Volunteer Hazmat Response

BY ERIC G. BACHMAN

In 1990, the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Hazardous Materials Emergency Planning and Response Act (Act 165), which required every county in the state to maintain a hazardous materials response capability. Such an organization, whether a municipal entity or commercial contractor, was required to be state-certified and thus adhere to minimum standards of equipment, training, and medical surveillance as well as to other procedures and management functions.

Act 165 did not necessarily require that every county form its own response team, just that each have a state-certified response capability available, and stipulated that this resource had to be on-scene within two hours of the initial call. Some counties developed their own teams while others contracted with commercial contractors. Rural and sparsely populated counties with limited finances would be unable to sustain a hazardous materials response capability alone; thus, the two-hour response window provided these counties with flexibility to develop contracts with state-certified teams that could respond into their county within the time frame.

HAZ MAT 2

For Lancaster County, meeting the legislation requirement was easy, since it already hosted an all-volunteer hazmat team. Haz Mat 2 (HM2), formed in 1983, had by that time grown into a well-respected and functioning hazmat resource. The team submitted its application portfolio with the documentation necessary to meet the certification criteria, and after a thorough documentation review and an on-site inspection by state officials, the team was granted certification in 1992, enabling it to legally respond to hazardous materials incidents within the state.

In compliance with Act 165, Lancaster County formally recognized HM2 and signed a contract with the team authorizing it to respond to all hazardous materials incidents within the county. In accordance with the Act, the contract stipulated that the team was to maintain its state-certification status, recertifying every four years through a subsequent updated portfolio submission and site inspection. HM2 has successfully recertified every four years since the initial certification.

HM2 is one of the only all-volunteer state-certified teams in Pennsylvania. Most other state-certified teams are operated and staffed by a commercial contractor, a career fire department, or county emergency management personnel. HM2’s creation in 1983 was a cooperative effort among the East Petersburg, Eden, Neffsville, and Southern Manheim Township volunteer fire companies, which initially staffed, funded, and equipped it. These companies also purchased or donated equipment, and the unit operated out of a municipal garage for almost 20 years. HM2 eventually detached itself from the fire companies and became its own chartered organization and now operates out of a new station sponsored by the county. Its fleet has expanded well beyond the initial apparatus, which were converted from a bread delivery truck and a beverage delivery truck.

The construction of a new station has significantly enhanced the team’s housing. The building was part of an $18 million public safety training center complex project initiated by the county and completed in 2004. The new station includes male and female locker and shower facilities, offices, and equipment storage. It is a far cry from the previous quarters—a shared two-bay municipal storage garage with one eight- by eight-foot office space and no restrooms.

FUNDING

Officially chartered as Haz Mat 2 Environmental Fire & Rescue Company, HM2 remains all-volunteer after more than 25 years of service. Lancaster County does not operate a countywide fire department; its fire service is comprised of 80 independent organizations, all except one of which are volunteer. HM2 is chartered similarly to all other county volunteer fire companies but does not have a first-due district from which it can solicit funds. Operating funds come from limited sources. The bulk of funds are through the county from fees assessed on county businesses and industries through annual chemical reporting and emergency planning efforts. Other sources include grants and response cost recovery.

A section of Act 165 provides authority for establishing funding sources to support hazardous materials preparedness programs and requires the responsible party in a hazmat incident to reimburse the state-certified hazmat team for all costs incurred during the response. As a source of funds, response cost recovery varies, depending on call volume. Also, costs are not always fully recovered and must be negotiated to avoid litigation with some responsible parties who may choose to dispute certain items. This makes it difficult for budgeting purposes as well as long-range financial planning.

APPARATUS AND EQUIPMENT

The team operates a fleet designed and equipped for specific purposes. HM291 is a 1995 heavy rescue vehicle (photo 1) with a research area that houses two positions to research chemicals and compatibilities through a library of hardbound and electronic formats (photo 2). It carries personal protective equipment for Level A entries; decontamination corridor equipment; radiation, chemical, and three- and four-gas monitors; and chlorine kits A, B, and C (photo 3). Additionally, it has hydrocarbon confinement booms, pads, and absorbents. A retractable mast includes a weather station to monitor the atmosphere and a camera to videotape the incident and zoom in on incident circumstances (photo 4).


1. Photos by author.

 


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HM292 is a 2006 pickup truck with a compartmentalized body. This unit was supplied through Homeland Security funds and serves as a quick-response unit to support local fire companies at incidents where a full team response is not necessary and is part of a regional decontamination response capability. It carries personal protective equipment including SCBA, powered air-purifying respirators, and monitoring equipment. It is equipped to tow the spill confinement trailer or the regional mass decontamination trailer staged at the station.

HM293 is a 1974 pumper, donated by Armstrong World Industries’ Lancaster floor plant. This industry, once the largest employer in the county, suffered corporate reductions, including the facility’s internal fire brigade. HM293, designed for industrial hazardous materials response, is a great fit with the hazmat team. It serves as a specialized fire extinguishing unit with 350 gallons of foam and 1,000 pounds of metal firefighting agents and also serves as a decontamination unit.

