Tri-District Hazmat Response In Northwestern Missouri

An increase in hazardous materials call volume in their response areas prompted three northwestern Missouri fire protection districts (FPDs) to combine resources and form the Tri-District Hazardous Materials Response Team (HMRT). The three districts — Central Jackson County, Fort Osage and Sni Valley — created the team to provide hazmat response in the eastern suburbs of Kansas City, MO, with its 75,000 residents in a coverage area of 52 square miles.

Central Jackson County provides housing for the hazardous materials response unit and the other districts provide personnel. When an alarm comes in, on-duty and off-duty technicians from all districts respond to Central Jackson County FPD Station 3 for a briefing and are transported to the incident scene. An engine company and medic unit may also be dispatched initially for decontamination and medical needs of the team. Team membership is voluntary and members are trained to the technician level. All other district personnel are trained to the operations level.

The Central Jackson County Fire Protection District (CJCFPD) was formed in 1961 from the Blue Springs and Lake Tapawingo areas of Jackson County. CJCFPD is led by Chief Steve Westermann and has five stations staffed by 124 career personnel, including eight dispatchers. Twenty-one firefighters are hazmat technicians and part of the Tri-District Hazmat Team. Apparatus operated by CJCFPD include four engine companies, one truck company, one rescue company and three medic units. CJCFPD also has a light/air unit, two tankers, two brush units and swiftwater, high-angle and trench rescue teams. A medevac helicopter and its crew are housed at Station 3, but not affiliated with the fire district.

The Fort Osage Fire Protection District was formed in 1953 and covers 115 square miles, including the towns of Buckner, Levasy, River Bend and Sibley, the former Salem FPD and the surrounding rural areas with a population of 15,000. The name Fort Osage came from the original fort along the Missouri River, which was a trading post in the early 1800s. The district's 34 paid personnel are led by Chief Greg Pottberg. They respond from three stations with three engine companies, one truck company, three medic units, two brush trucks and two tankers. The district is bounded by Liberty on the north, Independence, Kansas City and Sugar Creek on the west, the Central Jackson County and Sni Valley FPDs on the south, and the Wellington-Napoleon FPD on the east. Twelve personnel are trained to the hazmat technician level and are members of the Tri-District HMRT.

The Sni Valley Fire Protection District was formed in 1976, incorporating the City of Oak Grove Fire Department and 40 square miles of rural Jackson County. Fire protection districts in Missouri are government subdivisions and can levy property taxes and, in some cases, sales taxes. Other government subdivisions can petition the fire protection district to become a part of it. In 1978, a 38-square-mile area of Lafayette County, including Bates City, voted to join the Sni Valley FPD. That brought the district to the present 78-square-mile coverage area. The name Sni Valley comes from Sni-A-Bar Creek and the district boundaries' cover most of the creek's watershed area. The Sni Valley FPD is led by Chief John Van Gorkom with 19 career personnel and 12 volunteers operating from two stations. Sni Valley FPD responds with two engine companies, one truck company, two water tenders (tankers), two advanced life support (ALS) medic units and two brush trucks. Six personnel are trained to the hazmat technician level and are members of the Tri-District HMRT.

In the mid-1980s, a leaking tank car of formic acid started local chiefs thinking about establishing a hazmat team. In April 1988, the Tri-District team was placed in operation with a retired United Parcel Service (UPS) truck, two beverage trucks and a retired ambulance. Originally, the team's equipment was housed at Central Jackson County Station 4, which became the training academy. For the past 12 years, the Tri-District hazardous materials response unit, HM-1, has been housed at CJCFPD Station 3.

HM-1 is a 2007 Pierce Enforcer that features a three-door command cab, wrap-around countertops, above-counter cabinets for reference storage, in-cab refrigerator and freezer, Will-Burt Night Scan light tower, telescoping Pelco camera system, in-cab monitor, two 200-foot mounted cord reels, rack-mounted SCBA with additional cylinder storage, eight-drawer toolbox, awnings, roll-up doors, four storage boxes on the roof and adjustable shelving. Additionally, the Tri-District HMRT has in service a mass-decontamination trailer with multiple decon shelters and equipment and a diesel-fuel water heater to provide warm water for winter operations. The Tri-District HMRT also maintains a Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS) trailer. The MMRS system was created in 1996 and is in place to provide highly populated areas with an enhanced capability to respond to a mass-casualty incident caused by a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) incident. The trailer carries decon shelters and equipment, folding stretchers, Dräger BG-4 extended-duration SCBA, heaters and a generator.

