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OREM’S `BIG KAHUNA’ IS SET TO RIDE THE WAVES THIS WINTER

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Squad 1 - the city's new rescue unit - is all business. Actually, it's BIG business.

The "Big Kahuna" - as it has been dubbed by firefighters - is a behemoth, and residents are bound to notice it when it hits the streets sometime this winter.The rescue unit sports a 24-inch front bumper. It takes two steps, not one, to climb into the cab. The body of the truck is similar to that of a large pop or beer truck, expect that it has been divided into six storage compartments on each side.

Six firefighters could probably fit into a single compartment - with elbow room to spare.

The fire division is stocking the compartments with such things as wood cribbing, a power generator, oxygen compressor, hazardous-waste suits and chemical-detection sensors. Squad 1 will have just about everything firefighters need to save a life or fight a fire in any situation.

Squad 1 dwarfs all but one of the city's fire fighting vehicles - the 85-foot telescoping platform ladder truck, said Fire Division Capt. Gary Wise. The city will reassign the "baby" vehicle it now uses forrescues to off-road accidents or as a back-up unit when Squad 1 is tied

up in a major incident.

The fire division paid $78,000 for the vehicle earlier this year. The division is spending another $30,000 to outfit Squad 1. Another $60,000 to $70,000 worth of equipment the city already owns also will be stored on the truck.

"What's nice is it's going to have a lot of equipment that can be used right there at the scene," Wise said.

Getting the vehicle ready for operation has been a slow process because firefighters are doing the job between calls and other duties, Wise said.

Squad 1 will be the biggest, most well-equipped rescue unit in Utah County when it starts rolling. Orem expects to work in tandem with Provo - which has a smaller hazardous materials response truck - in lending assistance on hazardous-materials calls or other major accidents around the county, Wise said.

"Provo and Orem are the only cities that have paid fire departments," he said. "The other 12 cities (in the county) have volunteer departments. They don't have the funding to be able to invest in something like this."

So why the push for such a major piece of equipment? Wise said the potential for accidents that require the kind of assistance Squad 1 provides, particularly hazardous-materials incidents, has existed for years. For example, Signetics, Parish Chemical, LaRoche and Geneva, all companies with hazardous-waste accident potential, have been in business for decades.

"Granted we knew Parish was down there, but we didn't have the equipment to do anything about it (a major accident)," he said.

Also, homes built today use materials that contain a greater variety of chemical compounds than ever before, increasing the health risks associated with fighting residential fires, Wise said.

"We're finally recognizing that hazardous materials is a big issue," he said.

Wise said two incidents served as catalysts in moving cities to prepare for urban disasters: the deadly gas leak in Bhopal, India, in 1984, and the Oct. 17, 1989, San Francisco earthquake. The earthquake demonstrated the kind of manpower and equipment needed when a major disaster strikes an urban area.

In the Bhopal accident, more than 3,300 people died and hundreds of thousands more were injured when toxic gas leaked from a pesticide manufacturing plant. The accident led to a wave of federal regulations aimed at preventing a similar occurrence in the United States. That included making fire departments aware of hazardous chemicals stored and used in their communities, Wise said.