New county 'HazMat' truck a command center

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Law enforcement and first-responders monitor a screen on the outside of the Coweta County Fire Department’s new HazMat truck, which shows the boom camera view.

By JOHN A. WINTERS john@newnan.com The Coweta County Fire Department's newest addition to its fleet is far more than its lettering suggests. From the outside, it looks like a typical large fire engine. The only difference being the large "HazMat" letters on the sides.
In reality, it's far more than an emergency response vehicle. It's a literal command center for everything from hostage situations to chemical spills to prepping firefighters going into burning buildings. Purchased for slightly more than $600,000 with Coweta County impact fees, it's been at its new home at Fire Station One on Turkey Road for less than a month. There is an obvious pride, seen and heard, when one talks to the various administration heads at the department's headquarters about it. Inside are computers, printers and camera controls -- state-of-the-art equipment that can track a hazardous material plume on a computer screen and determine what chemicals are involved. Outside is a large television monitor that can display a building's floor plan, show a list of hazardous materials or provide a bird's eye view of the surrounding area for fire fighters. That last function is due to a 30-foot telescoping pole that has a 36x-powered camera on top. With that, operators can zero in on an area, scan back to get an overview or even focus on an overturned chemical truck and read what type of chemicals it is carrying, or if there are passengers inside. And the camera has night vision. Those functions can also help in hostage situations, allowing authorities to "see" what all is going on yet remain out of danger. "It really is a state-of-the-art command and hazmat center," said Coweta County Fire Chief Johnny Teeters. For the hazmat functions, there are large 55-gallon drums to contain hazardous materials, all kinds of cleanup and containment materials and other equipment. Computer equipment will help firefighters determine what they are dealing with. "We can figure out what kind of chemicals are involved and change our action plan as needed," said Capt. Bryan Minix. "We can identify what we're dealing with and get our guys in the right suit." Those suits can range from the typical firefighter gear all the way to full-blown "moon suits," fully-enclosed protective gear to deal with dangerous chemicals. The new truck also can serve as a decontamination center, where firefighters can be cleaned up after dealing with hazardous materials. Tracking plumes and determining wind direction are possible to a wireless weather station that's also on the back of the truck, next to the camera pole. "On a chemical spill, we can track wind speed, follow the plume and see if it's headed toward a neighborhood," said Capt. Robby Flanagan. The engine also has its own diesel generator to power all the instruments. Operators can also change over to news stations to monitor media reports, and even hook in direct phone lines over the Internet to have immediate access to other health and safety organizations. "It just really gives us some much needed flexibility," the chief said.


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