In the fire service, volunteers have a history of being resourceful. With funding, staffing and training difficult to procure, being resourceful has been a matter of survival.
The same holds true for volunteer-based hazmat teams. And nowhere is that more evident than in the Oldham County, Ky., which sits in the north central part of the state nestled against the Indiana border.
The state’s Emergency Management department created the Oldham County Task Force in 2009 as part of Area 6. Team leaders say their humble beginnings included a half-empty trailer with some basic decontamination equipment.
Now, the 30-member team sports three full-time trailers packed with a range of hazmat equipment including drones, an utility terrain vehicle, sampling equipment and leak mitigation kits.
In addition to hazmat, the task force handles search and rescue as well as technical rescue calls.
The team has also expanded beyond the county to cover an eight-county area. It also draws members from six fire departments. The team members are mostly volunteers and called in from other duties as needed.
The task force trains together monthly. They also host trainings with the six fire departments, they hold federal training classes and train with the local confined space team. The team’s training tech involves homemade props and simulants for detection — again, volunteers have to be resourceful.
Task force leaders attribute much of their success to securing grants to fund the team’s equipment needs. And as with most volunteer fire organizations, the successes of yesterday do not eliminate the challenges of today.
Task force leaders say their biggest, most immediate challenge is getting new gas detectors to replace their aging equipment. Efforts to land that funding have not worked out, so far. But, volunteer firefighters are a resourceful group and this team will continue to try different approaches.