Federal grant gives St. Paul Fire Department $100,000 for extra protective equipment, training

by Tom Ford

St. Paul moved closer Wednesday to preparing various emergency personnel for attacks by weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. Justice Department gave the St. Paul Fire and Safety Services Department a grant of nearly $100,000 – authorized Wednesday by the City Council – which will primarily pay for
protective equipment for firefighters and other emergency responders in case of chemical or biological terrorist attacks.

While the timing might indicate otherwise, the grant and other preparatory measures have been in the works since the mid-’90s.

Before this month’s attacks, “there was a need to provide the public safety response community with some additional protection,” said Al Bataglia, St. Paul assistant fire chief.

Still, the Sept. 11 attacks have prompted added safety measures, a heightened awareness and a commitment to terrorist preparations, he said.

“There’s going to be a lot more emphasis placed on the first responder community and public safety,” he said. “More emphasis will be placed on training and exercises.”

Although security might increase, Bataglia cautioned people to realize some of the sacrifices they’ll probably have to make.

He mentioned some changes already made since the attacks, such as the added security at federal buildings and longer waits at airports.

“The public will have to rethink what we’re about and understand some of their freedoms may be infringed on, but it’s for everyone’s sake,” Bataglia said.

The grant came about through 1996 congressional legislation. Partly in response to the 1993 World Trade Center and 1995 Oklahoma City bombings, Congress passed the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Act to provide America’s 120 largest cities with funds for emergency equipment and training to respond to terrorist attacks.

As the first step, Bataglia said, the Justice and Defense departments trained police officers and fire-fighters.

Once the training was completed, he said, Congress gave funding for such things as chemical monitoring devices and protective equipment for responders.

Bataglia said much of that training and equipment was directed toward major cities and left “holes” in capabilities for larger metropolitan areas.

To address those needs, St. Paul and Minneapolis have been developing a plan since 1999, called the Metropolitan Medical Response System, to coordinate responses among agencies across the state and for training of other first responders.

He said the MMRS is expected to be finalized at the end of the year.

Minneapolis Deputy Fire Chief Dick Turner said the MMRS has identified 13 hospitals in the metro region as decontamination facilities and those hospitals have received equipment such as respirators and pharmaceuticals.

“(Attack preparations have) been around for a long time,” Bataglia said.


Tom Ford covers St. Paul and welcomes comments at [email protected]