Local Homeland Security office receives grants

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
Carter County has received two Homeland Security grants totaling more than $200,000 which will allow the county to purchase equipment for area first responders as well as help to create a certified Hazardous Materials Response Team.
According to Carter County Mayor Dale Fair, the county received $230,000 in federal grant money which will be used to provide greater safety and capabilities for the 291 first responders serving the county's residents.
"We expect to receive approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in September on the first grant request, totaling $60,000," Fair said. "These funds will be used to purchase additional communications equipment for use by law enforcement firefighters and emergency medical service personnel."
The second grant requested by the county, which totals $170,000, is currently being reviewed by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) prior to being sent to FEMA for review and approval. Personal protective equipment for the new Hazardous Materials team and a computer-aided dispatch and records system for law enforcement and the 911 Communications Center are among the items which members of the Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency have included on their request list as part of the grant.
"We expect to receive approval on the second grant request in November," Fair said.
According to David Nichols, who is a certified HazMat Tech (Hazardous Materials Technician), having a certified HazMat Response Team in the county will be a benefit for residents. "Right now we basically can't do anything," he said. "If we identify a hazardous materials situation we have to back off and wait for one of the surrounding teams to get there."
Nichols, who works with the Carter County Rescue Squad and serves as the president of the Volunteer Firefighters Association, said that the goal with the team is to train them to be able to handle situations that may arise until more help can arrive on scene. "We want to get to the intermediate level so we can take some actions in the time it takes a state certified team to respond," he said.
In order to become a state certified HazMat Tech, first responders have to undergo a lot of specialized training, according to Nichols. More than 130 hours of classes are necessary to achieve the level of HazMat Tech. First responders undergo a lot of training as well as education on different types of hazardous materials as well as a large focus on safety to prevent injury or contamination when dealing with those substances.
Nichols stated that he hopes most of the equipment will be available by the end of the year with the team up and running shortly after the first of the year.
Fair stated that having a certified HazMat Response Team will benefit the county. "We are connected now by major highways to every area of the country," he said. "We want to be proactive instead of reactive. Preparation is important.
"You hope it never happens but you're hopefully prepared if it ever does."
Having a state certified HazMat Response Team may also aid the Economic Development Commission in attracting new businesses to the area. "It cannot hurt," Fair said. "And if an industry is sensitive to that it gives us another card to play to bring industry into the area."