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Graham Fire and Rescue prepares for major emergencies

Reprinted with permission of the Eatonville Dispatch
by reporter Bruce Smith

While radio stations remind us daily to Prepare Three Ways for Three Days, Fire Chief Reggie Romines and Assistant Chief Gray Franz announced this week that Graham Fire and Rescue has joined forces with dozens of other agencies throughout Pierce County to prepare for major winter storms, and also for what some officials are calling, Our Katrina.

The Our Katrina scenario is described by Sheri Badger, Vulnerable Populations Coordinator for the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management, as a huge, regional event where calling 911 will not bring any immediate assistance. Such local disasters could be massive earthquakes, large volcanic eruptions, terrorist attacks or even storms more powerful than last Decembers deluge that dumped over seventeen inches of rain within 24-hours in South Pierce County.

We have four or five, fire and medical units on duty at any one time, says Romines. At the same time, we have 70,000 people to protect, including twelve schools. In a major disaster, what we are able to do will not be enough.

Romines and Franz describe their planning as beginning with that fact.

Our first job will be to survive the event, then evaluate our local conditions and provide assistance where we can. In the kind of major disaster we are talking about, it will take an army of responders – the military, the Red Cross, FEMA and others – to help us get back on our feet. So, one of our primary jobs will be to communicate exactly what we need and where we need it.

Each Graham fire station has enough food, water, and supplies to sustain its fire-fighters for at least a week. Not enough to feed all of Graham, certainly, said Romines, but enough to keep us going. Then, in turn well be able to receive the shipment of food and medical equipment stockpiled at Fort Lewis and McChord.

Each fire house also has reserves of diesel fuel and generators to provide lights, power medical equipment, maintain communications and provide enough heat so that each of stations can become a focal point of recovery.

We also have upwards of 50 Seattle and Tacoma fire-fighters who live in the area, so they will be joining our ranks after they recover at home.

Likewise, Grahams off-duty fire-fighters will respond in-place and coordinate neighborhood emergency efforts. They also have contact lists of nearby families of fellow fire-fighters on duty, so that they can check on the loved ones of their comrades.

After the initial hours, Grahams fire-fighters will shift into more supervisory roles – directing the outside responders and volunteers, and organizing rescue efforts reaching more deeply into the community. Paramedics will establish medical facilities in the fire stations, triaging those they can in-house and arranging transport out of the area, possibly by helicopter, for those who need advanced care. However, large-scale feeding and medical treatment will probably take place in churches, schools or other community sites that will be managed by the Red Cross and other agencies.

As the response unfolds, the fire department will maintain its primary role as first responders in the community. Each fire engine, with its own built-in electrical generator and loaded with supplemental medical supplies, food, water, and rescue gear like chain saws, pulleys and ropes, can function as a rolling rescue and first aid station. In addition, each engine is a localized communication center.

We use the same kind of line-of-sight radios that the Sheriffs Department and other country agencies use, said Romines. The inability of rescuers to communicate effectively was a significant impediment in both Katrina and in New York during 9-11. We even have a ham radio at our Gem Heights station and a list of volunteers ready to come in and maintain contact with the outside world, Romines said.

To assist these efforts, Emergency Managements Badger recommends that everyone be ready to survive in place for a week by building kits of food, water, medication and warm clothing, and stockpiling a cache at each place of our life: home, work, and even in the car in case were in traffic when the big one hits.


Last Spring while working on another story, this writer called the Yelm Police Dept. and requested a copy of the Yelm Emergency Plan. I was told that the Yelm Emergency Plan is classified as a security item and is only to be released on an “as needed” basis.
I asked how would the public know what to do in a sudden emergency & was told instructions would be disseminated then.

That is a very interesting response. How can the public know where to turn and what to do in a crisis, and in particular, if communication media are not available? We have all seen power lines, cellphone towers and telephone lines knocked out for days here from wind storms.
Knowledge and preparation of the public in advance is paramount, as Graham attests.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, there was no public disseminated plan there either.
People gathered at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, which was not a gathering point in their emergency plan because of key vulnerabilities. Since the public did not have the information that the Superdome was unfit as an emergency shelter, the Superdome site became a crisis of its own, as we all now know.

Will our community continue to remain in the dark as to the Emergency Plan?

The Yelm Community Blog invites the Yelm Police to share any emergency plan information with Blog readers.

Posted by Steve on November 24, 2007 at 6:51 am | Permalink

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