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Washington honors local problem solver

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William A. Gentile is an emergency pro

By Roger Snodgrass

A few months ago, fire protection issues stuck out as persistent sore point at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

This month, an emergency program manager at Los Alamos was recognized as a co-winner of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Federal Safety Professional of the Year award for 2009, partly for his work in improving fire protection capabilities at the lab.

The award to William A. Gentile who works for the Los Alamos Site Office paid tribute, among other contributions, to his accomplishments in helping the laboratory and the Los Alamos Fire Department work together more effectively.

In September 2009, the Department of Energy Inspector General issued an inspection report recounting a decade of deficiencies in fire suppression and related services at the laboratory, including inadequate training for firefighters to respond to the site-specific emergencies that might occur at the nuclear weapons laboratory.

“They have a whole new and very thorough training program to reflect the unique hazards of the lab,” Gentile said in an interview this week. “For the first time, that training includes plutonium fires, glove box fires and high explosives.”

The new program includes regular site visits by fire department staff to reduce the mystique of the place and to support the kinds of enhanced fire services that are part of the cooperative agreement that was signed between the laboratory and the fire department in 2008.

At the time the critical IG report came out, Los Alamos Fire Chief Doug Tucker said it was more like a historical document that had not captured the changes that were already under way.

“As far as site-specific training, we were doing some of it; he expanded it,” Tucker said. “He’s the go-to guy who makes that happen for us.”

Tucker said the firefighters know what the basic hazards are.

“Now we’re getting the experts who can say this is the type of material you need to extinguish this kind of fire with this particular exotic metal,” he said. “In some cases it might be water. In some cases that’s the last thing you’d want to do.”

A NNSA press release also called attention to Gentile’s improvements to the emergency management program at the lab and efforts in support of the lab’s wild land fire activities.

Among other things, he occupies NNSA’s seat of the directorate for the Emergency Operations Center and participates in the Interagency Wildfire Management Team that coordinates fire prevention activities with Bandelier National Monument and the forest service as well.

Gentile has also encouraged more openness and public communication about hazardous risks and potential releases from the laboratory, mentioning the current work at Material Disposal Area B on DP Road, on the eastern edge of the town site.

“We don’t want people learning about hazards with something going down,” Gentile said. “It’s all about preparedness,”

Gentile shares the safety pro award with Paul H. Jones from the Y-12 Site office in Tennessee. Wayburn “Scott” Wilson, a radiation safety manager for B&W Pantex in Amarillo, Texas won a related award as Contractor Safety Professional of the Year.

“It’s an honor to work with Bill (Gentile) and great to hear they recognized his contributions, not only to the lab, but also to the community,” Tucker said.

“These public servants are among the best examples of the outstanding leadership, innovation and professional expertise that exist across the nuclear security enterprise,” NNSA Administrator Thomas P. D’Agostino said in the award announcement. “At NNSA, we take the safety of our workers, our workplace, and our communities very seriously. That is why I am so proud to recognize the contributions these talented professionals have made to helping NNSA improve safety across the enterprise.”