MUSCLE SHOALS — A $10,500 grant will allow the Colbert County Hazmat and Dive Team to purchase a piece of equipment that can detect toxic chemical warfare agents and toxic industrial chemical vapors.

The Joint Chemical Agent Detector, or JCAD, is a hand held unit used for the real-time detection of nerve, blister and blood agents, Hazmat Team President Todd Bohannon said.

"It's something we don't currently have," Colbert County Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Smith said. "It will definitely be a plus to have it, especially after we had the chlorine incident."

Smith was referring to a chlorine leak that occurred in early September at the Sheffield Utilities water and wastewater treatment plant.

Bohannon said the Hazmat team had purchased chlorine detectors, but they were on order when the incident occurred. They also have detectors that can detect ammonia vapors.

Smith said the grant money was made available by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, through the state's Alabama Mutual Aid System.

As part of the mutual aid system, Smith said the Colbert County Hazmat Team agrees to assist other agencies in the state if their help is requested. The team also has to maintain certain levels of personnel and responsibility.

Bohannon said the Hazmat team is purchasing a civilian version of the JCAD.

"It can be used on an entry team going in, and when we decontaminate people when they come out to make sure they're clean," he said.

Since the unit is portable, it can be used on land or on the water, Smith said.

He said the Hazmat team trains with the Alabama National Guard's 46th Civil Support Team, a highly skilled unit of experts who work with civilian law enforcement.

The unit investigates, identifies and neutralizes chemical, biological and radiological agents and high-yield explosives.

"We're getting up to speed on what they do," Bohannon said.

He said the Colbert County Hazmat and Dive Team has 28 members, mostly paid firefighters and a couple of law enforcement officers. Bohannon is a lieutenant with the Muscle Shoals Fire Department.

The team, which covers nine northwest Alabama counties, is funded by the county commission and the cities of Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia.

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