Hazmat Response In "The Mile-High-City"

Denver, the capital and most populous city in Colorado, is in the South Platte River Valley on the High Plains some 15 miles east of the Front Range of the southern Rocky Mountains. Nicknamed "The Mile-High City" because its official elevation is...


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Denver, the capital and most populous city in Colorado, is in the South Platte River Valley on the High Plains some 15 miles east of the Front Range of the southern Rocky Mountains. Nicknamed "The Mile-High City" because its official elevation is exactly one mile (5,280 feet) above sea level, Denver has an estimated population of 566,974, making it the 27th-most-populated city in the country.

The Denver Fire Department began as an all-volunteer department on March 25, 1866, with the formation of Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. Initial firefighting was accomplished by bucket brigades. In 1867, the first hand-operated engine was purchased and used until 1872 (the apparatus is housed at the Denver Fire Museum in historic Denver Fire Station No. 1). In 1881, the Denver Fire Department became a paid agency with the appointment of a fire marshal, two engineers, two stokers, six captains, six horsemen, four ladder-men and seven janitors. The first motorized apparatus was purchased in 1909 and the last three horse-drawn apparatus were retired in 1925. By 1946, there were 22 fire stations in the city.

Today's fully career Denver Fire Department is led by Chief Larry D. Trujillo with 913 uniformed personnel serving a geographical area of 154 square miles. Each day, approximately 190 suppression personnel are on duty. The department is organized into six divisions — Operations, Fire Prevention & Investigation, Technical Services, Administration, Safety & Training, and DIA (Denver International Airport). The department has an Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating of Class 2 and an average response time anywhere in the city of four minutes or less. Denver firefighters respond to over 85,000 calls per year. They average 3.4 structure fires per day through out the city. Of their annual responses approximately 66% are medical related and 14% are false alarms.

The Denver Fire Department operates 26 engine companies, 14 truck companies (one tower ladder at the airport), one heavy rescue, a dive team, a collapse team, a hazardous materials team and a decontamination trailer. Twenty-nine of the city's 33 fire stations are suppression stations and four are at the airport (DIA). Airport units are not allowed to leave the airport, so the resources there are not available to the rest of the city. Each engine and truck company responds with four personnel. Ambulance service is provided by the city health department. Fire personnel respond to medical calls as first responders trained to the EMT level, but do not transport patients.

The Denver Fire Department formed its hazmat team in 1985 amid concerns about an increase of hazardous materials being transported through the city. Initially, the team was staffed by other companies, but in 1998 it became dedicated with four personnel assigned to it full time. The hazmat unit, HAMER 1 (Hazardous Materials Emergency Response), is a 2002 Pierce Enforcer housed at Station 6 with Engine 6 and HAMER 3, a dump truck full of dirt used as needed on hazmat incident scenes for diking and other purposes. Having the dirt readily available provides a valuable resource for the team in dealing with hazmat spills. Engine 6 personnel are trained to the hazmat technician level, as Engine 6 is the primary backup for HAMER 1 when assistance is needed. Four additional hazmat technicians are assigned to Rescue 1 and respond with the hazmat unit as needed as a secondary backup. Decontamination is provided by Engine 9 and Truck 9, assigned to Station 10. Additionally, on average 28 other hazmat personnel are on duty at other stations throughout the city.

Hazmat personnel receive 80 hours of training for the technician level. All other Denver firefighters are trained to the hazmat operations level. The hazmat coordinator and hazmat chief are on call 24/7. A full hazmat response in the city includes HAMER 1, Engine 9 and Truck 9 for decontamination, Rescue 1, HAMER 40, two additional engines and one truck, a district chief, public information officer, Air-Light Unit and other specialty units as deemed necessary by the type of incident. Tiered responses may also be dispatched, depending on the information available from the 911 call or reports from the incident commander on scene.

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