Emergency responders learn from Minn. tragedy

Posted Oct. 03, 2009, at 3:44 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:11 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Piscataquis County emergency responders and town officials learned Friday what their Minneapolis, Minn., counterparts did right and wrong when a bridge collapsed there in August 2007.

Rocco Forte, director of Emergency Preparedness in Minneapolis, spent much of Friday taking participants through the emergency response that occurred when the I-35W Mississippi River bridge spanning the Mississippi River collapsed during the 6 p.m. rush hour on Aug. 1.

His visit, arranged by the Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency and the Dover-Foxcroft Police Department, was a chance for participants to learn the value of planning, communication and having the proper equipment and training.

About 50 hospital workers, police, firefighters, town officials, emergency management agency representatives and emergency medical service providers attended the approximately five-hour program at Center Theatre.

“We all have good plans, but can we implement the plans” is the question to ask, Forte said Friday. He said Maine, in general, has a good system in place, especially the sharing and cooperative relationship that exists among agencies. What the state needs to do, he said, is assess what tools and equipment it needs for disasters and seek grants to acquire the equipment.

Forte said the response to the bridge collapse would have failed “miserably” if his city hadn’t participated in a Federal Emergency Management Agency emergency operation plan in 2002 that allowed his agency to analyze the gaps that existed. Those gaps soon were closed, he said, meaning that about 60 fewer lives were lost in the catastrophe.

Every level of government —about 140 agencies — were involved in the response to the bridge collapse and a command post was quickly established, Forte said. He stressed the importance of the National Incident Management System, or NIMS, and described how it brought everyone together in a unified command during his state’s disaster.

Tom Iverson, director of the Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency, said Friday he was pleased with the seminar, which was well received by the participants.

Iverson said Piscataquis County has been involved in NIMS for more than two years. He said the full-scale disaster exercises that are conducted throughout the county help emergency providers determine where gaps exist.

Piscataquis County is well prepared for disasters, but there’s always room for improvement, Iverson said.

dianabdn@myfairpoint.net

876-4579

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