GFD’s operations affected by 9-11, storms

Published 4:31 pm Thursday, February 25, 2010

Many things remain unchanged at the Greenville Fire Department from the day 17 years ago when Mike Phillips became chief of the GPD.

“We have the same number of personnel, 22 full-time employees with 18 pulling shift duties, 24 hours on and 28 hours off, 24 hours a day and seven days a week,” Phillips told the Greenville Rotary Club during their weekly meeting at The Chef’s Table.

Nine on-call volunteers who are paid to drill three nights a month with the GPD also offer the City of Greenville “its best bang for the buck,” said Phillips.

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However, while personnel numbers at the two stations in Greenville have not changed, the chief says the day-to-day operations have changed in recent years.

“It all goes back to September 11; everything changed on that day. The way we train, the equipment we purchase, the way we protect the public, all of this has changed drastically,” Phillips said.

New opportunities for training through FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Public Health have all arisen in the wake of September 11.

“We are trained to deal with possible disaster involving explosives, bio-chemicals, and radiological situations . . . hopefully we won’t have to deal with any of those. But two areas we have had to spend a lot of time dealing with are weather-related problems and the flu. We’ve done quite a bit of preparation in the event of a flu pandemic,” Phillips said.

The unexpected blow Hurricane Ivan dealt southern Alabama brought home something local emergency response providers could not ignore, says Phillips.

“We learned it would be foolish not to take advantage of the lessons learned by Ivan. We formed a disaster committee to look at how we handled things and how we could do it better,” Phillips said.

Two more hurricanes and the recent snow event have given first responders plenty of opportunities to put their new knowledge and training into practice.

“It’s a never-ending process of evaluation and preparation, the chief said.

On March 13, 2006, an Emergency Operations Center was established in the basement of the Beeland Park Community Center.

“We wanted to have an organized central location where departments could continue to function and operate in the event of an emergency . . . the center has landline phones that can be switched on if needed, a generator that can provide power to the entire facility and the kitchen has a commercial range,” Phillips said.

“If we have to call in our personnel in the event of a disaster, we can now also bring their families to a safe place and offer them and our workers food, rest and security. We didn’t have that when Ivan hit. Trying to feed 100 people with no kitchen or even electricity was not easy.”

Phillips said while he hopes the department never has to put into action some of disaster scenarios for which it prepares, he is proud of the low turnover rate and high caliber of personnel serving the GFD.

“Top-quality people who are well trained and good, moral individuals are very important and we have that here in the Greenville Fire Department,” the chief said.