Carbon Commission Reviews Hazmat Pay
Carbon County's hazardous material team has been called to potentially dangerous scenes six times in three months.
The HAZMAT incidents exceeded the team's expected response total. And the number is expected to increase.
The HAZMAT crew serves all of Carbon County. Interlocal agreements extend the reach of the team into Emery and Utah counties.
Incidents on U.S. Highway 6 through Wasatch County are also covered by the team, despite the lack of an interlocal agreement with commissioners in Heber.
The county HAZMAT truck is parked in Helper. The city is centrally located for the area served by the crew. Since the county started operating its own HAZMAT truck, team members have worn pagers.
Currently, the county gives pager pay to the HAZMAT team. On-call members are compensated for carrying and keeping pagers turned on. But the team is asking for more reimbursement.
With the number of calls expected to increase, the seven members of the team expect that responses will cut into the days more frequently.
Robert Welch, one of the local HAZMAT technicians, approached the Carbon commission last week and requested that the county establish a policy for compensating members of the hazardous materials response crew.
"The team we have is made of some of the best-trained people in the state," said Welch at the Aug. 17 meeting. He explained that, in addition to being state and nationally certified, some of the members of the crew are also qualified to train other technicians.
HAZMAT technicians have two types of training available.
One is a comprehensive five-week program that gives a federal certification. The other is a 10-day program that meets state requirements.
Welch said the county's plan for the team calls for five more members on the team with at least a state certification.
In the mean time, the seven technicians will likely see an increase in the number of calls they respond to.
That's because protocols followed by law enforcement and emergency agencies call for HAZMAT to respond to suspected chemical and other hazardous spills.
For instance, HAZMAT was called to a site of an accident at Soldier Summit on Highway 6. A semi truck carrying paint and alcohol spilled its load there in mid-July.
For cleanup, a better-equipped team from Salt Lake City was called into action. However, for initial assessment, Carbon County's crew was paged.
Another page occurred this month when county sheriffs investigating vandalism at a power substation suspected a toxic fluid was leaking from a transformer in Wattis. HAZMAT inspected the site and determined that their services were not necessary.
However, in both of those circumstances, members of the crew were mobilized in response to a potential problem.
Sheriffs, state troopers, local police and other agencies can call on the services of the team at anytime. And with those calls likely increasing, the county recognized that it will need to give more compensation to team members than it presently provides.
Higher number of calls has required crew members to be called away from work and other obligations more than officials expected. As a result, commissioners asked Welch to determine what the appropriate amount would be for members of the crew.
Commissioner Mike Milovich said he would prefer to give a stipend to each technician. That suggestion received approval from Robert Pero, Carbon County's clerk, who cited the delay in recovering funds as a potential problem for paying the team for each incident separately.
When HAZMAT technicians respond to an incident, property owners or others responsible for the spill receive a bill for the services provided. As a result, costs recovered for the team's work are not paid back into county funds until weeks after the incident.
In other circumstances, the county could potentially get into litigation, negotiations or other processes that may delay or stop the payment of those charges.
If the county approves a stipend for the HAZMAT technicians, that money could be planned and budgeted in advance. The county would not have to wait for insurance claims to be processed or property owners to pay before paying the technicians.
Milovich pointed out that parties billed for HAZMAT services from the county were getting a better deal than they would through private agencies.
Welch agreed, stating that three bills have already been paid, and that at least one of the parties had commented on the low amount, saying that they were more than happy to pay because of the low cost.
The commission instructed Welch to determine an appropriate amount for the stipend and report back to the panel at its next meeting.