Sept. 11, 2001, conjures up myriad gut-wrenching memories for Americans - and we in the fire service in particular. On that dreadful day, while the eyes of the world were focused on the two disasters that took place in our nation's largest city and the seat of our country's power, another...
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Preparation. You may be small, but that does not mean you are incompetent or unable. Successful management of a large disaster is possible even in the smallest fire and emergency jurisdictions with proper preparation, primarily in the way of training and agreements for aid. That's one of King's observations: "If a fire department is on top of things with its training, you'll have the knowledge and ability to do the things you have to do, you just can't do it by yourself, you need more help."
Determine as much as possible prior to an incident, particularly for target hazards, what the requirements would be for personnel, equipment and facilities. In other words, pre-plan, have a blueprint to follow in the event the once-in-a-lifetime disaster occurs.
Be involved with your local emergency management agency. In some instances, in the more remote areas or areas that have not prioritized emergency management, a small fire department may be the local emergency response agency. Nonetheless, being involved will help to familiarize your department with EMA procedures. Another benefit of involvement with the local EMA is being able to access resources available through the EMA.
The federal government's Homeland Security initiatives are pumping major funds into local EMAs in an effort to bolster our country's preparedness for dealing with disaster incidents, particularly terrorism. Your department may be able to access funds for equipment and training from these funds.
"I can't say enough about our local EMA," Shaffer said. "I don't know what we would have done without them."
Logistics. The logistical support it takes to manage a disaster incident as demonstrated with the crash of Flight 93 is huge. If there's one big advantage to a resource-taxing incident such as an airliner crash happening in rural America, it's the can-do attitude of people who are used to operating on their own and having to use their resourcefulness to overcome resource deficits. Shaffer said that community support was incredible. The Shanksville fire station was so filled with supplies from people locally and indeed from all over the country that members couldn't get the trucks inside.
A small fire department needs procedures and contacts it can use to activate logistical support. The time spent putting a resource book together that lists all the pertinent contacts will spare precious time and confusion once the resources are actually needed.
Communications. When "the big one" happens is not a good time to discover your radio communications capabilities don't allow you to talk with state police or emergency management representatives. Inadequate communications capabilities can be attributed to the bungling of at least as many incidents as mismanagement. Get together with all agencies likely to be key players in a disaster incident in your jurisdiction and see who can talk to who and who can't, then go about fixing the loopholes.
The effects of the crash of Flight 93 on the Shanksville Fire Department and the community will linger indefinitely. Visitors all ask questions.
"Our town will never be the same," Shaffer said. "It will always be linked to that day."
Activity in the department has dropped off some following the crash according to Shaffer, but the department has experienced no loss of members. Control over the crash site was not relinquished to Somerset County until August 2003, making it the longest-held crime scene in the history of Pennsylvania.
As a tribute to the crash victims the Shanksville Fire Department dedicated a new "Memorial Tanker" in their memory in 2002. The rig carries 3,000 gallons of water and bears a plaque with the names of all victims on the side of the truck along with an American flag emblem for each passenger and crew member on the plane.
The Somerset Area Ambulance is also outfitting a mass-casualty/disaster response trailer.
"The Quecreek Rescue, 9/11, floods we experienced in 1996 and two tornadoes in 1998 have pointed out the need for the equipment," said Huzsek.
The county was again the focus of the world media attention a year after 9/11 when the Quecreek mine rescue was undertaken to rescue nine miners trapped in a coal mine. Emergency response units from Somerset where not directly involved but were on standby in case their assistance was needed.
Local Author's Book Tells the Flight 93 Story