Search and rescue on the go

Adria Barbour

New vehicle to help in Homeland Security

Portage County has a new search and rescue vehicle, built by Portage County and the Department of Homeland Security. The trailor, a rehabilitated beer truck, holds more than $300,000 of equipment for use in an emergency situation. AMANDA SOWARDS | DAILY K

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Portage County has just finished construction of its first search and rescue vehicle.

It has been in construction for the last two years, said John Mason, assistant director of the Portage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. It will take another two years to get personnel trained to operate it.

The project expenses equal a total of $300,000, which includes the cost of the vehicle and equipment, said Chuck Keiper, president of the Portage County Board of Commissioners. The trailer was a rehabilitation of a beverage unit that cost a fraction of a what brand new vehicle would have cost.

“We saved 60 percent,” Mason said. “It would have cost $120,000 for the vehicle alone, and that’s without the equipment. Most fire and EMS stations couldn’t afford the specialized equipment until the federal government made the funds available.”

The Portage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management operates the search and rescue vehicle in conjunction with the Portage County fire chiefs, Mason said. The operators will be volunteers.

Mason explained that to apply for operating the vehicle, a person must first be a member of one of the Portage County Fire, EMS or Law Enforcement agencies. All team members serve as volunteers unless compensated by their home department.

“The volunteers have specific roles and duties,” Keiper said. “Manning equipment requires people with huge amounts of skills and training.”

Response would be to any situation that would involve building collapse, trench entrapment, trapped and/or missing people and/or people who fall into caverns or are trapped in high places, Mason said. It is available to any local, state or federal agency in need of rescue capability.

“You name the event and we can respond to it; it’s pretty amazing,” Keiper said.

Local emergency respondents would first handle a typical emergency, Mason said. They would determine what capability they needed the vehicle for, then Homeland Security would respond and support the ability. If more help was needed, a regional response team would be called, then the state team and then the federal team.

Mason said this vehicle was made in response to events such as Sept. 11, various terrorist attacks and recent natural disasters that have occurred such as Hurricane Katrina.

Keiper agrees, saying there has been a growing concern that communities should respond nationwide to threats against citizens.

When the Federal Office for Homeland Security was developed, they put out a capabilities list, Mason said. The office asked various communities to develop 37 capabilities to respond to all situations deemed hazards.

“Regardless of what it is, they are all intertwined, whether it’s terrorism or a natural disaster,” Mason said. “When a building collapses, a building collapses; it doesn’t matter how it happened.”

Keiper said this vehicle is just one piece of equipment Ohio Homeland Security has. There is also equipment in five or six other locations within Portage County.

Mason said the hazardous materials vehicle is housed at the Kent Fire Department, the mass casualty vehicle is housed at Garrettsville Community Ambulance and the command and control vehicle is in Mantua. There are other vehicles at Rootstown and the city of Ravenna.

The search and rescue vehicle is being kept at the Streetsboro Fire Station for rapid deployment, said Mason.

James Williams, chief of the Kent Fire Department, said he was excited about this new vehicle.

“I don’t know if we would have ever gotten to have a vehicle like that (without funding),” Williams said. “It might have taken 10 or 20 years with all the equipment like that. This will help us better serve the community.”

Contact public affairs reporter Adria Barbour at