Fire Service Planning in Montgomery County to Manage the Consequences of Terrorism Involving Chemical Warfare Agents

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By Theodore Lee Jarboe

The problem identified for this applied research project was that Montgomery County's fire service had not been evaluated to determine its capability to manage the life-threatening consequences of terrorism involving a chemical warfare agent (CWA). It was the purpose of this project to evaluate the state of preparedness of the County's fire service and also to identify and recommend measures to improve the fire services's capability. The historical research method was used for data collection and analysis.

The procedures used to collect specific data included literature review and a 35-item survey. References were obtained from the National Fire Academy's Learning Resource Center and from attendance at meetings, conferences, and training seminars (programs).

Five research questions were identified: How prepared was Montgomery County's fire service to manage the life-threatening consequences of terrorism involving chemical warfare agents (CWAs)? How did Montgomery County's fire service state of readiness compare with similar fire departments in the United States? What lessons were learned by fire departments that had conducted CWA-related training exercises? What were the views of fire departments on the future threat of terrorism in the United States? What methods were found to remove or neutralize a liquid contamination caused by a CWA contacting the clothes, skin, or both of a victim?

The author constructed a 35-item survey that was used to gather information from 94 fire departments that served populations of more than 200,000 people. Forty-nine of these fire departments completed and returned surveys. Although several limitations were identified with the survey, interesting and useful information was obtained.

More information was obtained by the author as part of an evaluation of the County's fire service. Specifically, the County's Hazardous Incident Response Team's (HIRT) equipment inventory and standard operating procedures (SOPs) were examined. The level of preparedness of first responders was also evaluated.

The results of this applied research project indicated that Montgomery County's fire service was, at best, marginally prepared to manage a CWA incident. The HIRT had some detection and protection capabilities and also had CWA MSDS. Survey results indicated that about 70 percent of the 49 fire departments which completed the survey, like Montgomery County, did not have a general plan to mitigate CWA incidents.

Based on the survey results, a number of recommendations were identified, including awareness programs for the fire service and Emergency Communications Center; using a pumper's tank water to mix a decontamination solution; using car brush assembly and sprayers to apply decontamination solution; conducting a "SMART" exercise; updating haz mat procedures; exploring ways to reduce response time of Federal assets; purchasing more detection equipment; obtaining antidote kits; exploring feasibility of using chemical protective masks and suits; exploring use of FEMA's MD (Urban Search and Rescue) Task Force; developing a quick reference on mitigation action tips; organizing a group to develop a County plan; improving security and safety in government buildings; visiting Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) train stations and conducting training; and exploring feasibility of county officials obtaining chemical protective masks for self-protection. Two of the appendixes include lessons learned from chemical-related exercises in the United States, and from the Tokyo chemical attack. Others appendixes include acronyms, definitions, properties of chemical agents, mitigation action tips, and other topics.