LEPC helps first responders handle emergencies

A chemical leak, a pipeline explosion, or a fire in one of our many industries. … Emergencies occur without warning and our residents, communities, and emergency responders need to know what to do should a disaster strike. What role does the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) play in the fire and EMS service? Here in Washington County we have many industries that support our local communities. Within these industries are hazards associated with the manufacture of their products. Hazards such as corrosive and flammable chemicals are an everyday concern for our local emergency services.

With resources available to all of the fire departments and EMS services, the LEPC plays a vital role when an emergency arises. Each of these industries is required to inform the LEPC of the hazardous substances they store, manufacture, or use at their facility. Armed with this data, the local emergency services have a resource to turn to in case of an incident.

Many of the local fire departments are really good at putting out fires consisting of two by fours in a plywood box but dealing with hazardous chemicals (either fire or spill) is a little more complicated. Training offered through the LEPC, drills conducted annually, and a one stop shop for information on what substances are at a particular facility are all necessary items that the fire departments depend on. HazMat (Hazardous Materials) training will help train our emergency responders on the safe way to respond to an incident. Training offered through the LEPC shows the responders how to keep themselves safe, protect the residents and community, and protect the environment. When dealing with an incident of this type it is important to know the safe distance, when to use water, when not to use water on a substance, who to contact for specialized assistance, and other issues that present themselves.

Annual drills conducted by the LEPC involve local responders. These practice sessions, either tabletop or practical, help to check our procedures and modify them as needed. They also help us to interact with other agency’s that may be on site of the incident. Realizing that many agencies will respond, it’s helpful to know some of the names and faces of those who may offer their expertise before an incident happens. With roles changing all the time, it’s nice to know who is responsible for what so the appropriate entity can be contacted for assistance.

When conducting training at our departments, it is easy to role play and discuss options and who is to do what. That is OK when we are the only responding agency. When other agencies are on the scene, our well layed out plans seem to take a different course. Someone has to be in control, who will it be? Who makes the notifications to all the regulatory agencies? Who is responsible for information collection and distribution? All these items are necessary in an incident and with practice drills these questions are answered before any event might take place.

The local emergency services benefit from all this information, training, practice, and inter-agency cooperation coordinated by the LEPC. We have a role to play in an emergency and with the help of this organization we can do it effectively and efficiently.

Mark Wile is chief of the Warren Volunteer Fire Department and president of the Washington County Fire Chiefs. He is also a member of the Local Emergency Planning Committee.