County emergency assistance teams facing new training requirements

Posted Jan. 04, 2014, at 9:15 a.m.

PARIS, Maine — New state requirements will allow highly skilled teams from county emergency management departments to deploy anywhere in the state, but few may be willing to sign up for training that squeezes time and energy out of a limited and dwindling population of emergency responders.

Last year, the Maine Emergency Management Agency issued certification guidelines for members of Incident Management Assistance Teams in Maine’s 16 counties, which have been receiving federal money for years to support their operations.

IMAT teams provide support to local emergency responders facing serious, prolonged incidents, such as wildfires, search-and-rescue or hostage situations. IMAT teams may participate directly in the operation, but more often provide support roles, MEMA training officer Mike Grant said.

Team members are on hand to “make a plan for next day, keep track of the expenditures, get everybody’s orders together for the next day, or get them Porta Potties or food or shelter” while local responders focus on the situation, he said.

Assistance becomes invaluable for emergency workers, especially when dealing with long-term operations such as a multiday search for missing hiker Geraldine Largay of Tennessee in Carrabassett this past August, or the search for snowmobilers who drove into Rangeley Lake in December 2012.

County teams have been deployed infrequently, Grant said, but there is no guarantee that a future statewide emergency won’t require their assistance.

Teams are organized from the federal level down. MEMA, for example, maintains a state-level Type III IMAT team that can be deployed across Maine and other states.

County teams were originally designed as a way to group together local emergency workers with federal incident management certification in order to access grant money and provide support locally, Grant said.

Teams were equipped with tens of thousands of dollars worth of startup equipment and given $1,500 annual stipends to maintain it.

In recent years, however, MEMA began developing new Type IV guidelines for each of the eight specific positions in the team, such as logistics, public information, planning or finance, to standardize training across the state.

Type IV training takes about a day and officers need to fill out task books to be fully certified. Once certified, team members can be deployed to emergencies anywhere in Maine.

“So if someone from Oxford County was sent to Aroostook County, they can hit the ground running,” he said. Individual emergency workers who are not Type IV can still volunteer in the case of an emergency, but won’t be called up by MEMA to respond, he said.

The new standards also meet federal requirements for continued financial support, Grant said. The need for county teams as a vehicle for grant funding is also waning, however, as FEMA has relaxed the trainings standards to be eligible, he said.

For some county teams, finding the minimum of eight team members to certify may be too much to aim for. So far, the Kennebec-Somerset joint IMAT is the only team to meet new requirements, although Grant said other county teams were expected to meet them by an April deadline and teams are able to submit their qualifications after the deadline.

County team members are drawn from the fire, law enforcement, communications and emergency medical departments, people who are already “wearing more than one hat,” Androscoggin County Unified EMA Deputy Director Timothy Bubier said.

His agency never established an IMAT team precisely due to the strain on manpower. Whether they should pursue the state’s Type IV qualifications is still being discussed, he said.

Members of Oxford County’s IMAT team already decided not to pursue the new training by the April deadline but will continue working toward certification, EMA Director Alyson Hill said. The department recognized the possibility of losing funding early and has been saving to fund the team in upcoming years, she said.

Franklin County EMA Director Tim Hardy said his office doesn’t have a team and probably won’t put one together, considering the new requirements and an existing dearth of manpower.

“We’re all being asked to do more with less and there comes a point where you can only do so much,” he said.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

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