Hazmat in the Heartland

Resources for fire, EMS and hazardous materials responses in rural areas often are limited by community size, personnel availability and distances between communities. Hazmat response, being a much more specialized resource in terms of amounts of training...


Resources for fire, EMS and hazardous materials responses in rural areas often are limited by community size, personnel availability and distances between communities. Hazmat response, being a much more specialized resource in terms of amounts of training required and equipment necessary to handle...


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Currently, there are 34 trained hazmat technicians on the fire department. Grand Island is working toward training all uniformed personnel to the technician level. For now, firefighters and medics not trained to the technician level are trained to the operations level. Personnel are also trained to conduct decontamination to free technicians for mitigation duties. Technician-level training is done through the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency’s 80-hour course. Every two years, team members take a 40-hour refresher. Additional specialized training is obtained through the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, AL, for chemical and biological terrorist agents and in Pueblo, CO, for railcar incident training.

Response Protocols

In addition to the Engine 4 and Medic 4 personnel, a hazmat response in Grand Island’s primary response area brings the shift captain, battalion chief and the engine and medic unit in the district where the incident occurs. If mutual aid is required, the Hastings Fire Department Hazmat Team is 23 miles to the south and Columbus Fire Department is 60 miles to the northeast. Grand Island also works and trains with the 72nd Civil Support Team of the Nebraska National Guard in Lincoln, 100 miles away.

Grand Island’s current hazmat response vehicle is a 24-foot Wells Cargo trailer pulled by a 2003 Ford F350 pickup truck. The unit is housed in its own building behind Fire Station 4 on Grand Island’s west side. Engine companies carry absorbent materials for cleaning up fuel and oil spills. The hazmat team is called in as needed to assist. All hospitals in Nebraska have decontamination capabilities with coordination through the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

In the building where the hazmat trailer is housed, monitoring and detection equipment is calibrated and stored along with other equipment until needed for a response. Monitoring and detection equipment carried by the Grand Island hazmat team includes Chemical Agent Test Kits, photo ionization detector, TMX-412 multi-gas detectors, APD 2000 chemical warfare agent detector, radiological emergency response kits, Biowarfare Agent Detection Devices (BADD) kit, Hazmat ID and Haz Kat. The Nebraska Department of Health provides sampling kits to the state’s hazmat teams. These kits provide equipment and supplies to gather samples of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to be analyzed at the state labs. Each team member has a personal protective equipment (PPE) bag with gloves, boots and coveralls to be used during an incident. Equipment is loaded on the response trailer based on the personnel responding and the anticipated type of hazardous materials involved. Personnel are developing a tag system to place on certain types of equipment to indicate what equipment is taken on a specific type of response. Level A and B protection is provided by DuPont Tychem with flash protection for working around flammable materials. Breathing apparatus used is Scott self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) with one-hour bottles and positive-pressure air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) for WMD responses. The team also carries 3M full-face respirators with organic vapor, acid gas, ammonia methylamine and multi-gas cartridges.

During responses, Grand Island Hazmat Team members use incident forms for various positions in the Hazmat Incident Command structure, which simplifies recording information, tracking personnel, gathering needed information, developing required site safety plans and managing the incident scene. Forms are used for the incident commander, safety officer, entry group supervisor and hazmat operations branch officer. The team has developed a Mutual Aid Link-Up Questionnaire to document information about incidents that in some cases may take long periods. The form contains three major headings: Dispatch Information, On Scene Information and Post-Incident Information.

Hazmat Exposures

Major hazmat transportation exposures are Interstate 80, U.S. Highway 281, Nebraska Highway 2, and the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads. No major pipelines are present in the primary response territory. Chemicals transported through Grand Island are many and varied in nature. They include anhydrous ammonia, propane, chlorine and pesticides. Fixed-facility exposures include the Case-New Holland manufacturing plant, Chief Industries, Swift Meat Packing facility and McCain Foods processing center.

Grand Island’s hazmat team has responded to several major incidents in recent years, including a chlorine emergency at a YMCA, a chemical fire at a foundry in Hastings, an ethanol spill involving a railcar in Wood River, chlorine at a water-treatment plant and a gasoline spill at an ethanol plant. The team also is called on periodically to assist law enforcement in the evaluation and cleanup of illegal methamphetamine labs.