Seattle Fire Department's Hazardous Materials Response

Seattle, WA, is the largest city in the Northwest and 22nd largest in the United States. Situated between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington, the city is 96 miles south of the Canadian border in King County. Seattle covers an area of 83.6 square miles...


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Seattle, WA, is the largest city in the Northwest and 22nd largest in the United States. Situated between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington, the city is 96 miles south of the Canadian border in King County. Seattle covers an area of 83.6 square miles with 193 miles of waterfront lying between the Olympic Mountains on the west and the Cascade Mountains on the east. Located in one of the most scenic areas of the country, Seattle has a mild climate with over 200 cloudy days per year on average. On clear days, spectacular views of the active volcano Mount Rainier can be seen to the southeast of the city. Population estimates in 2006 included over 582,000 in the city (1.5 million daytime population) and 3.3 million in the metropolitan area. The population density is 6,039 people per square mile. Seattle and surrounding areas are home to the Boeing Aircraft Company, many technology companies including Microsoft, and a history of ship-building and lumber industries.

Starting in the 1870s, Seattle was served off and on by several volunteer fire companies. Through passage of an ordinance in April 1884, the City of Seattle took charge of the volunteer fire service in the city. Initial firefighting equipment in the volunteer service included hose and a hose reel and a used hand-operated pump engine bought from Sacramento, CA. By 1884, the volunteers had acquired two steam-powered fire engines and a ladder truck.

Seattle's paid fire department was officially formed in October 1889, a few months after the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, which destroyed Seattle's volunteer fire stations and 125 acres (25 city blocks) of homes and businesses worth an estimated $8 million. Most of the structures burned were constructed of wood. After the fire, no new wooden structures were allowed in the burned-out area. No statistics were kept on any injuries or deaths, but it was estimated that more than 1 million rats were killed in the fire.

The first chief of the paid Seattle Fire Department was Gardner Kellogg, who commanded a staff of 32 firefighters. The department has evolved into a modern emergency services department under the current leadership of Chief Gregory Dean. A force of 1,030 uniformed personnel (supported by 79 non-uniformed civilian employees) operates out of 34 stations with 33 engine companies, 11 truck companies, four basic life support (BLS) aid units, seven advanced life support (ALS) medic units, two air trucks, two fireboats and two hose tenders. All firefighters are EMT basic certified and 81 are certified paramedics. In 2006, the department responded to 80,523 emergency calls. Of those responses, 60,306 were EMS related and 16,717 were fire and other emergency responses. Operations firefighters work 24-hour shifts based on a seven-day rotation. They work one 24-hour shift and have two 24-hour periods off and then they work a 24-hour shift and have four 24-hour shifts off. The cycle then repeats itself.

The Seattle Fire Department was a pioneer in pre-hospital EMS in the fire service. In the 1970s, the department began its Medic One Program, when its first group of firefighters was trained as paramedics in cooperation with Harborview Medical Center and the University of Washington. Providing service to Seattle for over 25 years, the Medic One Program has evolved into one of the most respected in the world.

The department formed its hazardous materials team in 1980. Motivating factors included the general movement of the fire service in the United States to organized hazmat response and the recognition of the need for specialized training and equipment to safely respond to hazmat emergencies. It is a non-dedicated team staffed by on-duty crews at the Headquarters Station/Station 10, at 301 Second Ave. S. (in the center of the city). Engine 10, Ladder 1, Aid 5 and the Hazardous Materials Unit respond together as the hazmat team. Typically, there are 11 hazmat team members on duty per shift at the Headquarters Station. Station 27, at 1000 S. Myrtle St., houses and provides personnel for the Decontamination Unit. Twenty-four technician-level personnel are assigned to Station 27. One officer and three firefighters staff the Decontamination Unit. All members assigned to Station 27 are decontamination technicians and have nearly as much training as those assigned to the Headquarters Station. In addition to the Decontamination Unit, Engine 27 and two tractor-trailer apparatus, one for Urban Search and Rescue Team and one for the Metropolitan Medical Strike Team, are housed at Station 27.

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