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Thread: Firefighters ill-equipped to handle bioterror attack

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    Firefighters ill-equipped to handle bioterror attack

    Firefighters ill-equipped to handle bioterror attack


    By Judd Slivka
    The Arizona Republic
    Dec. 17, 2002


    Firefighters are trained to run toward threats and save the lives of innocents.


    But that attitude, coupled with gear that is inadequate for the threats of a changing world, could get them killed.

    After a biological, chemical or nuclear attack, when rescue personnel are needed most, they may have to stand on the sidelines, casualties of equipment that hasn't caught up to the threat and the hard fact that it costs a lot of money to bring a fire department up to the state of the art.

    The problem is that respirators and equipment issued to 95 percent of the nation's firefighters do not provide a defense against attacks from weapons of mass destruction.

    "Our guys want to rush in, knock down a door, and make a save," said Bob Khan, an assistant chief with the Phoenix Fire Department. "It's why we became firefighters. But in the wrong set of circumstances, that will get you killed."

    While the possibility of this type of attack is remote, it does exist. Vice President Dick Cheney says, "The prospects of a future attack against the United States are almost certain."

    "There's a saying that a bioterrorism attack isn't anything but a Hazmat incident with an attitude," said Danny Peterson, who teaches courses in emergency management at Arizona State University East. "Our Hazmat folks are able to handle almost anything, but the first responders who are there in their regular turnouts can't, and that's a problem."

    "Everybody would want to get in and play the game," said Phoenix Firefighter Bill Watkins of Station 38. "I don't really worry about it, it's my job. I'll trust my equipment and training, and the command structure."

    The men and women involved in public safety are facing sobering realities. The most sobering is that updating equipment is costly and the design changes for the new type of threat are not even in production yet. Until they are, public safety personnel face serious challenges:



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