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 Pennsylvania border in the north. Coverage areas include rural in the north to small towns, suburban neighborhoods and heavy industry through the remainder of the county.

The Baltimore County Fire Department was formed in June 1881 with seven stations housing various-sized chemical engines. Prior to that time, Baltimore County relied on Baltimore City for fire protection. Firefighters were paid and most of the companies were eventually annexed into Baltimore City. Several paid companies remained in Baltimore County and others were created in the late 1800s. In the early 1900s, volunteer companies sprang up through necessity in unprotected areas of the county. Those companies experienced continued growth and were eventually financially supported by Baltimore County. Baltimore County firefighters responded to assist Baltimore City during the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.

The modern-day Baltimore County Fire Department is a combination career/volunteer department under the command of Chief John J. Hohman. Over 1,000 career personnel operate out of 25 stations and 2,000 volunteers provide service from an additional 33 stations. Firefighters in Baltimore County respond to in excess of 114,000 incidents each year, of which EMS calls make up over 70%. Baltimore County firefighters operate 88 engine companies, 13 truck companies, three tower ladders, nine heavy rescue squads, an urban search and rescue (USAR) vehicle, a hazmat unit with two satellite vehicles, a decontamination unit, six large-capacity tankers for rural operations, various brush and squad units, and 45 advanced life support (ALS) medic units. Specialized units include advanced tactical rescue, swiftwater, dive rescue and marine emergency teams. Baltimore County also has a year-round fully staffed training academy under the direction of Division Chief Michael Robinson.

Baltimore County created its hazardous materials unit in 1981 under the direction of then-Battalion Chief Edward Crooks. Its first apparatus was a 1965 Seagrave, the department's old Engine 41. Presently, the hazmat team is housed at Brooklandville Station 14, at 10017 Falls Road. The hazmat unit, Hazmat 114, is a 1989 Saulsbury supported by a 2002 Freightliner foam unit. Foam 14 carries 250 gallons of water, 750 gallons of alcohol-resistant (AR) foam concentrate and protein foam. Because of the common practice of blending alcohol with gasoline in various concentrations, AR foam is used for all flammable-liquid fires. The proportion of foam is adjusted for the type of fuel burning. Crash trucks from Baltimore Washington Airport and Martin State Airport are available for mutual aid, but they do not carry AR foam. A new hazardous materials unit is in the planning stages as of this writing.

Two satellite (support) units are at Stations 13 and 15 and use Chevrolets (plumber's body-style trucks). Station 13 is at 6300 Johnnycake Road and Station 15 is at 1056 Old North Point Road. The satellite units carry monitoring and metering equipment, absorbent materials, Level B chemical suits, extra supplies and manpower to assist the hazmat team when needed. Neither the hazmat team nor the support units are dedicated. A driver is assigned to Station 14 to place the hazmat unit in service. Personnel from Engine 14 provide manpower for the hazmat unit and respond with the hazmat vehicle and engine when necessary. Medic 14 personnel are also cross trained as hazmat technicians and respond on hazmat calls as needed. Personnel from Engine 13 and Truck 13 place one of the units out of service to provide personnel for Support 13. Personnel from Station 15 place Truck 15 or Engine 15 out of service to place Support 15 in service.

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.

An incident on Feb. 8, 2008, involved an overturned tanker truck hauling 3,000 gallons of ammonium nitrate slurry and 50 gallons of acetic acid. The vehicle was placarded with an oxidizer placard. Ammonium nitrate is an oxidizer used for making blasting agents. The acetic acid was neutralized by the hazmat team and hydraulic fluid was offloaded prior to uprighting the tanker.

Thanks to Battalion Chief Paul Lurz and firefighters at Baltimore County Station 14 for their assistance in the preparation of this column. Also, thanks to Melissa Heaver, registrar/research director of the Fire Museum of Maryland, for her assistance in providing information about the Baltimore County Fire Department's history.

For information about the Baltimore County Hazardous Materials Team, contact Battalion Chief Paul Lurz at plurz@baltimorecountymd.gov.

ROBERT BURKE, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland Baltimore. He is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFSP), Fire Inspector II, Fire Inspector III, Fire Investigator and Hazardous Materials Specialist, and has served on state and county hazardous materials response teams. Burke is an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy and the Community College of Baltimore, Catonsville Campus, and the author of the textbooks Hazardous Materials Chemistry for Emergency Responders and Counter-Terrorism for Emergency Responders. He can be contacted at robert.burke@att.net.