1998 Congressional Hearings
Special Weapons
Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Missile


 

Statement by

Mr. Harold B. Hairston
Commissioner

Philadelphia Fire Department
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Before the
United States House of Representatives
Committee of National Security
Military Research and Development Subcommittee
Hearing

"Federal Response to Domestic Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass
Destruction - Training for Emergency First Responders"

Indianapolis, Indiana

March 21, 1998

Good afternoon, I am Harold Hairston, Fire Commissioner of the Philadelphia Fire Department, Philadelphia, Pa. and I'd like to begin by thanking Congressman Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania for inviting me to this year's Fire Departments Instructor's Conference and affording me the opportunity to address this committee.

Philadelphia, as the custodian for some of America's most cherished artifacts and institutions must take seriously the threat of a terrorist attack against the birth place of democracy. The city's leadership, in cooperation with the state and federal government, is doing all in its power to deter an attack upon its citizens and institutions.

We are also preparing, with the assistance of the Department of Defense, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the United States Public Health Service, the Justice Department and other agencies, to minimize the impact of an attack, should one occur. This heightened preparedness itself has a deterrent effect, as it makes for a less vulnerable target.

My purpose in testifying before this committee is to report on the Philadelphia Fire Department's successful participation in the Department of Defense ADomestic Preparedness A program and the equally important US Public Health Service grant the city has received to develop a Metropolitan Medical Strike Team (MMST).

I would also acknowledge the Bureau of Justice Assistance and National Fire Academy's (NFA) AEmergency Response to Terrorism: Basic Concepts program. Several Philadelphia Fire Department officers attended this course at the NFA and we have subsequently delivered it as an outreach program at the Philadelphia Fire Academy.

Further, I will offer recommendations on how the United States Government might strengthen its support for the local first responders.

First let me comment on the Philadelphia Metropolitan Medical Strike Team which is being established with a grant of $350,000 from the United States Public Health Service. The city's Office of Emergency Management is coordinating the emergency response force of the Fire, Police, Health and other city departments. This specialized response team, led by the Fire Department, will render assistance for upwards of 1000 casualties. Although focused on a chemical weapons attack the MMST is a critical asset for any terrorism threat. Mass casualty supplies, pharmaceuticals, detection, decontamination and personal protective equipment, including hazardous materials (HazMat) gear, are all components of this system. The operational plan calls for a quick but effective emergency decontamination of the victims with simultaneous triage and medical treatment. Treatment protocols will include the administration of antidotes for large numbers of victims and first responders. Selected fire department units are being trained and equipped to perform mass decontamination in support of our HazMat and Emergency Medical System (EMS) operations.

Perhaps I should note that in Philadelphia both HazMat and EMS services are divisions within the Philadelphia Fire Department.

Additionally, the Philadelphia Police Department is training and equipping specialty units for on scene security and the Philadelphia Health Department is developing plans and procedures for handling biological events, mortuary issues, and hospital reporting protocols.

Regarding the Department of Defense (DoD) Domestic Preparedness program, the city's Office of Emergency Management is coordinating with DoD's Chemical Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM) a multi-jurisdictional exercise, scheduled for late summer 1998. The exercise, known as FSL >98 (Federal / State / Local), is comprised of three major segments designed to test :

1. pre-incident interactions and communications between and among the agencies and departments of the federal, state, and local government
2. actual response by Philadelphia emergency services to a simulated chemical attack (a.k.a. Field exercise)
3. post incident recovery operations and the response of federal assets

Of particular concern is a Weapon of Mass Destruction assault resulting in casualties whose numbers and types of injuries have not been previously experienced by local emergency services. A nerve agent attack, for example, would kill or disable many fire fighters should they fail to recognize the threat upon their arrival. The loss of fire fighters and police officers would seriously endanger the welfare of casualties who might otherwise still be helped. Less obvious, but also very important, would be the undermining of public confidence in the capability of its emergency services and, therefore, its government.

A major theme of the CBDCOM program is to stress the need for awareness by first responders as well as other government and public service employees. In August, 1997 the City of Philadelphia participated in a ATrain the Trainer program delivered by the Department of Defense, CBDCOM.

For four days the Philadelphia Fire and Police Academies were used to deliver training in courses identified as Responder Awareness, Responder Operations, EMS Technician, HazMat Technician, Incident Command and Hospital Provider. It was the responsibility of the Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management to select a representative cross section of emergency responders and support personnel so that the maximum benefit could be achieved. The goals were to ATrain Trainers and disseminate the information. We were very successful in this regard.

