GALLAGHER: $32 MILLION IN HOMELAND SECURITY FUNDS HAVE BETTER PREPARED FLORIDA FOR DISASTERS, INCLUDING TERRORIST ATTACKS
Tom Gallagher, state fire marshal, said that more than $32 million in federal Homeland Security funds have been funneled through the State Fire Marshal’s Office to fire departments throughout Florida, helping communities prepare to respond to natural disasters as well as chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear threats.
“Florida has one of the most advanced response systems in the country thanks to hundreds of firefighters and other first responders who have trained and prepared for potential threats,” said State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher. “I applaud those on the front lines who have stepped up efforts to protect our communities, and who now have additional resources in place to ensure a rapid response after a catastrophic event.”
The funds have helped establish, train and equip 50 technical rescue teams, seven urban search and rescue (US&R) teams and to better equip and train 28 existing regional hazardous materials teams. The money has also provided almost 300,000 hours of training to nearly 1,700 first responders serving on these teams.
The technical rescue teams and regional hazardous material teams are under the State Fire Marshal’s Office. The US&R teams use local personnel and are a part of the new Florida Urban Search and Rescue System.
The value of these teams has already been proven: Florida-based US&R teams completed nearly 4,900 technical searches of structures within hours of Hurricane Ivan’s landfall in the Panhandle last year. This year, state technical rescue teams from Tampa Bay, Central Florida, Jacksonville, North Central Florida, and Miami-Dade and Volusia counties were among the first search teams to arrive in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina hammered the Gulf Coast region.
Funds also are helping to build a permanent US&R training center at the Florida State Fire College that will provide specialized training on trench, confined space, rubble pile rescue and structural collapse simulation props along with a live-fire training building. This will be the only “post-blast” collapse simulator providing fire and smoke conditions in the United States.
Homeland security funds are also funding enhanced mutual aid radio caches located throughout the state. Bought originally by the Division of State Fire Marshal after the wildfires of 1998, they allow for mutual-aid responders to work with common communication systems, often without tying up local radio frequencies. The 100-foot radio masts have been used extensively to support local fire departments, law enforcement agencies and EMS after hurricanes destroyed local infrastructure. During last year’s hurricanes, two such units were set up with a microwave link for 911 calls in a county where the telephone lines were destroyed.
Future plans include adding a unit to South Florida to be located in Tamarac, establishing greater interoperable communications allowing responders to use their normal radios, and providing funding to the fire departments that now operate the radio caches in order to purchase vehicles to tow the trailers used to carry the radio equipment.
Homeland security funds also provided $3 million for 11,400 radiological monitors for emergency responders and expanded Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) response by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.