East Ky floods have lawmakers looking to create new type of statewide Urban Search and Rescue Initiative

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In this month’s Interim Joint Committee meeting on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection, legislators heard about the possibility of creating a new type of Kentucky Urban Search and Rescue Team and expanding the initiative across the entire commonwealth. Representative Mark Hart was joined by members of the Lexington Fire Department to explain the importance of the creation of a statewide specialized rescue team.

“One of the key reasons we need this in Kentucky is rapid deployment, due to constraints on communication when the flooding hit in Eastern Kentucky it was almost 12 hours before some of these teams we able to assist local fire departments. With this type of approach and organization, we would theoretically have boots on the ground in an hour,” said Representative Hart

Kentucky Urban Search and Rescue has existed since 2010, with over 180 firefighters already having the highly skilled certification. The Lexington Fire Department began training firefighters in 2010, but it is currently not a statewide program, which is why Representative Hart is planning to bring this initiative forward in a future legislative session. When a disaster occurs it falls on the local fire department and county rescue squads. Those departments use all of the resources available but when a disaster exhausts their resources, additional assistance is needed to help with rescue efforts, which is where a statewide Kentucky Urban Search and Rescue Team would come in.

According to Captain Ryan Hogsten from the Lexington Fire Department, “Out of the 50 states in the nation 43 have some type of statewide Urban Search and Rescue Team, and Kentucky is the only state in the south without one. If there is a major disaster in Kentucky we are asking for our partners to help us, and if there is a disaster that encompassed surrounding states, we would not have the resources to save our own, let alone the people around us. ”

Kentucky has faced two devastating natural disasters in less than a year’s span, with the tornados of Western Kentucky in December 2021 and the flooding in Eastern Kentucky in July 2022. With thousands of people requiring rescue assistance, rescue teams flocked to the disaster area and assisted in any way they could, but many people were left on roofs and in trees for long periods of time. The specialized response team can locate, extricate, and provide medical stabilization of victims trapped in both urban and rural areas. They have access to special equipment and training that many of our local fire departments do not.

“This type of program is needed because it will save lives,” added Rep. Hart, “I will be bringing forward this legislation next session and I am hopeful my fellow colleagues will see the importance of a statewide Kentucky Urban Search and Rescue Team.”

For more information about this committee, please visit legislature.ky.gov

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