By Alan M. Petrillo
Hazmat emergency response teams are charged with responding to hazmat incidents in their geographic response areas, which might be a municipality, a county, or an even larger area.
While there are many similarities to the kinds of apparatus and the equipment hazmat teams use around the country, the diversity of the types of hazards as well as the geography of the coverage areas contribute greatly to apparatus design and equipment choices.
|1 The San Diego (CA) Fire-Rescue Department runs two heavy rescue hazmat units made by Pierce Manufacturing that include command areas with satellite and wireless communications, laboratories, weather stations, external scene lighting, and a large amount of equipment in compartments. [Photo courtesy of the San Diego (CA) Fire-Rescue Department.]|
Dave Williams, hazmat program manager and battalion chief in Special Operations for the San Diego (CA) Fire-Rescue Department, says his agency runs two heavy rescues outfitted as hazmat vehicles-HM1 and HM2. “These are all-risk, all-hazard units, trained and outfitted to the California State Training Institute standards,” he says. “Hazmat technicians undergo 160 hours of courses; for hazmat specialist, there is an added 80 hours; and the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) training component is another 48 hours. We also have one individual trained to hazmat incident commander (IC) level and one to hazmat safety officer (SO) level.”
Williams says the California Type 1 hazmat resource has seven team members, including the IC and the SO. “We have the two Type 1 vehicles, each with a raised-roof cab that has a technical reference and tactical command area,” he says. “In those areas, there are desks, computers, a wireless hub, all the electronics, a mobile weather station that networks with our technical reference software onboard, and a satellite connection for voice and Internet communications.”
|2 San Diego’s two hazmat vehicles are set up in identical fashion. Shown is a slide-out tray holding hazmat PPE. [Photo courtesy of the San Diego (CA) Fire-Rescue Department.]|
In addition, Williams points out, each of the hazmat rigs carries a light tower and external scene lighting; roll-up doors covering compartments with slide-out trays and tool boards; coffin compartments on top; roll-out awnings; and a fully functional laboratory inside that has a work area, fume hood, sink, and waste containment area. The department serves all of San Diego County, which is about 4,255 square miles with a total population exceeding 3.4 million.
The rigs are at Mission Valley Station 45, Williams says, and are run by two cross-staffed firefighter units. “We staff an engine and one hazmat truck and a truck and the second hazmat unit,” he says. “Each has a captain, engineer, medic firefighter, and firefighter, all trained to hazmat specialist level. The station is Battalion 4 headquarters, with Battalion Chief 4, Engine 45, Truck 45, HM1, HM2, and Environmental Response Team (ERT) 1 in residence.”
James W. Wallace, battalion chief in Special Operations at the Baltimore City (MD) Fire Department (BCFD), says the department recently took delivery of a new heavy rescue hazmat truck. “The new unit is designated Hazmat 1, and it’s fully chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive (CBRNE) capable,” Wallace says.
The new hazmat rig has slide-outs on both sides of the command area, Wallace points out. “We used to use laptops, but this new truck has an information technology (IT) rack in it, along with a weather station and satellite capability,” he says. “We keep our personal protective equipment (PPE) inside where it’s climate-controlled, which also gives people the ability to do rehab inside after coming out of a hazmat situation. The area is large enough for us to put up a table and chairs to accommodate them.”
The operational area inside the hazmat truck is accessed from an entry door on the right side of the vehicle, where there are forward-facing seats, and it extends back another 10 feet to the slide-out area where another exit door is located. The rear part of the vehicle’s body is a walk-around with cabinets carrying slide-out trays and tool boards.
|3 The Baltimore City (MD) Fire Department runs Hazmat 1, a new Pierce Manufacturing heavy rescue hazmat vehicle that is CBRNE-capable. [Photo courtesy of the Baltimore City (MD) Fire Department.]|
“On top of Hazmat 1 are four large dunnage (coffin) compartments,” Wallace points out, “accessed by a slide-out and drop-down stairway. The vehicle also has perimeter surveillance cameras that allow us to record an incident so we can use it for training and troubleshooting. The video capability value is immeasurable for putting together an after-action report.”
Baltimore City, which has about 625,000 residents, has three levels of hazmat response. “The first is a hazmat silent alarm, where the hazmat unit and one suppression company make up the response,” Wallace says. The next level is a hazmat tactical response, he says, “with Hazmat 1 and three suppression units, and this response brings more hazmat technicians to the scene. Full scale is a hazmat box alarm, which brings the entire hazmat team and Hazmat 1, more suppression units, administrative chiefs, and beefed-up emergency medical services response. This level would be for incidents like radiological situations at hospitals, train derailments, and acts of terrorism.”
