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Regional hazardous materials response teams were located throughout Kentucky in the late 1980s. By the end of the 1990s, however, many teams had disbanded for various reasons, leaving gaps in hazmat response. Following an infusion of money from the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, a regional team was formed in central Kentucky in 2001-2002 covering 11 counties – Bourbon, Clark, Estil, Fayette, Garrard, Harrison, Jessamine, Madison, Nicholas, Powell and Woodford. The Bluegrass Emergency Response Team (BERT) became operational in 2004.
Central Kentucky, the state’s Bluegrass Region, includes Lexington and the capital city, Frankfort. The region is known for its horse farms with miles of pristine white fences, rolling fields of bluegrass and the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, considered the heart of the Horse Capital of the World. Lexington is the second-largest city in Kentucky, with 299,803 residents and a metropolitan-area population of 472,099.
As with many teams today, BERT is not limited to hazmat and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) response. BERT members are also trained and equipped to respond to rescue operations including rope, cave, trench, confined space, urban search and rescue (USAR), natural disasters, mass-casualty incidents and radiological emergencies. BERT is comprised of local emergency responders from throughout the region. Team members include firefighters, emergency management personnel and police officers who are available at a moment’s notice to help mitigate incidents that are beyond the capabilities and resources of local jurisdictions.
Five vehicles have been designated for team operations. Response equipment is based at the following locations:
• Hazardous materials – Unit 1, Clark County (Winchester Fire-EMS) and Unit 2, Woodford County (Versailles Fire & Rescue)
• Mass casualty – Unit 3, Fayette County (Lexington Fire Department)
• Radiation response – Unit 4, Fayette County (Lexington Fire Department)
• Rescue operations – Unit 5, Jessamine County (Jessamine County District Fire Department in Nicholasville)
• Storm response – Garrard County (District 1 Fire Station in Lancaster), Madison County (Richmond Fire Department) and Nicholas County (Carlisle Fire Station)
BERT has a governing board and team president to oversee its business aspects. The president is Brian Wescott, a full-time firefighter with the Lexington Division of Fire and EMS. An executive board is involved with the day-to-day management along with the president. The team also has a designated training officer.
When the team is activated, a designated Hazmat Group Supervisor is responsible for incident activities involving BERT. The Hazmat Group Supervisor reports to the Operations Section Chief. Team members are dispatched by the Lexington dispatch center. Those having the authority to activate BERT are the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management Area 11 Manager (the agency is organized into 11 regions, each with a regional manager); county emergency management directors; fire chief or designee; or BERT president. A call-down system using pagers alerts team members, starting with those already on duty within the county. Jurisdictions within the 11-county area have agreed to let on duty personnel respond to BERT activations. Once alerted, team members respond to pre-assigned duty stations where the vehicles are located for assembly into appropriate response groups. Hazmat Group Supervisors are authorized to respond directly to the scene without first reporting to the duty station, depending on the location of the call.
The minimum hazmat response includes four technicians, two decontamination personnel and sufficient support personnel. If additional personnel are needed, off-duty team members are called in. Approximately 48 personnel are on duty at paid departments throughout the 11 counties at any time. About 150 trained technicians are on the team. If additional resources are needed, statewide mutual aid agreements are in place among all counties. Blue Grass Airport in Lexington is home to a regional training center for aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF). Resources at the airport and training center are also available to BERT.