- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

Some volunteer firefighters in Bethesda, Md. yesterday expressed concern that their department may not be prepared to respond to a biological or chemical attack launched by terrorists.
"We're not going to expose ourselves without having the equipment to protect ourselves," said Lewis German, the former chief of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad.
Mr. German is among a group of seasoned volunteers who have complained about inadequate training and a plan to stockpile specialized equipment at a limited number of fire stations to respond to the threat.
The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department has about 150 specialized suits equipped with respirators. Those suits are stored in two of the county's 33 fire stations. Like other specialized equipment, they would be dispatched to any location in the 500 square-mile county if they are needed.
"That's like going to get the fire hose so you can put the fire out," said Mr. German. He is among a group of volunteers who would prefer to have the equipment readily available to all first responders.
"If those stations were on another fire call, how would we get them out of there," said Chief Robert C. McHenry of the county's Gaithersburg volunteer department.
But county officials consider centralized storage preferable to storing the suits aboard firetrucks, where they could be lost, soiled or damaged.
"Our hazmat [hazardous materials] teams are pretty well equipped," said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Department.
County police received 100 of the suits and respirators, which are kept by the Tactical Operations Division.
"Every member of the department has a mask," said Assistant Chief Robert W. Barnhouse of the Montgomery County Police Department.
The masks are considered adequate for officers working the perimeter of a so-called "hot zone" created by such an incident.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan has asked public-safety administrators to devise recommendations for improving the county's ability to respond. Wish lists for new equipment and resources could be submitted over the next two weeks.
In the nearby District, all 450 emergency medical technicians have access to suits while on duty. But officials prefer to leave surplus equipment in storage until it is needed. "The stuff has a shelf life," said Alan Etter, a civilian spokesman for the D.C. fire department.
Once protective suits are assigned they can be used for up to five years with periodic testing. Antidote kits have to be disposed of after two years, Mr. Etter said.

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