Feds fund emergency equipment in county

Emergency response organizations throughout Island County are slated to receive about $165,000 worth of new equipment, courtesy a federal grant from the Dept. of Justice.

Most of the equipment, which includes such items as boots, gloves, respirators and hazardous material suits, will be parcelled out to law enforcement agencies, fire departments and EMS professionals working at both the city and county level, said Emergency Services Deputy Director T.J. Harmon on Friday.

“We’re going to be meeting next Tuesday to determine how the county responders might choose to use that equipment,” Harmon said, adding that perhaps the most important part of the package are four positive pressure respirators, which allow emergency personnel to test the level of oxygen in the air of a burning structure.

The grant — which was applied for through the state’s Committee on Terrorism and now will be allocated to various disaster response organizations state-wide — was announced at this Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the Island County Disaster Council, a multi-agency work group that meets informally to coordinate emergency training efforts and share information.

“All of the representatives or decision makers on the council have the opportunity to sit down and discuss issues of concern related to emergency systems in the county,” Harmon said.

“We have people who come from community groups, the Red Cross, city and county departments, fire districts, Whidbey General Hospital,” Harmon added. “This allows us not only to become better familiar with how people run their organizations, where they fit into the picture of emergency systems, but also to share resources and grant ideas. We have a good representation between all different types of disciplines.”

The council, which has been meeting regularly since 1998, usually focuses on a key topic each month, such as long-term training issues or, more recently, the local threat of anthrax and terrorism preparedness after the attacks of Sept. 11.

“It really improves what we do because we’re working together toward the same goal,” said Harmon, who facilitates the meetings. “We kind of hit a lot of birds with one stone.”

She said that the teamwork of the council largely is responsible for the coordinated, county-wide responses to such major events as the Nisqually Earthquake of February 2001.

“I’m really proud of the disaster council,” Harmon said. “Their work has made a big difference.”

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