The Tri-District HMRT is a part of the Metropolitan Kansas City Heart of America Fire Chiefs Association. Metro hazmat teams include Tri-District, Independence, Lee's Summit and Kansas City, MO, and Kansas City, Leavenworth and Overland Park, KS. Some of the funding for the metro teams comes through the Mid America Regional Council (MARC), the metropolitan planning organization for Greater Kansas City. This commission funnels federal money into local jurisdictions, including the metro hazmat teams, though its Hazmat Committee.

Tri-District's hazmat personnel are not dedicated to the hazmat team. Team members are volunteers within the paid departments and they often have a difficult time keeping up membership on the team. Team activations are announced on both Fire Dispatch and pagers carried by team members. When a call comes in, other companies are placed out of service and off-shift personnel are recalled to place the companies back in service. The hazmat team is comprised of 39 technicians from the three fire districts. Eight to 10 personnel are on duty on any given shift. All firefighters on the departments are trained to the hazmat operations level. Training is provided by the Mid America Regional Council's Technician Course. Additional training is acquired through the National Fire Academy (Emmitsburg, MD), Nevada Test Site (in the Nevada desert), Center for Domestic Preparedness (Anniston, AL), U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground (Utah desert) and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (Socorro, NM). National Fire Protection (NFPA) 472, Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents, is the guideline for all training and the team conducts monthly training and quarterly drills. Every two years, the metro teams and the National Guard Civil Support Team conduct a full-scale exercise. Engine companies carry absorbent materials to clean up fuel spills along with basic detection equipment, which includes a four-gas meter and radiation detectors. Fuel spills greater than 25 gallons trigger a hazmat team response.

Hazardous materials exposures in the Tri-District response area include transportation routes Interstate 70, U.S. Highways 24 and 40, and State Route 7. There are several large truck stops in the area as well. Railroads hauling hazardous materials through the area are the Kansas City Southern, Burlington Northern, Santa Fe and Union Pacific. Barges carry hazardous materials on the Missouri River. Fixed facilities that store or use hazardous materials include Kansas City Power & Light, Fike Corp., Meyer Labs, water and sewage treatment plants and the MFA Coop. Specific chemicals in the response area include propane, anhydrous ammonia and chlorine. Chemical protective suits used by the Tri-District HMRT are DuPont Tychem PK One Suit with flash protection for Level A and Tychem QC for Level B responses. Respiratory protection is provided by Scott SCBA with one-hour bottles, cartridge respirators and Dräger rebreathers.

Detection equipment carried on the hazmat unit include the QRae2, Canberra Eurisy, Beckman Explosimeter, SAM 935, Dräger Mini Warn Sensor Station, RAE PPB monitor, RAE Lind 2 Remote, Mini RAE 3000, Sens-IR with computer, Area RAE RDK Kit, Cal Gas Kit, Thermo FID, Thermo Eberline Rad Detector, SAW Mini Cad, Meth Lab ID kit, Hazcat kit, Mercury Spill kit, M256 A detector kits, Bicron 50 radiation surveyors, Dräger CMS emergency response kit, Sensidyne gas analyzer, Scott Explosimeter, MSA gas analyzer, Dräger CDS kits, Dräger tube kit, Ludlum Rad Md 2241, WMD detection kit and pH meter.

Patching, plugging and decon equipment and supplies carried on the unit are typical for hazmat units and include decon tents, chemicals and supplies, a refrigerator stocked with Gatorade, and miscellaneous equipment for mitigating a hazmat incident in transportation or at a fixed facility. HM-1 carries an extensive library of books for reference during an incident. These include Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Field Guide to Tank Car ID, Merck Index, Crop Protection Hand Book, Sax Manual, Farm Chemicals Handbooks, Hazcat MSDS, Coast Guard Chris Manuals and many others.

Thanks to Assistant Chief Eddie Saffell, Assistant Chief Keith Vollrath, Emergency Management Director and Firefighter Mark Sherwood and Accreditation Coordinator and Firefighter Jason Bonney for their assistance during the preparation of this column. For questions or additional information about the Tri-District Hazmat Team, contact Assistant Chief Eddie Saffell at or 816-229-2522.

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