Bellingham Joins Regional Emergency Planning Committee
by KEN HAMWEY, Bulletin Staff WriterBellingham has its own emergency management contingent that is well-versed in dealing with any severe-weather issues or hazardous-material disasters; but, when an opportunity arose to join a regional emergency planning committee, Deputy Fire Chief Mark Poirier, who also serves Bellingham as its Emergency Management Director, jumped at the chance. Poirier replaced Jim Haughey as Bellingham’s Emergency Management Director almost two years ago, and when Haughey mentioned the idea of joining a Norfolk County group that was forming and trying to add towns to its membership, Poirier expressed an interest to pursue the concept with Town Administrator Denis Fraine.
That was the start of Bellingham’s involvement with the Central Norfolk Regional Emergency Planning Committee. “I attended four meetings and I realized how well-versed the group was,” Poirier said. “I really was impressed.”
Poirier believed strongly that Bellingham should join and asked Fraine if he could apply for membership. Fraine gave Poirier the green light, and an application with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) was filed and later approved.
Bellingham therefore became the eighth community in the regional partnership to receive full certification. The certified towns, besides Bellingham, include Canton, Medway, Millis, Norwood, Sharon, Walpole and Westwood. Dedham will soon become the ninth town to be certified and likely will be followed by Medfield, Norfolk and Wrentham.
“The benefits of being certified in the regional group include access to grant money, the ability to participate in joint exercises, and an opportunity to get involved with up-to-date training,” Poirier said. “Funds from grants could help us acquire equipment, and regional training will provide education for our personnel to deal with would-be incidents.”
Poirier and Jeff Trust, one of the founders of the Norfolk committee and the chairman of Medway’s Emergency Planning Committee, both emphasized that regionalizing emergency efforts is “the wave of the future.”
“Being part of a regional group gives us better contacts and also helps us get support from state and federal agencies,” Poirier said. “We’ve joined at a very opportune time because funds for local emergency teams are expected to be discontinued. Joining the regional committee basically is for reimbursement purposes only. When there’s a hazardous-materials problem, such as a chemical spill, local fire departments and the state HazMat team deal with it. The Central Norfolk Committee helps us with the paperwork to get funds so we can help the affected people hurt by a disaster.”Disasters could be incidents that involve a gas-tanker collision; a terrorist plot that involves anthrax; chemical spills, like chlorine; gas leaks; fires; or rail-line disasters.
The Norfolk Regional Committee meets quarterly, just like Bellingham’s local team; and the sharing of ideas is what truly is valuable. “We’ll exchange ideas on various situations, we’ll learn what towns have particular resources that could help another community and we’ll develop training sessions for all members,” Poirier emphasized.
Trust, who’s been a catalyst in promoting the Norfolk Committee and moving it forward, said, “We’re delighted to have Bellingham as one of our assets, and we’re pleased with the interest of Bellingham officials. We believe they’re going to make a significant contribution to the regional committee and help it to be one of the best in the country.”
Poirier, who’s been Deputy Fire Chief for 2 1/2 years, sees regionalization as a method to better prepare Bellingham for any major incident. “We want to be fully prepared for whatever situation we’re faced with,’ he said. “Any major incident burdens the resources of any town, and that’s why we rely on other communities to assist with mitigation of the incidents.”
Bellingham’s local emergency team consists of Fraine and department heads from police, fire, public works, the water department, schools and public health.
Douglas Forbes, MEMA’s coordinator for Region II (southern Massachusetts), gave Poirier a pat on the back by fully endorsing his efforts to join the regional committee. “I commend Deputy Fire Chief Poirier for his hard work and dedication in achieving full certification for Bellingham,” Forbes said. “Thanks to his efforts, the town of Bellingham is a stronger and safer place in which to live and to work.”
Bellingham’s membership with the regional group isn’t costing the town any money. There are no membership dues, fees or hidden costs. “What it comes down to is the Norfolk Committee assisting us to seek funds from federal and state agencies when they’re needed,” Poirier said. “It’s all about people helping people.”