all the time.

    The Fire Department is ready to respond to more conventional emergencies as well– like fires.  In a rural environment like Huerfano County, firefighters have an equal chance of facing a structure or a wildland fire, each of which requires different equipment, tactics and training.  “For structure fires, you basically go put out the fire,” Gomez said simply.  “Wildland is more defensive; you cut a line around it and let it burn itself out.”  Again, the HCFD has the equipment to deal with both, even a multi-story structure fire.  The Department now has a ladder truck which can attack blazes from above, or be used for high-angle rescue.  “This truck can spray 1,000 gallons a minute from the top of its ladder,” Gomez added proudly.

    The Fire Department has been steadily adding new trucks and equipment on a yearly basis, and now has the ladder truck, two brush trucks, two water tenders, and an interface engine, which is a classic pumper truck which can still go out in the country for wildland fires.  “All of this has been paid for without ever raising the Department’s 2.25 percent mill levy,” stated Fire Chief Gerald Jerant.