BCFD firefighters work across four shifts, Wallace notes, and Special Operations tries to have 15 to 20 hazmat technicians on duty daily on each shift. “That means about 80 technicians and specialists across all four shifts,” he adds. The department also has a hazmat boat and 2,000 feet of harbor boom to deploy and contain any type of hazmat spill in the water.
Roger Bianchi, a firefighter on the Seattle (WA) Fire Department’s hazmat team and its Ladder 1 driver, says his entire station makes up Seattle’s hazmat team. “There’s an engine, ladder truck, staffing coordinator, two basic life support (BLS) rigs, an ambulance for transport, and a minimum of 11 hazmat technicians on duty daily,” Bianchi says. “The hazmat rig is handled by two technician firefighters from the engine.”
The heavy rescue hazmat vehicle is a two-door cab model with a command office in the crew section that has two computers, multiple monitors, a color printer, and a Coastal Environmental weather station. Aft of that area is an instrument area for maintenance and keeping equipment on charge (batteries, radios, and other gear). A rear access ladder on the vehicle leads to two coffin compartments on top as well as two Onan 12-kW Quiet Diesel generators and a Will-Burt Night Scan 9,000-lumen halogen light tower. The vehicle also has Whelen scene lighting and a Girard electric awning system with wind sensors for automatic retraction.
Seattle is spec’ing another hazmat vehicle to replace its backup rig. “We want to replace it with something similar to [what] we have now,” says Ryan Nash, lieutenant and the deaprtment’s hazmat manager. “We plan on putting satellite capability on the new hazmat vehicle,” he says. “We also will put on all LED lighting for scene lights and the light tower.
|4 The Baltimore City (MD) Fire Department also deploys a small hazmat unit built on a Ford F-550 chassis that carries 60 bags of absorbent as well as a transfer system for moving diesel fuel and oils into recovery drums. [Photo courtesy of the Baltimore City (MD) Fire Department.]|
Nash notes that the current hazmat vehicle has a 24-volt inverter charger that functions as an uninterruptable power supply system. “When the shore power ejects, it switches over to the inverter to power everything on the truck,” he says. “It can run the onboard office for several hours and has an automatic generator start feature. If the batteries drop below a certain point, it automatically starts the generator to recharge them.”
Nash notes that Seattle often responds to ammonia situations at local fish processing plants and fishing vessels. “Ammonia is a caustic material and very hygroscope-that is, water affinitive,” he says, “which means it moves toward water, including sweat. So it’s a Level A entry for us, vapor-tight, because it can cause burns if the liquid gets on you.”
Bianchi says the hazmat team recently responded to an ammonia leak in the freezer section of a fishing vessel. “We went in, and what we assumed was ice melt water was actually pure ammonia,” he says. “We were in Level A suits, but our boots had frozen and cracked by the time we came out. The ammonia didn’t breach the suits.”
|5 The Seattle (WA) Fire Department runs a two-door cab heavy rescue hazmat vehicle built by Pierce Manufacturing with a command office, instrument maintenance area, weather station, Will-Burt Night Scan halogen light tower, and Whelen scene lighting. [Photo courtesy of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department.]|
Williams says that his department’s hazmat team is capable of responding to calls involving all chemicals, gases, and solids, as well as WMD. “If we don’t have the immediate capability to isolate and contain an incident, we have resources at our disposal to be called to help-both civilian and military,” he says. “We often will respond to assist federal, state, and local law enforcement with drug interdiction seizures where we have to positively identify the chemicals and mitigate the hazard.”
He says the department was called recently to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at the Mexican border when they seized a bulk transport vehicle that had lead-oxide-coated bundles of marijuana. Other recent situations include calls to gasoline and combustible liquid tanker incidents and situations at tank farms and flammable liquid distribution hubs.
Bianchi adds that the Seattle hazmat team has done something unique with technology on hazmat calls. “The entry team goes in with an iPad and uses Apple’s Facetime to communicate with the hazmat vehicle, where there’s a 46-inch monitor set up, mirroring the image that we have on the iPad through Apple TV onto the monitor,” he says. “Our iPads are WiFi only, but we put them in the pocket of the entry team, and they are hooked up to a WiFi hotspot, so command can see what the entry tech sees when he holds up the iPad to survey the area.”
|6 Seattle’s hazmat truck has a Girard electric awning system with wind sensors for automatic retraction. [Photo courtesy of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department.]|
He continues, “We have LifeProof cases on our iPads so they are completely submersible. And, we’ll have a third entry member stand in the room and turn 360 degrees with his iPad, so command can see exactly what’s in the room, the same as the members of the entry team.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.