Glasnost came to Howard County with the visit of the Soviet Union's No. 1 firefighter to two county fire stations as part of a tour to learn Western ideas on combating radioactive fires and accidents.
Lt. Gen. Anatoly K. Mikeev, chief of fire protection in the Soviet Union, concluded his two-week tour in Howard County after having visited a nuclear plant in Tennessee and having met with National Fire Protection Association members in Boston.
He said he was impressed by U.S. technology but encouraged by his own country's system.
"What's especially gratifying to me is that our approaches are basically the same," Mikeev said yesterday through a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission interpreter.
Mikeev's visit was arranged by the Joint Coordinating Committee for Civilian Nuclear Reactor Safety, a project involving U.S. and Soviet officials. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission hosted Mikeev and four members of his staff.
Although there are no nuclear power plants in Howard County, the officials stopped there to show their guests a typical U.S. fire station -- Howard was close to the NRC's Washington headquarters.
"We wanted to show advanced fire apparatus and techniques, and Howard County has one of the better programs around," said Patrick Madden, a senior fire-protection engineer at the NRC who served as the Soviets' host. "There is typically the kind of equipment here that is used to handle radioactive materials."
County firefighters led the entourage through stations in Columbia and Ellicott City. They explained the capabilities of their most advanced fire trucks and took the group on a ride in the bucket of a ladder truck.
"This probably was more like a goodwill thing than anything else," said Lt. Jeff King, of the county Fire Department.
Mikeev said he was convinced that U.S. technology can handle nuclear emergencies and said he believes nuclear power plants here are well-protected. He said he was particularly impressed with sprinkler, alarm and emergency lighting systems.
Madden said the joint effort would help in the event of another nuclear disaster such as the 1986 Chernobyl accident.
"What we had was a mutual exchange of information on fire safety at nuclear power plants in both countries," Mikeev said.