Hazmat Response in Baltimore County

The Baltimore County, MD, Fire Department provides fire, EMS and rescue services to over 800,000 people in a 610-square-mile area surrounding the City of Baltimore on three sides. The county extends from the Chesapeake Bay in the southeast to the...


The Baltimore County, MD, Fire Department provides fire, EMS and rescue services to over 800,000 people in a 610-square-mile area surrounding the City of Baltimore on three sides. The county extends from the Chesapeake Bay in the southeast to the Pennsylvania border in the north. Coverage...


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The decontamination unit is housed at Station 54, at 12426 Eastern Blvd. Baltimore County's decontamination unit is one of five basically identical units in the metropolitan area purchased with federal grant money through a grant applied for by the Baltimore City Fire Department. Additional units are in Baltimore City, Howard County, Harford County and Carroll County. Equipment is stored in identical locations on the vehicles so that personnel and equipment can be used interchangeably during mutual aid incidents.

Baltimore County trains its hazardous materials technicians in house at the county fire training academy using Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI) technician training. Approximately 130 personnel across the county are trained as hazardous materials technicians with 23 to 25 on duty at hazmat stations 13, 14 and 15 on any given shift. Technicians are also a part of the Advanced Technical Rescue Team (ATRT). Personnel at Station 54, where the decontamination unit is housed, are trained to the hazardous materials operations level. All other firefighting and EMS personnel in the county are trained to the hazardous materials operations level as well. Mutual aid is available from surrounding county teams, including Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard, along with the City of Baltimore and the City of Annapolis.

Baltimore County Hazmat responds to approximately 850 calls per year, which includes fuel spills, gas odors and leaks. Engine companies carry absorbent material and clean up small fuel spills. Larger spills are handled by the east- or west-side support units and Hazmat 114 responds to spills in the center part of the county. Hazmat 114 also responds throughout the county on larger spills. Hazmat team personnel use Scott breathing apparatus with one-hour bottles. Firefighters throughout the county use Scotts with 45-minute bottles. Hazmat 114 carries air carts to provide air for supplied-air operations. Personnel also have powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) for incidents where there is plenty of oxygen and the type of hazardous material is known. A number of different Level A suits are carried on Hazmat 114, but they are in the process of standardizing to DuPont Tychem TK for Level A operations. Various types of Level B chemical suits are used. In-suit radio communications are provided through Scott voice-mitters. Monitoring instruments are the same as carried by most hazmat teams.

Reference materials are primarily computer and web based. The team uses Cameo and Aloha, and Adashi Plume Modeling Software. The system pulls information on weather conditions from the National Weather Service. The team also conducts online searches for additional information on materials at an incident scene. Hard-copy reference books are typical of other hazmat teams.

According to Battalion Chief Paul Lurz, commander of the hazmat team, the primary hazmat response in the county is for highway transportation incidents. Major highway hazmat exposures in Baltimore County include Interstates 83, 95 and 795 and Baltimore Beltway 695. CSX is the major railroad that goes through the county. Parts of Baltimore County are also situated on Chesapeake Bay, with several rivers that empty into the bay. Most incidents that occur involving the waterways originate on land and enter the waterways although they do respond to fuel leaks from boats, but they are not frequent. When a waterway is involved with a hazmat spill, the U.S. Coast Guard also responds along with the Maryland Department of Environment spill response team. Fixed facilities in the county are primarily light industry and a power plant. Fixed facility response is rare there because of aggressive pre-planning and pre-incident safety measures. A major natural gas pipeline runs through the county, but responses involving pipelines are also rare.

All four shifts of the Baltimore County Hazmat Team have responded to major hazmat incidents over the past several years. On April 14, 2007, a 2-year-old boy was critically burned on a slide at a playground at an elementary school. Unknown persons had broken into the Victory Villa Elementary School and removed six bottles of industrial-strength drain cleaner and poured it onto playground equipment. The major ingredient of the drain cleaner was sulfuric acid. The child suffered second- and third-degree chemical burns on his legs as a result of the incident. Hazmat team members cleaned up the playground equipment to make sure no one else was injured.