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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of  September 19 - 25, 2001


Ketchum is prepared 
for disasters

Officials deliver briefing to 
mayor, City Council

Express Staff Writer

Disaster services leaders say the Wood River Valley is as prepared as it can be for any likely disaster—including fire, hazardous materials spills, technical rescues and emergency medical needs.

Ketchum’s Assistant Fire Chief Greg Schwab

That was the message provided by Ketchum’s Assistant Fire Chief Greg Schwab and Police Chief Cal Nevland during a special meeting called Friday at Ketchum City Hall.

"I think it’s incumbent on us to review these at all times but especially in the wake of what’s happened," Mayor David Hutchinson said. "Are we prepared and protected against circumstances that are unthinkable?"

A list of training courses taken by Ketchum firefighters, which Schwab distributed to council members, includes emergency response to terrorism and handling hazardous chemical, biological and nuclear materials.

Nevland and Schwab said any terrorist act in the Wood River Valley is more likely to be from domestic groups rather than international ones.

"One of our biggest concerns is ecoterrorism in the valley, similar to what happened at Vail," Schwab said.

He said Bald Mountain is a potential target for people with such aims. In a later interview, he said lodges on the mountain are protected by alarms and water tanks installed for snowmaking have been modified with fixtures that can accept fire department hoses.

Schwab told the council that a major disaster concern here is a hazardous materials spill. He added in an interview that proper response to such a spill involves primarily knowing how to plug a leak or otherwise stop the flow of the material.

Nevland said his biggest security concern has been that associated with visiting dignitaries and conventions, such as Mexican President Vicente Fox’s appearance at this summer’s Allen and Co. meeting. He said more than 200 security officers accompanied that event.

Ketchum Police Chief Cal Nevland briefs the City Council on Friday on the city’s state of readiness to cope with emergencies or disasters.

Nevland said security officers for that and similar meetings coordinate things with him two to three months in advance, questioning him about "who is the nut here who could try to do something."

Schwab told council members that the Ketchum Fire Department is trained to deal with escalating emergencies and hazardous materials.

Councilman Maurice Charlot asked about potential poisoning of the city’s water supply. Nevland said access to the water supply is covered by an alarm, but acknowledged that a properly trained person could disarm it. Schwab, however, pointed out that any contaminant put into the water would be very diluted once it reached people’s homes.

In an interview, Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman said emergency response providers there have taken reasonable steps to address any likely disaster. However, he added, that such resources are fairly limited throughout the Wood River Valley.

"You could always exceed our response capability," he said, citing as an example a crash landing of a large jet making an emergency attempt at Friedman Memorial Airport.

Chapman said the most likely source of hazardous-material contamination in Hailey is chlorine from the water-treatment plant. He said several members of the fire department are trained as specialists in handling chlorine spills.

Chapman acknowledged that a truck driving through the valley could accidentally spill a variety of exotic poisonous substances for which local fire departments are not specifically trained. In such a case, he said, local departments would seek help from the state hazardous-materials team in Pocatello.

"The good thing is, we’re on the road to nowhere in the transport system," he said.

Chapman urged residents to get involved in any of various community-protection activities, including donating blood, joining Wood River Search and Rescue or even joining the local Lion’s and Rotary clubs. In a severe disaster, he said, "rather than just recruiting people off the street to help, you try to find people who are already organized."

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.