Many fire departments have recognized that the handling of hazardous materials incidents requires special knowledge. As indicated in the February 1983 issue of Fire Engineering, it is not necessary to train all emergency response personnel to handle a Level II incident, which requires some sort of specialized regional response team. Rather, specialized ongoing training in spill control techniques should be conducted for a limited number of personnel. In this way, the fire department can be assured that these individuals will maintain their skills and that the training can be accomplished with a minimum of costs.

Another problem is that because hazardous materials incidents are fairly infrequent, particularly when compared with structural fires, very little on-the-job training is obtained.

Since specialized training and retraining is so necessary to maintain skill levels, the only logical answer to this problem is to establish a special group of individuals who can be trained and equipped to respond to hazardous materials calls. However, before establishing the team, one question that needs to be answered involves the area of coverage.

Can a small community justify the costs and training of a hazardous materials team? Will there be sufficient calls for the team to maintain skills and interest? Are there enough individuals interested in joining the team to ensure its success?

The basic ideas of the hazardous materials response team is sound. It makes much more sense, however, to have the team made up of members from a regional area as opposed to a single jurisdiction. The wider the area, the bigger the pool of personnel, the more responses for the unit, the greater opportunity for training, and the less cost to each jurisdiction.


Several different formats have been developed for hazardous materials response teams based upon existing organizational structures. Each of these examples has worked and can be used by fire departments with similar organizations.

  • County wide with a single fire department. One or two response teams are usually all that are necessary on a countywide basis. If there is a single county fire department, such as the Los Angeles County Fire Department, then organizing the team is fairly easy. The number depends on the size of the county.
  • Countywide with multiple fire departments. Again, even though there are individual fire departments within a county, these separate fire departments can combine their resources to develop a single hazardous materials response vehicle. An example of this is Montgomery County, Md„ which has 18 independent fire and rescue departments but organized a countywide hazardous materials response team.
  • Single, major departments. Some large departments can organize a response team from within. This team is then available, on a mutual-aid basis, to respond to surrounding areas. One department organized in this manner is the San Jose, Calif., Fire Department.

Industry. The technical expertise for handling many different types of chemical incidents exists in industry. Here, personnel use the chemicals on a continuing basis. A hazardous materials response team, developed and staffed by either one company or a group of companies, can provide assistance to the local fire departments. The Hughes Fire Department (Hughes Aircraft) of Fullerton, Calif., is an example of just such a response team.


Staffing of each of the four organizational structures can be by several methods. Each has advantages and disadvantages and the method selected will be dependent upon the local jurisdiction and its funding.

  • Fully paid, exclusive staff. The simplest way to staff a hazardous materials response team is to assign four or five people on each shift to the vehicle. These individuals are only responsible for responding to hazardous materials incidents and are therefore considered exclusive to the unit. The major advantage of this technique is that there is always a trained crew ready to respond. The disadvantage is the increased cost for the personnel, particularly if there are not many calls.
  • Paid driver, staff from other stations. Another way to staff the hazardous materials unit is to assign a driver for each shift. The driver is a trained individual whose additional responsibility is to get the vehicle to the scene. The remainder of the hazardous materials personnel either come from the other fire stations in utility vehicles or from home as volunteers. The advantages of this method are reduced cost and better utilization of personnel. The disadvantages involve the increased risk of accident as additional vehicles respond to the scene and the unknown problem of which members of the team are going to go on the call at any one time.
  • Dual apparatus responsibility. Some fire departments have assigned the hazardous materials response vehicle as an additional unit in a station. Here, the new, on-duty hazardous materials team members respond with their regular apparatus (engine, ladder, squad) on calls not involving hazardous materials. However, if there is a hazardous materials call, they take either the hazardous materials response vehicle or the haz-mat vehicle and the regular apparatus to the scene. Since the crew is specially trained in handling hazardous materials calls, they will work together on the scene. The advantages of this technique include cost-effective use of personnel and the ability to keep the team together. The disadvantages involve not being available to respond with their primary apparatus for another emergency when they are on a hazardous materials call.
  • All volunteer. Several volunteer fire departments have developed hazardous materials response teams. These departments have a response vehicle and maintain their skills level through rigorous training. The advantage is that there are no personnel costs for this unit. However, the disadvantages involve an increased response time until the vehicle arrives on the scene, the unknown number of team members available for the call, and the difficulties of continued training as a team.

