W. Va. Chief Defends His FFs from Feds

WEIRTON, W.Va. --

The Weirton fire chief spoke out in response to poor ratings cast on the department through a mock disaster drill.

According to the United States Regulatory commission, the firefighters fell short on April 20 during a drill simulating a radiological disaster at the Beaver Valley plant in Pennsylvania.

Lashhorn said residents need to know that the department is not deficient. He said they've participated in the mock drill for more than 20 years and always had sufficient ratings.

Furthermore, Tom Zelinski, county technology and communications director, said the department had a dry run before the drill and FEMA never made any suggestions for improvements.

Therefore, several officials are left trying to figure out how and where the department fell short.

Chief Lashhorn said his lieutenant put together a list regarding issues they encountered that day.

He noted a decay in supplies, handouts were not provided to evacuees and he said there was no list of trained volunteer personnel. But at this point he said that's all speculation as to potential problem spots.

Still, Lashhorn said for the most part, he feels they could be looking at two main issues, the first being a lack of training. For example, he said the department was never trained to conduct a practical drill to make sure they aren't bringing contaminated vehicles in the city.

Lashhorn said his department is also dealing with a lack of manpower, which is something he considers beyond the departments control.

"I've got five guys on duty all the time. We have to cover emergency calls within the city and also participate and run this drill. We had several alarms during this drill and we are simply not able to pay the overtime to call out a whole group of people to run this drill," said Lashhorn.

Lashhorn said he addressed those concerns to the county Office of Emergency Services and also to FEMA before the mock drill.

That said, the training procedure for the department has not varied much from year to year and the department has always successfully completed the drill that's why everyone involved says they are still left in shock by this year's rating.

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