Massachusetts’ First State Haz-Mat Response Team

Massachusetts’ First State Haz-Mat Response Team

This past year marked the beginning of a new era in hazardous-materials incident response for Massachusetts. Thirty-five firefighters graduated as members of the state’s first regional hazardous-materials response team. For the first time the state certified hazardous-materials technicians, who will respond as a unit to the region’s incidents. lic Safety.” The objectives of this endeavor were:

In 1989 the Fire Chiefs’ Association of Massachusetts and the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts became involved in a joint effort “to provide for the fire service response to hazardous materials incidents and proper utilization of the hazardous materials vehicles currently being procured by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through the Executive Office of Pub-

  • to ensure the health and safety of firefighters;
  • to utilize the six haz-mat vehicles procured by the state;
  • to establish one or more teams in the state’s 15 fire districts;
  • to have the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy determine the level of training;
  • to have the local incident commander in any community in which there is a haz-mat incident determine the need to request local assistance; and
  • to secure adequate funding to allow the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy sufficient resources to develop and administer a standardized training program.

Massachusetts already had a number of fully equipped haz-mat vehicles throughout the state. The problem was simply that there were no trained personnel who could use the equipment in times of emergency. So the state, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy, hired engineering firm Metcalf & Eddy, which engaged our services to help write the Hazardous-Materials Response Team Training Program for the fire academy. Founded in 1907, Metcalf & Eddy is a full-service environmental consultant.

The course includes lectures, seminars, hands-on exercises, site visits, role-playing scenarios, and simulations. The curriculum is designed to meet all of the applicable requirements of NFPA 472, NFPA 471, SARA Titles I and III, EPA, and OSHA regulations.

The four week, 160-hour program builds on the student’s knowledge of hazardous materials taught in accordance with NFPA 472. Students learn safety, resources and planning, incident management, recognition, classification, chemistry, hazard and risk assessment, protective equipment, decontamination, and termination. Hands-on drills include drum, pressurized cy linder, oil spill, tank, chemical, and radiological emergencies.

This past year the course was taught six times in key regional areas of the state and in locations where the hazardous-materials vehicles are housed. Approximately 200 firefighters were trained and certified as hazardous-materials technicians, thereby completing the initial instruction and implementation of the state’s response teams.


Initially the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was to provide S2.000 compensation for each team member. Unfortunately, because of the state’s severe financial problems, team members did not receive the S2,000 stipend.

Hath team member’s fire department is responsible for payment of all overtime for training and response that is in excess of regularly scheduled tours of duty. City and town fire chiefs, as well as union officials, have raised questions regarding this aspect of the plan—such as concerning replacement (extra hire) costs for onduty firefighters who must leave work in order to respond to incidents. Many cities have minimum manning rules that require every apparatus to have a specific number of personnel on it at all times. Responding members of the team who might be working on shift when the team is mobilized would be denied permission to respond or would leave a particular apparatus undermanned until a replacement could be found.

In addition, city treasurers expressed concern regarding medical coverage of team members and subsequent responsibility of payment. Some city and town chiefs do not wish to pay for or assume medical coverage for team members who respond to hazardous-materials incidents, given the rise of medical insurance costs and the state’s financial problems. Union officials, on the other hand, wish to see their firefighters medically covered at all times regardless of the fiscal situation. A fee charged to parties responsible for the mitigation was suggested as a way to compensate team members.

Massachusetts recently passed a firefighter cancer bill that protects firefighters from certain types of cancers such as central nervous, lymphatic, digestive, hematal, urinary, skeletal, oral, prostate, and skin. The costs of treatment and disability benefits, if required, will be absorbed by the local cities and towns.

The battle over payment and various costs related to injury is still going on. Given the state’s money woes, the various cities and towns probably will be forced to pay for these costs.


The hazardous-materials response team received its first test when it responded to a chemical spill at the Monsanto Chemical Plant in Everett, Massachusetts. Plant personnel notified the Everett Fire Department of a continuing incident involving a spill of hydrochloric acid solution from a rail tank car. The responding Everett deputy chief called the state’s response team. An hour later 21 team members responded.

Although the team knew the chemical involved, the actual amount of the product was not known. The rail tank car initially was reported to have 10,000 gallons of the product, but the team leader later determined that the amount was closer to 20,000 gallons. The actual leak was from a hole approximately the size of a silver dollar located about 18 inches from the top of the tank in close proximity to the tank’s end.

The team’s objective in mitigation was to stop the leak to prevent further introduction of the product into the environment and to prevent the product from continuing to enter the area between the tank wall and the tank liner, which would accelerate tank failure.

An entry team was sent in to stop the leak using a tapered wooden plug wrapped in leaded wool and sealing putty to seal the hole and surrounding area. Science and research teams determined that Level A protection (Viton would be required for the entry teams and Level B protection for the decontamination teams. The decon team members wore Sarenex® suits with SCBA.

The entry team entered the hot zone and patched the leak 14 minutes later. The incident was mitigated within one hour after the team assembled.


According to Vincent Palazzo, supervisor of training and safety at Monsanto, the state team was well-trained and helped Monsanto response personnel’s confidence level during the incident. “We are well-trained, but the team had more experience and equipment,” Palazzo says. “We were glad to have the extra hand.” He was impressed by the state team’s motivation: “They were not simply going through the motions.”

Palazzo says Monsanto personnel had an advantage in that they knew the facility well. “It’s harder for the team members, coming in piecemeal, to show up at a site that they are not familiar with to mitigate an incident.” He says that team members have to get used to working with each other and with site personnel, but that will come with time.

Cost was not a consideration in calling out the state team, according to Palazzo. “If the team was not there, there could have been serious injury or death. That is the most important issue. It’s better to call the team and have it there than to have that one incident and you’re not ready,” he says.

The state’s hazardous-materials response team has been activated four times since its maiden incident at Monsanto. The problems of organization. logistics, costs, and compensation are being addressed. Such a team can be beneficial to any state, as it can save lives and protect property. Since hazardous materials are a growing concern, the need for a fully trained and mobilized team to mitigate these incidents is paramount to the safety of the community.

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