Once the team is organized, a vehicle for carrying the equipmerit is necessary. Initially, the team can consider modifying some existing apparatus to meet their needs. In this way, some experience can be gained in what will function best for a particular community.

Equipment Inventory, San Jose, Calif., Hazmat Team

Communications Equipment

1 Motorola 3-channel 2-way radio

2 Motorola 3-channel Handie-Talkies

4 Bone conduction microphones (earphone for


1GTE mobile radio telephone

I Bearcat 50-channel scanner

1 Public address system

1 Hand-held megaphone

I Hand-held Freon horn

1Cassette tape recorder with telephone pickup

1 Telephone book

1 Set of instruction manuals

I Hand-held calculator

Detection Equipment

IGX-3A Gastech comtiustible gas detector/oxygen

deficiency alarm with charger

1 CG combustible gas tracer

1 Draeger standard outfit multigas detector

1 National Draeger tube, carried in ice chest

Acetic acid


Air current





Carbon dioxide

Carbon monoxide


Ethyl acetate

Ethylene oxide



Hydrogen fluoride

Hydrogen sulfide

Methyl ethyl ketone

Methylene chloride


Nitric acid

Nitrous tumes




Pretest tubes



Trichlor ethylene

Vinyl chloride


1 CD radiation rad! detection kit

l Geiger counter

1 Survey meter

I Headphone

b Personal dosimeters

1 Dosimeter charger

1 Microwave teak detector

t Sample gathering kit

Large syringes


Graduated tasks



Assorted bottles

1 camera

t Hazardous materials categorization kit


24 Cyalume light sticks

Personal Protective Equipment

2401 MSA positive-pressure demand SCBA, modified for line use

2Spare composite MSA air bottles

1 H tank air bottle with regulator and tank dolly

2 100-foot lengths air hose

2Eastwind butyle rubber acid suits

2 Fyrpel fire entry suits

3 Sets fire fighter turnout boots

15 Disposable acid suits

42 Sets disposable clothing

1 Box dusts masks

50 Assorted Gloves – butyl, neoprene and nitrile

1 Zetex aluminized gloves

1 Cryogenic handling gloves

1 Box disposable gloves

Containment and Recovery Equipment

2 50-pound bags Safe-T-Sorb absorbent

25 Amachem spills bucket absorbent

3 5-gallon buckets Plug N’ Dike

1 5-gallon caustic neutralizer

1 5-gallon acid neutralizer

200 1M type 151 absorbent pads

400 3M type ISM absorbent pads

1 Clean room vacuum cleaner

1 Microfilter (for vacuum)

1 HEPA exhaust filter (for vacuum)

1 Drum and tank patching kit

1 Chemical drum pump

1 Polyethylene hose for drum pump

1 Mercury spill kit and refill supplies

1 lack rabbit hand pump

1 Metal tunnel

2 Teflon hand scoops

2 Metal dust pans

2 Counter brushes

10 Pounds lead wool

2 Epoxy sets

2 Epoxy ribbons

1 Caulking gun

2 Silicone rubber caulking

2 Butyl caulking

1 Teflon counter cover

3 Large sponges

2 1-gallon tincture green soap

1 Lid remover for plastic bucket

1 Bolt cutter

1 Electric wire cutter

1 2000-pound come-along

1 500-pound electric winch

1 2000-kw 1lOv electric generator

1 Drum sting

2 25-foot drum straps

3 Nonsparking drum wrench

1 12-gallon recovery drum

1 55-galton recovery drum

1 85-gallon recovery drum

1 Drum lifting and transfer tool

1 Assortment drum gaskets

1 Butyl rubber chemical bucket

2 5-gallon poly buckets with lids

3 Valve handwheel spanners

I Complete ½-inch socket set

4 Grounding cables

f Roll 10-mil Visqueen

1 Rot! 4-mil Visqueen

2 Rolls packing tape

2 Rolls duct tape

1 Teflon push broom

2 Teflon squeegees

1 Assortment ABS/PVC pipes

1 Assortment ABS/PVC fittings and valves

1 Assortment galvanized fittings and valves

2 Portable barricades

1 Assortment rubber patching material

1 Standard fire department tool kit

1 Aluminum scoop shovel

1 Copper/beryllium tool kit

3 Nonsparking hammers

1 Battery jumper cable

1 CC>2 fire extinguisher 8:8C

1 Ammonium phosphate fire extinguisher 20A: 80BC

1 Potassium bicarbonate fire extinguisher 120:BC

2 Halon 1211 fire extinguishers 3A:8BC

2 50-pound bags vermiculite

1 Pallet puller

Safety Equipment

1 Standard fire department trauma kit

1 Bin. back-up first-aid supplies

1 Personnel decontamination kit

24 Terry bath towels

24 Wool blankets

3 Fire blankets

1 Encon eye and body wash

Incident Command Equipment

1 Bin assorted stationary materials

1 3X5 blackboard

1 Book of fire department maps

