Legislator Proposes Statewide Search & Rescue Team

A Kentucky representative wants to establish a statewide search and rescue team. Representative Mark Hart (R-Falmouth) and members of the Lexington Fire Department testified about the proposal on Wednesday before the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection.

Representative Hart plans to file a measure to create a statewide group to help first responders during large-scale incidents. He told legislators recent flooding in eastern Kentucky highlighted the need. “One of the key reasons we need this in Kentucky is rapid deployment,” he said. “Due to constraints on communication when the flooding hit in eastern Kentucky, it was almost 12 hours before some of these teams were able to assist local fire departments. With this type of approach and organization, we would theoretically have boots on the ground in an hour.”

The Kentucky Search and Rescue Program has existed since 2010 and has more than 180 highly trained, certified firefighters. However, Lexington Fire Captain Ryan Hogsten noted that the program does not operate statewide. “Out of the 50 states in the nation, 43 have some type of statewide search and rescue team, and Kentucky is the only state in the south without one,” he testified. “If there is a major disaster in Kentucky, we are asking for our partners to help us; and if there is a disaster that encompassed surrounding states, we would not have the resources to save our own, let alone the people around us.”

They argued that a specialized state response team could have helped local first responders in the recent flooding and last year’s western Kentucky tornadoes. They told legislators such a crew could have special equipment and training beyond that of local fire departments.

“This type of program is needed because it will save lives,” Representative Hart stated.