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Ref: Montana tribes training for hazmat response

Daily Interlake

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Tribal members train for elite response team

Posted: Saturday, Mar 03, 2007 - 11:59:44 pm MST
The Daily Inter Lake

Forest fires have their hotshot crews.

By March 2008, natural and terrorism-sparked disasters in Western Montana will have their Elite HAWKS.

That’s government-speak for Hazardous Action Workers Keeping Safe.

When their 18 months of training under this demonstration project is complete, members of the Confederated Salish-Kootenai and Blackfeet tribes will make up this 24-member crew.

They will be specialists in how to handle hazardous materials and what do in the event of “agro-terrorism” — involving highly contagious diseases such as avian flu and mad cow disease. They also will sharpen construction skills needed to rebuild destroyed homes, commercial buildings and infrastructure.

“This is our first demonstration project of this magnitude,” said Mary Danford of Montana PEAKS.

The agency’s Montana WORKS program (Workers on Roads, Keeping Safe) is the umbrella for this project, which continues training already started through Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“When we trained in Libby in 2000 and 2001, we got the relationship established. Then with 9/11 and Katrina, they called us,” she added. Montana learned an expensive lesson when tribal teams headed for Katrina without the proper training, so were turned back.

“This is a new twist on that,” she said.

The bottom line for Elite HAWKS is that they will hold the all-important Program Card vouching they have gone through the Skilled Disaster Site Worker Program and are OSHA-certified.

It’s the federal government’s post-Katrina requirement for anyone called out

for front-line response in natural and manmade disasters.

Each member of the 24-person crew will be supplied with gear.

These card-carrying responders will be the vanguard. But Danford said environmental-response companies say it can take 3,000 people to handle an incident, setting up camp, clearing roads and generally opening the way.

Among the Western Montana tribes, Danford said 5,000 people are eligible according to income and other criteria. An economic literacy component of the training program will help those hired learn how to handle their new income levels.

Here’s what the program will provide:

• Training for skilled support or clean-up services at a disaster site.

• An awareness that, before the disaster ever happens, training is essential to ensure workers’ safety and preserve their health on the site.

• Trained HAWKS crews that are ready to respond to disasters in Montana and throughout the nation.

• Skilled equipment operators, welders, fabricators, certified safe work zone personnel, laborers, building-trades workers and flaggers who are ready for increased construction and building in Montana — and who understand the unique differences between routine construction and disaster-site response.

Training will be conducted by Corwin Environmental Consultants, led by Bill Corwin of Lakeside; Montana PEAKS educational consultants and trades trainers; Montana State University specialists; and Left-Side Metal Works.

Money for this Family Economic Security Economic Demonstration Project comes from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

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