1 Set San lose sewer maps

5 Rolls engineer tape

1 Assortment DOT placards

Assortment DOT placards

1 Pad 704M NFPA labels

Reference library

S)FD Hazardous Material Contingency Plan and Emergency Action Guide

S)FD Available Resource Guide

Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products. C-osselinHodge

Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials, Sax

Merck Index

Hazardous Chemical Spill Cleanup, Robinson

Condensed Chemical Dictionary

DOT Emergency Response Guidebook

Industrial Chemicals Safety Manual, ITT

Toxic Gases-First Aid and Medical Treatment, Matheson

Fire Protection Guide on Hazardous Materials, NFPA

Chemical Hazards of the Work Place, ProctorHughes

Handbook of Poisoning. Dreisbach

Highly Hazardous Material Spills and Emergency Planning, Zajic-Himmelman

First Aid for Chemical Accidents, Lefevre

Handbook of Compressed Cases, CGA

Explosives, Meyer

Handbook of Toxic and Hazardous Materials, Sittig

Hazardous Chemical Databook, NDC

Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals In Industry, Wall Chart

A1RCO Cylinder Color Chart

Some examples of response vehicles for hazardous materials incidents include converted paramedic units, converted minipumper, enclosed body truck, utility truck body with trailer.

The key to selecting a vehicle is to ensure that there is sufficient, convenient space for all of the team’s needs. The cabinets must be dry and should be laid out so that equipment can be located and removed easily.


The most critical item in the development of a hazardous materials response team is the training of personnel. The amount and type of equipment carried is so varied that training for its proper use becomes a major task. Since so much of the work of a response team involves manual skills, continuous practice is necessary to maintain a readiness for handling an incident.

Two approaches to hazardous materials team vehicles: Montgomery County, Md., Fire Department of Fire and Rescue Services converted a minipumper (above) and the Hughes Aircraft Fire Department uses a pickup truck and utility body with a trailer.

In addition to the skills requirements, response team members also must be knowledgeable in identification, basic chemistry, decision-making and hazard analysis. A training program incorporating all of these requirements must be developed and implemented before the team goes in service. A suggested curriculum is included in the February 1983 article in Fire Engineering.

Finally, the use of a skills checklist will help ensure that team members are proficient in the use of the major specialized needs of equipment.


Response teams need a certain minimum amount of equipment. Much of this equipment is not manufactured for response teams but can be obtained from hardware stores and plumbing supply houses.

Anyone wishing copies of equipment lists or a skills checklist can write to me at Department of Fire and Rescue Services, Executive Office, Office Building, 101 Monroe Street, 12th Floor, Rockville, Md. 20850.

Standard operating procedures

The hazardous materials response team also needs to develop a set of standard operating procedures. These procedures should include response criteria of the team; responsibilities for each team member after arrival on the scene; record-keeping criteria for time of exposure to hazardous materials and long-term records to monitor exposed personnel; chain of command; use of reference material; safety of team members; criteria for membership on the team; and continuing education requirements.


A fire department cannot decide today that it will put a hazardous materials response team in service tomorrow, because a great deal of planning and training needs to be completed before a team can become operational. Flowever, if the planning is done well, the team can be a very key ingredient for use by the incident commander in controlling a hazardous material incident. Because of the safety problems to the emergency response personnel and the general public, a properly prepared team will be extremely beneficial to the community.

Photo courtesy Hughes Fire Department

Photo courtesy of the Montgomery County, Md., Fire and Rescue Services

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