Lexington and other area firefighters, as well as officials from emergency departments across the state, were honored Thursday for their help following the tornado that devastated West Liberty just three months ago.
Gen. John Heltzel, deputy commander of the Kentucky National Guard and director of Kentucky Emergency Management, presented about 30 certificates of appreciation to firefighters, praising them for mounting rescue operations quickly after the EF-4 tornado leveled the Morgan County seat's downtown on March 2.
Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley was on hand to congratulate and thank firefighters.
About 50 people attended the ceremony at the Lexington Fire Training Center on Old Frankfort Pike, Lexington Fire Battalion Chief Gregg Behr said.
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He said the ceremony was in recognition of the efforts of the Bluegrass Emergency Response Team — a collective of fire departments and emergency management offices from Lexington and 10 surrounding counties and state government.
Behr described BERT, as it is called, as "kind of like a co-op where counties share resources so we don't deplete any one county" during emergency situations such as natural disasters, hazardous materials incidents and other serious incidents.
BERT was activated minutes after the tornado struck. Several firefighters from Lexington who are on the response team hauled a "collapse trailer" to West Liberty amid early reports that the Morgan County courthouse had collapsed and that people were trapped inside, Lexington Fire Battalion Chief Ed Davis said.
The collapse trailer, purchased with a federal grant, contains shoring equipment that can lift and ventilate sections of collapsed buildings for rescue operations.
Though it turned out no one was trapped in the courthouse, firefighters found plenty to do, as the tornado damaged or destroyed homes and businesses throughout the community. Six people were killed.
Firefighters from the response team coordinated rescue efforts during the confusing first 24 hours, Davis said.
Firefighters from the Nicholasville and Jessamine County fire departments who responded to the emergency also were recognized during the ceremony, as was a representative from Woodford County. Structural engineer Mohammad Seraji of Lexington also was honored.
Seraji works with firefighters regularly to determine when buildings are safe to enter during rescue operations, Behr said.