La. officials dedicate, show off new search-and-rescue unit

By Darlene Denstorff 
The Advocate (Louisiana)
Copyright 2006 Capital City Press
All Rights Reserved

GONZALES, La. — More than 20 firefighters dressed in blue uniforms lined the walls of the Public Safety Center as Fire Chief Butch Browning talked about the department's latest equipment purchase during a dedication ceremony Aug. 2.

Browning said the new urban search-and-rescue unit, which arrived a month ago, "was three years in the making."

"We hope we never have to use it," Browning said before the Rev. Phil Spano blessed the new unit and the firefighters who will be using it.

The $500,000 truck and trailer equipped with tools used in various hazardous rescue situations was bought with money from a half-cent sales tax approved in 2001.

Browning said the new rescue truck is designed to "operate at those times when our communities are challenged with major emergencies."

More than 75 guests got a chance not only to see the new rescue truck, but watch demonstrations of its equipment.

Capt. Darrin Cagnolatti and the other 24 paid Gonzales firefighters showed visitors how the department's new hazardous material and gas detection system, housed in the new unit, works during a chemical or vapor leak.

The machine, a portable laboratory that has been used to identify substances in two emergencies, can identify a substance within seconds.

Cagnolatti said he and other members of the department spent more than 2,000 hours training before the rescue unit arrived. Cagnolatti, who has been with the department for four years, said the firefighters train every day for at least four hours.

Browning said his firefighters are certified as paramedics, hazardous materials technicians and in technical rescue, dive and water rescue and building collapse rescue.

The new unit also is equipped with a satellite phone, Internet and weather monitoring device. Browning said he realized the need for satellite communications after Hurricane Katrina when traditional methods would not work.

Browning said the new technology and equipment places the department in a position to be a regional asset during emergencies. 

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