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Contractors set to help in disaster

John Seelmeyer

About a dozen times in the last five years, someone at a police or fire agency in Washoe County made an urgent call for help to the Nevada Chapter Associated General Contractors.

Within minutes, a contractor’s crew dropped what it was doing to bring expensive equipment and trained operators to assist local officials at the scene of a disaster.

In 1998, the call was made after powerful explosions rocked the Sierra Chemical Plant at Mustang.

In 2000, construction workers and their equipment helped protect Arrowcreek from a fire.

And at the start of this month, heavy equipment was called to the scene of a pallet-yard fire in downtown Reno.

Simple as it appears on the surface, the program known as the Contractors Auxiliary has proven to be hard to duplicate elsewhere in the nation.

A large part of the reason it succeeds here is the relationship between contractors and local officials, said Justin Potter, a spokesman for AGC.

The Contractors Auxiliary works on a hand-shake deal between the AGC and the Washoe County Sheriff ‘s Department.

It isn’t bogged down with paperwork.

And its operation is equally simple.

A law enforcement agency calls the AGC office.

The AGC calls one of the two dozen companies that have volunteered equipment and manpower.

The equipment is dispatched, and the agency pays a pre-established rate for the equipment and operator.

The rate hasn’t changed since 1997.

Potter said Contractors Auxiliary includes more than $30 million worth of equipment ranging from generators and portable toilets to bulldozers and cranes and member companies don’t think twice about pulling equipment from profitable jobs when the call comes.

“Our members do this because they care about the community they work in,” Potter said.

“It’s another chance for them to give back to the community.”

Norm Dianda, the president of Q & D Construction and chair of AGC’s Emergency Services Committee, said the auxiliary is noteworthy, too, because it marks a cooperative effort between companies who ordinarily are fierce competitors.

While contractors long have helped out when the community called, the Contractors Auxiliary was formally created in 1977 after the New Year’s flood.

Sheriff Dennis Balaam said the auxiliary provides equipment that taxpayers couldn’t afford to keep on hand for rare emergencies.

“This program is an example of how various community resources have become crucial parts of our local emergency plan, in which we try to have the necessary resources on hand for any disaster,” the sheriff said.

The 170 members of the Contractors Auxiliary a number that has more than doubled in the past three years are screened with background checks and must complete two training classes.

Quarterly meetings of the AGC Emergency Services Committee and public-safety officials in the region keep information up to date.

State officials say the threat of terrorism makes organizations such as the Contractors Auxiliary all the more important.

At a mock mobilization in Sparks this month, state Homeland Security Advisor Jerry Bussell said the contractors’ program is on the cutting edge of disaster preparedness.

“All terrorism events start at the local level,” he said.

Gov.

Kenny Guinn, meanwhile, hailed the program as cost-effective and said he hopes similar efforts can be launched in other parts of the state.

The contractors’ effort has drawn national attention, too.

The national Associated General Contractors recognized the auxiliary with its “Best Partnering Project” and “Best Community Service” awards.

Locally, Truckee Meadows Tomorrow gave the program its silver star award for public safety.