Hazmat Studies: Meet Charles County’s Tactical Response Team

Charles County, considered to be part of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, is in south-central Maryland and borders the Potomac River and Virginia on the south, the Maryland counties of St. Mary’s on the southeast, Prince George’s on the north...


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Charles County, considered to be part of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, is in south-central Maryland and borders the Potomac River and Virginia on the south, the Maryland counties of St. Mary’s on the southeast, Prince George’s on the north and Calvert on the east. Established in 1658, Charles County covers an area of approximately 215 square miles. The current estimated population exceeds 150,000.

La Plata is the county seat and base of the Charles County Tactical Response Team (TRT), which handles hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) responses in the county. The TRT is a part of the Charles County Office of Emergency Services under the direction of William Stephens, the team’s former chief. Fire protection in Charles County is provided by all-volunteer fire companies. Emergency medical services are provided by career and volunteer personnel and also are part of the Charles County Office of Emergency Services.

The Charles County TRT was organized in 2003. Previously, hazmat response was handled by the county’s volunteer fire companies with mutual aid from hazmat teams in Prince George’s County; the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Dahlgren, VA; and the Indian Head, MD, Volunteer Fire Department. Many volunteer firefighters in Charles County are career members in other departments. On Sept. 11, 2001, many of the volunteers were recalled by their career departments. Military agencies were locked down and could not provide mutual aid. The situation left Charles County stripped of part of its fire protection and hazmat-response capabilities.

As a result, the county decided to create in-house hazmat and WMD response capability using county employees rather than relying on others who may not be available at all times. Applications to join the TRT were initially received from 42 county employees, the idea being that they would remain in their present county jobs and respond when the TRT was needed. A full-time TRT chief was hired to organize and lead the team. All members of the team are paid for their duties on the team. Charles County provided funding for Hazmat 16 and most of the other equipment was purchased with Homeland Security and other grants.

The TRT covers 432 square miles and responds to an average of 140 hazmat and WMD calls annually. The team is also available to respond throughout the National Capital Region (NCR) to assist with WMD incidents and has provided standby personnel and equipment for special events. Engine companies in the county carry absorbent materials and handle fuel spills up to approximately 10 gallons. The TRT is called to spills above 10 gallons. All fire companies in the county carry four-gas meters that monitor lower explosive limit (LEL), oxygen, carbon monoxide (CO) and sulfur dioxide (SO2).

There is one railroad line in the county along with several pipelines. Major transportation routes include Maryland 5, 210 and 301. The Potomac and Patuxent rivers provide transportation exposures for hazardous materials. Major fixed facilities include a power plant and the Indian Head Naval Base. Common chemical exposures in the county include liquefied petroleum gas, sulfuric acid, chlorine, hydrocarbon fuels, anhydrous ammonia, nitric acid, ethylene glycol, magnesium, cryogenic liquid oxygen and nitrogen. Past incidents have included a propane truck, an oil spill in the Patuxent River and confined-space rescues.

 

TRT Response Units

TRT vehicles include: Hazmat 16, the primary response apparatus; Support Unit 16, with towing capability for equipment carried on trailers and boats; a hazmat support unit and trailer; a technical decontamination trailer; a hazmat utility unit; a mass-casualty trailer; an air support trailer; a hazmat light tower; a Mule 4x4; and a hazmat command unit.

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