Chief Donahue prepares town for disaster response

TOWNSEND — Town officials and department heads have begun taking the National Incident Management System (NIMS) course, as mandated by the federal government. The course is being taught by Fire Chief William Donahue.

NIMS deals with coordination during disaster responses, he said.

”Basically this course teaches us to all speak the same language while working together,” Chief Donahue explained. “If I as a firefighter asked for a line, you would give me a hose. If a medic asked for a line, they would want an IV. If someone on a boat asked for a line, you would get them a rope. We cannot have that mistake in a town-wide situation.”

NIMS was started by President George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks, as an approach to handling disasters.

”This course is all-encompassing, and is not just for emergency personnel,” Chief Donahue said. “All members of town government have to be involved.”

Donahue said the town adopted NIMS training a few months ago. Any city or town refusing to adopt NIMS training, he said, would lose all federal grant money.

The course is constructed so that members of all departments have a role to play should disaster strike. Donahue said lack of coordination was part of the problem on September 11 as fire, police, and other first-responders could not communicate with each other.

”The police helicopters sent messages to the police on the ground to get out of the buildings,” Chief Donahue said of the New York terrorist attack on September 11, “but the firefighters never got that information.”

Chief Donahue explained the incident command chain and how various members of town government would fit in.

”In a big incident, we would need members of finance to track our spending, and then get reimbursement,” Donahue said. “We would need members of the highway department for equipment. We would need members of the selectmen and the town administrator for input. We would need members of the media for information going out to the residents. We would need other members of government for running facilities and getting equipment and supplies. It takes everyone to put this all together.”

The coordination learned in NIMS can be applied to any disaster, large or small. Part of the training involves prepared scenarios, from natural disasters to terrorist attacks.

”The government has put together various scenarios, and one is to attack small towns where people feel safe,” Donanue said. “You don’t have to bring down big buildings in order to get Americans’ attention. People from big cities are more comfortable living in the suburbs, so the suburbs have to be prepared.”

Donahue will be running several more NIMS classes over the next for town government personnel.