Tenn. hazardous materials team ready for spills with new equipment
by Ron Clayton
Chattanooga Times Free Press
ATHENS, Tenn. — Five years ago, McMinn County's hazardous materials team was mostly a few extra tools thrown on a firetruck.
Now, with county money, donations, grants and Homeland Security money, the county has three response units that rival those in much larger cities in the state.
Hazardous Materials Chief Shane Jenkins brings years of experience to the team. He is an instructor and trainer for companies in the region that work with hazardous materials.
"We began with a minimum of equipment, but now we have equipment many other teams do not have," Chief Jenkins said. The mobile command post is equipped to electronically identify hazardous materials and can perform remote monitoring for chemical, organic and radiation readings.
The team's 30 members include two physicians, hazardous materials specialists, paramedics, chemists and firefighters. With three trailers and truck units, they can respond to any type of emergency.
One unit has a portable device that can fill up to four breathing tanks at a time. It often is used to refill firefighters' tanks at fire scenes. A second trailer carries all the items needed for response, including a portable decontamination chamber, 500 Tyvek decontamination suits and equipment to control and contain spills. The third trailer is a command post and medical/triage unit.
McMinn Emergency Management Agency Director Betty Hamby said the county has used much of the Homeland Security money that began in 1999 to create and equip the hazmat team.
"Our first year, we received $10,000. How do you divide that between all the fire departments and police departments?" she said. "So we decided the best use would be establishing the team."
Olin Chemical chief chemist Jon Diminnie recently joined the team.
"They have some new equipment that is unique," he said, referring to the chemical identification unit.
McMinn County Fire Chief Scott Thompson is over the rural fire departments and the hazardous materials team, but mainly works to coordinate all of the units.
"They work very well as a team, and although they are still young, they are very good and highly experienced," he said.