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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.