The recent rescinding of $250,000 in pass-through 2016 federal and state grant funding for Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction equipment and training will significantly hamper the Hot Springs Fire Department’s regional hazmat and anti-terrorism efforts, Hot Springs Fire Chief Ed Davis said today. “The effects of this decision by Garland County could, in turn, affect the response to hazardous materials emergencies throughout the I-30 corridor from Hot Springs to Texarkana,” Davis added.
Garland County’s unprecedented decision to forego the 100%-reimbursable grant funding was confirmed yesterday by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, Davis said. The city contacted ADEM to determine the status of the grant and was informed that Garland County had notified ADEM that the county was rescinding the fire department’s State Homeland Security Grant. “It wasn’t a huge shock; there was talk this summer that the county was considering foregoing the grant,” Davis said. “After the Quorum Court Finance Committee’s tabling of grant approval on November 10, we knew there was cause for concern.”
Federal and state funding for the HMWMD teams is administered through the counties via the local Department of Emergency Management. In 2014 and 2015, Garland County and its Department of Emergency Management administered similar grants to benefit the Hot Springs Fire Department HMWMD response team. During fiscal year 2016, a third grant was obtained in the amount of $250,000. The grant, written and submitted by HSFD personnel, was divided into two categories: $203,950 for equipment and $50,000 for training. The training funds would have been used to conduct classes which all of the state’s HMWMD first responders could attend.
The Hot Springs Fire Department operates the only Hazardous Materials /Weapons of Mass Destruction (HMWMD) response team in Southwest Arkansas as designated by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. The team is comprised of a group of highly trained firefighters who respond to the region’s chemical emergencies occurring in the counties lying along the I-30 corridor. A key feature of the HMWMD program is the formation of Joint Hazard Assessment Teams (JHAT). JHAT teams are anti-terrorism teams composed of a law enforcement officer, a firefighter HMWMD technician and a member of the Arkansas National Guard Civil Support Team. Numerous JHAT teams operate at major events like the Arkansas Derby where large numbers of people are gathered. JHAT teams perform an important security function, observing the attendees and sampling the atmosphere for the presence of hazardous substances. In the event of an act of terrorism at one of these large gatherings, JHAT teams would act as the first line of defense for attending patrons. The State of Arkansas, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, has funded the formation of six HMWMD teams throughout the State of Arkansas. HSFD operates one of these six teams.
Recent action by the county to forego the 2016 grant funding has restricted the future development of the Hot Springs Fire Department’s HMWMD capabilities. The $203,950 in new personal protective equipment and devices designed to aid in the recognition and containment of chemical releases will not be acquired. As a result, Hot Springs firefighters will respond to potential HMWMD environments with lesser quality equipment and without state funding.
“The City of Hot Springs has made a commitment to the county and state to respond to HMWMD incidents in both Garland County and in southwest Arkansas,” Davis said. “This commitment was based upon the city continuing to receive the State Homeland Security Grant funding that is administered through Garland County. Although the grant funding has been rescinded by the county, the Hot Springs Fire Department will continue to honor its responsibilities to Garland County and Southwest Arkansas. Every human life is important, and public safety remains our highest priority.”