Philadelphia's Hazmat Team: On Duty at Eagles Football Games

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Behind the Scenes for Preparations and Operations at "The Linc"

While fans are busy tailgating and preparing for a National Football League game at "The Linc," home of the Philadelphia Eagles, the Philadelphia Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team is working to keep them safe from weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and other hazardous materials.

With a heavy chemical industry presence on its South and East sides, the City of Philadelphia has always taken a proactive approach to hazardous materials response. Under the leadership of Commissioner Lloyd Ayers, the Philadelphia Fire Department has 2,400 uniformed personnel who operate 65 engine companies, 28 truck companies, one heavy rescue, 37 medic units, two fireboats, three hazardous materials units and six foam units. The hazmat units are located in Battalion 1 at the quarters of Engine 60 and Ladder 19 at 2301 South 24th St., the area of highest hazmat exposure in the city. HazMat 1, HazMat 2 and Support Unit 101 respond to an average of 70 hazardous materials incidents throughout Philadelphia each year.

Philadelphia continues to be innovative and proactive in its approach to hazmat response. The fire department's specially designed four-bay fire station houses the hazmat unit along with other apparatus. HazMat's quarters are laid out all on one floor, except for a second-level storage area used for supplies. The engine bay has locker space for bunker gear, a storage room and decontamination station. Living quarters include separate bath and locker rooms for men and women, a bunk room, offices for each company, and a conference room, kitchen and watch desk.

HazMat 1 was built in 1996 by Salisbury Fire Equipment Co. of Pennsylvania. HazMat 2, the Mobile Lab and Communications Unit, is a 2006 Freightliner van-style vehicle. In addition to the hazmat units, the HazMat station houses Engine 60 (Foam 60), a 2001 E-ONE foam pumper; Ladder 19, a 2007 American LaFrance aerial; Medic 37, a 2006 Ford Horton; and HazMat Support Unit 101. Engine 60 and Ladder 19 have served South Philadelphia since they were organized on June 16, 1921, and located at 24th and Ritner streets. On Sept. 24, 1990, Engine 60 and Ladder 19 were relocated to the former house of Engine 47 at 3031 Grays Ferry Ave. while their new station was being constructed. They moved into their new quarters in 1998.

When a hazardous materials response is requested, crews from Engine 60 and Ladder 19 combine forces to place HazMat 1, HazMat 2 and Support 101 in service. The ladder is placed out of service and Engine 60, HazMat 1 and Support Unit 101 make up the Hazardous Materials Task Force. The hazmat team members are a close-knit group and they all have "niches," or jobs they do best. Some members specialize in research on the computer, while others concentrate on monitoring instruments, and others like to keep the unit stocked and maintained. All shifts work closely together to ensure the task force is always ready to respond. Normally, in Philadelphia, officers are rotated between stations every three years. At the hazardous materials station, the officers do not rotate and they have a combined experience of over 30 years in hazmat response. Most technicians have an average of three years of experience on the team.

Backup hazmat-trained firefighters are at Stations 1 (quarters of Engine 1 and Ladder 5 in Center City), 10 (quarters of Engine 10 and Ladder 11 in South Philadelphia), 24 (quarters of Engine 24 in South Philadelphia) and 49 (quarters of Engine 49 in South Philadelphia). These personnel fill in at the Hazmat Station when assigned crew members are off and also are available to respond to an incident scene if needed. Firefighters in Philadelphia work two 10-hour days followed by two 14-hour nights and four days off.

My visit to Lincoln Financial Field, nicknamed "The Linc," took place on a cold December 2007 day when the Eagles took on the Buffalo Bills. This 68,000-seat stadium is on Philadelphia's South side, just north of Philadelphia International Airport and the former Philadelphia Navy Yards, next to Interstate 95 and adjacent to a main railroad line at 11th and Pattison Avenue. The Linc is also next to the Wachovia Center Stadium, where the 76ers of the National Basketball Association and the Flyers of the National Hockey League play and across the street from Citizens Bank Park, where the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team plays.

This was my first live NFL game and my first opportunity to look at behind-the-scenes operations of a pro football game, making it a memorable occasion. Battalion Chief Michael Roeshman of the Hazardous Materials Administrative Unit of the Philadelphia Fire Department was my guide for the day, as well as a former student at the National Fire Academy and a good friend. We were hosted at The Linc by Leonard Bonacci, director of event services and head of security. Mr. Bonacci was most gracious in letting us freely tour the facility, including secure areas not normally seen by the public, and access to the playing field and visiting-team areas as the Bills and Eagles arrived at the stadium. He was sporting his Super Bowl XXXIX ring given by the Eagles to staff, which is also the same as those worn by team members. Many thanks to Mr. Bonacci for making my visit to the Eagles game possible.

Chief Roeshman brings three two-member teams and the Mobile Lab and Communications Center (HM-2) to all Eagles home games, as well as to the college Army-Navy game, which also is played at The Linc. Survey teams are made up of off-duty hazmat team members who volunteer for the duty. Hazmat 1 and other task force units remain in full service in quarters and respond to normal call loads unless needed at the stadium for an incident. Providing hazmat coverage for the games starts on Thursday of game week at a meeting with team officials to go over security measures for each game. Ninety minutes before kickoff, Chief Roeshman meets with the NFL officials and that game's head referee to instruct them as to what they should do in the event of an incident during the game. They are instructed to stand at midfield and await further instructions, such as evacuate up the ramp to dressing rooms, evacuate the stadium, etc. They are instructed to look to the hazmat team for directions.

Teamed up with Philadelphia police officers and stadium security, hazmat team members monitor vehicles entering the stadium property. One team is assigned to monitor players' vehicles and deliveries to the stadium and the other two teams check fans' vehicles entering the stadium's two VIP parking areas. All vehicles are checked with radiation monitors and photo ionization detectors (PIDs). Trunks are opened and the rear storage areas of SUVs and minivans are checked. Security personnel check the undersides of vehicles with mirrors for improvised explosive devices (IUD's) or other contraband.

Once all vehicles have been checked, hazmat team members are assigned to patrol throughout the stadium, monitoring the air for the potential release of hazardous materials or terrorist agents. Following the kickoff, the survey teams are assigned to the north and south end zones and east and west stands. They walk their assigned areas with chemical and radiation detectors throughout the game.

One asset used by the Philadelphia Hazmat Team at the Eagles games is its new mobile laboratory, HazMat 2. This mobile lab is stationed outside the stadium in an area where the Eagles have provided special electrical hookups during games. One hazmat team member is assigned to the lab to maintain it operationally throughout the game and additional personnel would be added to the unit during an emergency. The HazMat Task Force would respond to the stadium for additional resources. HazMat 2, a specially designed vehicle, is equipped with a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer, microscope, on-board "Glove Box," fume hood, built-in weather station, telescoping zoom camera, computer work stations, radio and telephone equipment, and other portable monitoring and mitigation equipment.

A gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer is usually found only in an analytical laboratory, not in the field. With this capability, the Philadelphia Hazmat Team can analyze unknown materials in the field as long as it has a test sample of the material already programmed into the device. The "Glove Box" is a biological and chemical sealed area where samples can be handed in through a port to the outside and isolated from other parts of the vehicle for handling unknown materials without contaminating the unit. The team uses the microscope to view biological materials to help determine their credibility as a potential hazard.

For additional information, contact Battalion Chief Michael F. Roeshman at 215-685-8061.

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

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