- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Fort Detrick’s new emergency response vehicle can sniff out sarin gas and test substances for biological or chemical agents.

The $575,000 truck also contains inflatable shelters and showers for decontaminating large numbers of people.

It exemplifies a new generation of vehicles, equipped for terrorism response, that the federal Department of Homeland Security is helping fire and rescue companies acquire, officials say.

“It expands the capability for us to respond to an incident in Frederick County,” said David Eskildsen, chief of fire and emergency services at Fort Detrick.

Fort Detrick’s fire department works with first responders from outside the Army post on hazardous-material (hazmat) calls. Such calls typically involve industrial accidents or spilled fuel, but the team also responds to reports of suspicious packages, unusual odors and letters containing white powder.

“Hazmat has now expanded because of the way of the world,” Chief Eskildsen told the Frederick News-Post. “We have to be prepared for larger events, intentional events.”

The Army bought the $325,000 vehicle in November and added $250,000 worth of equipment, thanks to federal appropriations. The truck is equipped with a chemical agent monitor that can recognize vapors of mustard agent and sarin gas on people and equipment.

Another tool, infrared spectrometry, scans liquids and powders and compares their chemical makeup against a database of known substances.

In the front is the command center, outfitted with wireless Internet access, a fax machine, telephones and radio communications. An onboard computer can create three-dimensional models of potentially affected areas, showing the team how a chemical or biological agent is likely to disperse, Chief Eskildsen said. Onboard rain gauges, thermometers, barometers and anemometers help ensure accurate computer modeling in all conditions.

The Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services is buying a similar vehicle for about $429,000 that will be financed with grants from the Department of Homeland Security and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said Lt. Dennis Wenner. He said it will be delivered by October.

He said such vehicles are becoming a trend: “Everyone is looking to enhance or stabilize response methods, because of the status of the world today.”

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