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JBLM Fire and Emergency Services builds partnerships off-base

Northwest Guardian

Published: 02:47PM May 15th, 2014

A fiery crash last December on Interstate 5 south of Joint Base Lewis-McChord claimed the life of one person and backed up traffic for nearly 10 hours.

Although dozens of civilian and military first responders worked tirelessly to clear the crash site, JBLM officials said if the civilians had known of emergency responder capabilities on base, they could have shared resources to clear the scene faster.

A First Responder Partnership Day addressed that disconnect at the American Lake Conference Center on JBLM May 8.

“What drove this event was that accident,” said Matt Toth, deputy director of Emergency Services on JBLM. “They weren’t pulling us for stuff, and we weren’t telling them what we had. So today we’re going to lay out all the things we can do for them.”

The event was designed to build a partnership between civilian and military first responders and enhance interagency cooperation.

“It’s better for them to understand what we can do to help them today than on the ground after an emergency happens,” said 2nd Lt. Mackenzie Deal with the Directorate of Emergency Services on JBLM.

Colonel H. Charles Hodges Jr., JBLM commander, was the first to speak at the event to a room filled with Washington State Patrol officers, and firefighters and police officers from Pierce and Thurston counties.

Although traffic on the I-5 corridor outside JBLM is a daily problem, Hodges said the installation has plans to improve the situation.

“We’ve started construction to build an overpass from Lewis North to Lewis Main, but right now, you basically have to get on I-5 to get over to the other side,” Hodges said.

He said plans include more exits off base to make traffic smoother, including adding merge lights on I-5 on-ramps.

“In the future, service members will be able to better decide which gate they want to take to go home, so they can avoid traffic,” Hodges said.

Other JBLM representatives related the base’s capabilities to their civilian counterparts as well as how well they worked together. Afterward, the civilian responders witnessed some of that synergy .

Outside the conference center, officials had various vehicles, machinery and technology on display while JBLM experts answered questions and demonstrated their gear.

Training area patrol officer Daniel D. Slimer stood next to a display of the vehicles he uses for his job.

“What were doing today is very beneficial,” Slimer said. “We have been requested to work with outside agencies in the past, so it’s great that today we will be able to explain our proficiencies and expand our interagency cooperation.”

Afterward, the visitors boarded a bus and got a windshield tour of JBLM, visiting the MP station, firehouses and I Corps headquarters.

“A lot of them have never been on the installation before. They might just think it’s a bunch of barracks and rifle ranges,” Toth said. “They don’t realize we’re this big city right on I-5. We have schools, housing areas and a lot of assets at their disposal.”

Toth said that besides physical resources, law enforcement could use the base as a way to bypass I-5 traffic in an emergency, especially now that they know the routes.

On the day of that fatal accident, the medical expert required at the scene was stuck in traffic for four hours, Toth said. Had his driver known, he could have cut through the base to get to the accident site.

“Now they’ll know that we have all these services and in an emergency we can get them up and down the I-5 corridor,” Toth said. “All you have to do is ask, and we’ll help you out.”