There were five hundred and twenty four (524) registrants for the six courses, representing approximately two hundred and forty-two (242) people attending one or more modules. In addition to police, fire and EMS personnel, other agencies represented included: state and county emergency management, hospitals and universities, railroads, Coast Guard, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), mass transit, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and others. The quality of the training was excellent. Student texts, audio/visual aids and teaching props were all high quality and the instructor staff was professional.

Interaction with CBDCOM management was open and productive with all parties contributing to and learning from this unique project. The table top exercise that concluded the training module was also a success. The participants walked away with appropriate concern for the challenge at hand and optimism that something can be done.

However, there is always room for improvement.

I would now like to take a few moments to discuss my earlier remark about how the Federal Government might further strengthen the local first responders.

The greatest shortfall, in our joint mission to enable first responders to handle a terrorist attack without having the responding fire department decimate its ranks, has been and remains funding for the first responders. Fire departments are the most critical responders during a terrorist attack when it comes to saving lives and controlling the incident. The extensive training and outfitting needed to handle chemical and biological agents and their variations costs many, many times what has been allocated to date. Mr. Chairman, the fire service needs more funding!

Let me provide a few examples. With well over 90% of the Philadelphia Fire Department's annual operating budget made up of personnel expenses, and with the balance dedicated to essential supplies, equipment and administration there are precious few discretionary funds. When a critical issue such as terrorism arises the programs developed to address it are often supported through overtime. There is no metropolitan fire department in this country that has enough personnel to be able to operate otherwise. Under these parameters whenever a major training program, emergency operation, or other non-routine event is undertaken the cost in overtime and related expenses is significant.

The August, 1997, A Train the Trainer program cost the Philadelphia Fire Department approximately $75,000.00. This cost was incurred in backfilling positions and compensating members for attending on their day off. The training was too important to cut corners.

Additional, and substantial training costs will be incurred as we train approximately 2,400 fire personnel during 1998. Other training costs borne by the Philadelphia Fire Department will include institutionalizing this program for recruits and as refresher training. Depending upon competing needs and staffing levels at any particular point in time, overtime will again be a major budget factor.

Further expenses, incurred to date, include $40,000.00 spent to reproduce texts, slides and videos in sufficient quantity to meet Philadelphia's training objectives. Although CBDCOM provides up to $300,000.00 in training materials and equipment for long term loan to the local jurisdiction and the United States Public Health Service grant provides $350,000.00 to fund the MMST the two programs do not meet our needs. The Philadelphia Fire Department estimates that $2.5 million would more adequately cover the cost of training, equipping, administering and sustaining this initiative.

The fire service also needs assistance in the area of equipment. Personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as detection and decontamination equipment are all in short supply.

PPE needs to be comfortable, compact and easy to use. For example, only a very limited number of first responders should be required to operate in Level A suits. Level A protection requires a completely encapsulating gas/vapor proof chemical resistant suit with self-contained breathing apparatus. These suits are hot, restrict movement, and limit vision. It is therefore more desirable that the remainder of the response force have user friendly gear in sufficient quantities to carry out the mission. The scale of such an operation requires funding by the Federal Government. No local department can purchase all the necessary PPE without seriously damaging the budget.

Detection equipment needs to be simplified. Much of the equipment now available is unique to the military and requires extensive training

Obstacles exist in acquiring detection equipment, for example the Chemical Agent Monitor, (CAM) is an excellent tool used by the DoD to detect and identify chemical weapons. It is demonstrated and referenced in the CBDCOM program and recommended for first responder acquisition. However, a CAM operates using radioactive material and DOD rules prevent its transfer to a civilian agency. Therefore, the purchase of such equipment (at $5,000.00 per unit) becomes the responsibility of the fire department

Finally, on the issue of decontamination equipment, the MMST decon trailer, although not especially high tech, can be expensive and also cumbersome to manage. Apparatus bays in fire stations are premium space and a large decon trailer competes with other needs. Also, at a cost of $75,000.00, it consumes a notable piece of the United States Public Health Service grant. Again, greater funding is required.

In closing, let me restate my previous comments that the federal programs the Philadelphia Fire Department has participated in are of first quality. We have dealt with professionals who are dedicated to the well being of first responders and want to aid us in protecting the citizens of our communities. The leadership of the country now needs to recognize the extreme risk that fire department personnel are exposed to in a weapons of mass destruction event and provide the necessary funding so that we can respond is a safe and professional manner.