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Firefighters and medics throughout the department are trained to the hazmat operations level with annual refresher training. Approximately 150 other firefighters in the city, special operations personnel, are trained to the technician level in addition to the 56 assigned to the hazmat team. Mutual aid for hazardous materials incidents is provided as needed from Boeing, the National Guard WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) Civil Support Team and the King County Hazmat Providers Group, made up of six teams of various sizes and capabilities. Initial technician-level training includes an 80-hour course that meets the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 472 standard. Once personnel are assigned to the hazmat station, an additional 140 hours of instrumentation training is provided during the probationary period and 200 hours per year of continuing training and education. Mandatory attendance is also required at all Department of Homeland Security/Office for Domestic Preparedness (DHS/OPD) courses. All team members must also obtain Instructor I certification.
The Hazardous Materials Unit is equipped with an inverter charger to provide un-interruptible power for the command cab, monitors and computers. Docking stations can run three to four hours without the unit's engine running. Two 12,000-volt generators are installed on the top of the unit. When the inverter system needs power, the generators automatically turn on. A private company has installed and maintains weather stations around the city. The hazmat team has monitors to access the real-time information from the unit's command cab. It also has portable weather stations of its own that can be deployed at an incident scene.
Seattle's hazmat team has responded to an average of 150 incidents annually over the past three years. This does not include fuel spills, gas odors and leaks handled by other companies with operations-level personnel. Engine and truck companies do not carry absorbent materials; these are provided from the city's Department of Engineering, which is separate from the fire department and is responsible for street maintenance and traffic routing. The hazmat team may be called to fuel spills, depending on the type and amount of material spilled as determined by the responding engine or truck company. Seattle does not use incident levels. Each incident results in the team response and special assistance is called for specific responses such as white-powder and drug-lab incidents.
Personnel protective equipment (PPE) used by the hazmat team for hazardous materials exposures includes Trellborg Level A, Kappler CPF3 and Kappler CPF4 Level B. Respiratory protection is provided utilizing Scott open-circuit SCBA, PAPR and APR, depending on the circumstances of the incident. For in-suit communications, Seattle uses Savox bone mics with push-to-talk on Motorola 450 mHz radios.
Transportation hazmat exposures include the Port of Seattle, which provides temporary storage and shipment of materials from all hazard classes, and Interstates 5 and 90. Rail traffic passes through the heart of the city, including a tunnel under the downtown corridor. The Olympic Pipeline Company has underground pipelines that pass through the city as well. Olympic is a 400-mile interstate pipeline system that includes 12-inch, 14-inch, 16-inch and 20-inch pipelines. The system runs along a 299-mile corridor from Blaine, WA, to Portland, OR, transporting gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Fixed-facility hazmat sites in Seattle include Harbor Island (a major petroleum-distribution facility), multiple manufacturing and storage facilities, bio technical industries and numerous hospitals.
Major hazardous materials incidents in Seattle have typically involved chlorine, ammonia, gasoline, ship fires, high-rise building evacuations, explosives and biological materials. Recently, the hazmat team was called to the Port of Seattle when U.S. Customs dogs got what appeared to be a positive hit for explosives on two containers that had just arrived from Pakistan. The team has a full chemical, biological, radiological/nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) detection and mitigation capability utilizing Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS) mass-victim-extraction equipment from Station 27. It also has equipment and materials pre-positioned in critical areas for major emergencies.
For answers to questions or additional information, contact Captain Geoff Wall or Captain Charlie Cordova at Station 10, Seattle Fire Department, 301 2nd Ave. S., Seattle, WA 98104 (telephone 206-386-1400).
ROBERT BURKE, a FirehouseÂ® 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.