With the signing of HB 2097 and upon publication of the bill in the Kansas Register on May 21, 2015, the Office of the State Fire Marshal is now officially the coordinating agency in charge of the Kansas Search and Rescue response program.
To efficiently administer Search and Rescue in the state, these functions have been aligned with the agency’s Hazmat division which has been renamed as the Emergency Response division. The division, under leadership of Division Chief Hank Dupont, will oversee coordination of responses to both hazardous material and search and rescue events in Kansas.
The kinds of search and rescues the division will coordinate are primarily building collapses, confined spaces (such as when a grain elevator employee falls into a silo) and swift water rescues during flooding.
“Combining our Hazmat and Search and Rescue programs into one division makes perfect sense,” says Doug Jorgensen, Fire Marshal for the State of Kansas. “Both initiatives are made up of local fire departments and emergency responders from around the state. The entire fire service community in the state was very supportive of the change and I want to thank everyone for their support of the initiative.”
The OSFM will sign Memorandums of Understanding with each individual department that will allow it to reimburse the local departments for hours of the responders and their call back replacements along with expendable supplies used for each assigned response and also for training events. The OSFM will also help provide and coordinate any necessary training that the responders require to keep up their certifications and provide any new training based on changes in the best practices or new techniques in the search and rescue field.
By assuming responsibility for coordinating search and rescue efforts in Kansas, the OSFM aims to achieve the mission set forth by the Kansas Search and Rescue Working Group (KSARWG): Improve the overall search and rescue capability and response in the State of Kansas and beyond, thereby ensuring that responders at all levels are prepared to provide a coordinated response to any natural or man-made disaster.
In April 2007, a group of individuals passionate about search and rescue met in Topeka to discuss the need for formalized coordination of state search and rescue response. This need for a formalized system was realized on May 4, 2007 when a devastating tornado struck Greensburg.
The Kansas Search and Rescue Working Group (KSARWG) consists of one member from each of the seven Homeland Security Regions in Kansas. These members have responsibility for coordinating search and rescue response at the regional level. Additional members include one representative each from OSFM, Kansas Division of Emergency Management, Kansas National Guard, Crisis City, Kansas Fire Rescue Training Institute, and Kansas Search and Rescue Dog Association.
Each of the seven (7) regions established a list of participating agencies and has worked with their Regional Councils to secure funding for equipment and training for each regional team. To date, approximately $5 million has been invested in the regional teams. The teams have worked under the guidance of the KSARWG and without a parent state agency overseeing search and rescue.
The KSARWG reached out to the OSFM to see if the agency would be interested in becoming the parent agency for search and rescue. The OSFM seemed like a natural fit for KSAR, since the agency already was operating a statewide hazardous materials response program consisting of regional hazmat teams. Since reaching out to the Fire Marshal, the two groups have worked together to make this partnership a reality.
The OSFM worked on the bill this last Summer to get a bill through this session. The bill formalizes the working group to an official advisory group of the Fire Marshal’s office.
Going forward, the OSFM Emergency Response division will begin regularly scheduled meetings with the advisory group to work on the direction and path for Search and Rescue in Kansas. The first item of concentration will be the planning of the 2015 Kansas Technical Rescue Conference in Crisis City near Salina on October 7th – 9th.