HM294, a 2004 pickup truck with a standard truck body, carries certain air-monitoring equipment and spill-control materials. This vehicle was funded through income recovered from past incident responses. It, too, is equipped to tow the confinement trailer.

The team also operates Containment 29, a 29-foot box trailer equipped with spill-control supplies, overpack drums, and booms. It carries an onboard air compressor with 350 feet of air line and a generator to support its portable lighting inventory. It features an all-terrain vehicle (photo 5) used to transport personnel and equipment around expanded incident scenes. Prior to this acquisition, HM291 was the primary response vehicle to spill-control incidents. To reduce the wear and tear on HM291, HM292 and the trailer are a more practical means to support operational-level tasks commonly encountered at hydrocarbon spills.


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The team offers a duty officer program to the county fire companies. Instead of a full-team response, the team duty officer can be summoned to provide guidance and in some cases particular equipment. The designated duty officer operates out of a 2003 SUV.

Although sustained funding for the team is difficult, HM2 has been able to acquire new equipment through a regional effort. The state of Pennsylvania is divided into nine terrorism task forces; Lancaster County is a part of the South-Central Task Force (SCTF), made up of eight contiguous counties. The SCTF develops policy for regional assets and is also the administrative clearinghouse for appropriating federal Homeland Security funds that are allocated from the state emergency management office for dissemination to local emergency response resources. In recent years, the team has obtained specialized equipment including a portable spectrometer, a hazmat ID system, and many other pieces of hazmat and weapons of mass destruction equipment for the regional hazmat response capability as well as specialized equipment for law enforcement strike teams.

DEPLOYMENT

In 2007, the team was dispatched to 105 calls, including 58 full-team responses and 47 duty officer calls. HM2, according to state officials, is the busiest nonfire department-based team in the state. As in most areas of the country, hydrocarbon spills make up almost half of the incident responses.

Known for its agricultural industry and its Amish population, Lancaster County is a very diverse area encompassing 749 square miles and more than 500,000 inhabitants. Amid the rolling rural hills are some sparsely populated areas and numerous industries located in and around densely populated urban areas. Fixed-facility hazards include intricate industries, cold storage warehouses, and water treatment sites. The county is host to more than 160 sites that use, store, or manufacture extremely hazardous substances (EHS). Only two other counties in the state have more. The most common EHS used in the county are anhydrous ammonia, chlorine, and sulfuric acid. The team has responded to many fixed-facility incidents involving releases of ammonia, chlorine, and other toxic materials.

Hazardous commodities travel daily through Lancaster County’s complex transportation network, which includes highways and a freight railroad. HM2 has responded to numerous transportation incidents including overturned propane trucks, leaking phosphoric acid drums, and spilled milk, to mention just a few.

ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT

Although organizationally, the team is self-sufficient with its own response and executive officers, it relies heavily on the county emergency management agency (EMA) to provide certain administrative support. From insurance issues to obtaining financial support to performing response cost recovery, the county EMA provides much support, but it does not manage or staff the team and has no authority over the team policy and management. The team, like its fire service counterparts, operates independently.

STAFFING

Another provision in Act 165 requires a state-certified hazmat team to assemble 10 technician-level personnel before it can respond to a hazardous materials incident, another reason for the two-hour response time. For HM2 to assemble the required number of technicians, it could take nearly 30 minutes. The team is all-volunteer, which at times can yield a low turnout for calls. Several years ago, HM2 leaders approached county fire departments regarding staff support for the team at incidents. Two county organizations, the volunteer Eden Fire Company and the Lancaster Bureau of Fire (LBF) (the county’s sole career department) participated in joint technician training. The team sponsored the training with the stipulation that if HM2 was short-staffed, Eden and LBF hazmat technicians could be dispatched for response.

Eden had trained 10 technicians, and the LBF trained 26. Since the Lancaster crew is career, there were workers’ compensation, heart and lung, and wage compensation issues for out-of-city responses. After numerous meetings that lasted nearly three years, a formal agreement was established between the HM2 and the LBF to supplement staffing when needed. In accordance with the cost recovery section of Act 165, supporting agency costs incurred at a hazardous materials incident are also recoverable, including the LBF career staff wages, and are included in response invoices. The LBF is reimbursed when HM2 recovers response costs.

•••

Haz Mat 2 has a long-standing standard of credibility and reliability as one of the first state-certified teams in the region. Because of the vision of those four volunteer fire companies in the early 1980s, after the legislative mandate, the team was also contracted to provide services to border counties until those counties established their response capabilities. Today, HM2 provides mutual aid to bordering counties and consistently trains with border county teams to ensure consistency and proficiency for potential extraordinary incident response. For this specialized area of training and the requirements to maintain training levels, it is a tribute to the dedication of its members that the team remains all volunteer.

ERIC G. BACHMAN, CFPS, a 26-year veteran of the fire service, is former chief of the Eden Volunteer Fire/Rescue Department in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He is the hazardous materials administrator for the Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency and serves on the County’s Local Emergency Planning Committee. He is registered with the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications as a fire officer IV, fire instructor II, hazardous materials technician, and hazardous materials incident commander. He has an associate’s degree in fire science and professional certification in emergency management through the state of Pennsylvania. He is also a volunteer firefighter with the West Hempfield (PA) Fire Rescue Company.

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