Hazmat Response in Yuma: Protecting An Oasis in the Arizona Desert

The City of Yuma is located in extreme southwestern Arizona on the Colorado River, near the California border and just a few miles from Mexico. Although situated in the vast Arizona desert, Yuma sits atop an old river bed, which accounts for its rich...


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The City of Yuma is located in extreme southwestern Arizona on the Colorado River, near the California border and just a few miles from Mexico. Although situated in the vast Arizona desert, Yuma sits atop an old river bed, which accounts for its rich farmland and huge agricultural industry – and the reason the Yuma Fire Department recognized the need for a hazardous materials team.

Yuma’s crops include citrus, oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruits, dates and vegetables, including most of the lettuce grown in the U.S. during the winter. Taking note of the numerous hazardous materials involved in agriculture and the need to be prepared for emergencies involving the materials, Yuma formed its hazmat team in 1994.

Besides farmland, Yuma has a downtown of one-, two- and three-story buildings and a vast suburban area of homes and businesses. The city also is home to the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground and the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, which is an alternate Space Shuttle landing site with its five-mile-long runway.

The Yuma Fire Department is a full-time paid agency with 89 uniformed personnel and a total of 107 employees led by Chief Jack McArthur. The department operates out of five stations and provides fire, EMS, rescue and hazmat response to a coverage area of 30 square miles. It responds to approximately 9,000 emergency calls a year, of which 84% are medical related. The department operates five engine companies, one truck, one heavy rescue, three medic units, a hazmat unit, and dive and river rescue teams.

The hazmat team is located at Station 2. Team members respond to about 80 calls per year, which include hydrocarbon fuel spills as well as farm-related emergencies. Engine companies carry emulsifiers, vapor suppressant and absorbent products on their apparatus. In Yuma, gasoline stations are allowed to handle spills of five gallons or less. Anything larger requires the response of an engine company. If the engine cannot handle the volume, the hazmat team is called.

In addition to the hazmat unit, Engine 2, Truck 2, and Medic 2 are housed at Station 2. Hazmat technicians may be assigned to any company in the city. Two technicians are assigned to Station 2 to maintain equipment, calibrate monitors and ensure readiness of equipment and vehicle. All other fire department personnel are trained to the hazmat-operations level and provide support for the hazmat team.

The first training class of hazmat technicians included eight firefighters and the team’s first response vehicle was a converted bread truck. Now, training for hazmat team members includes the 200-hour Arizona Technician Course, monthly in-house classes, and annual refreshers and drills. Yuma’s present hazardous materials response vehicle is a 2001 Ford 750 that pulls a Wells Fargo trailer customized by firefighters. The craftsmanship on the vehicle is extraordinary. In fact, the firefighters received an award from the city for saving $300,000 by building the hazmat unit themselves.

The hazmat unit is outfitted with typical hazardous materials equipment, along with two generators, an air compressor for filling self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) bottles, an inside shower and bathroom, floodlights, computers, a fax machine, reference books and air conditioning. Reference materials include ARIS, CAMEO, Merck Index, Railroad Explosives Book and U.S. Coast Guard CHRIS Manual. Each engine also carries the Emergency Response Guide Book, NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, NFPA Fire Protection Guide for Hazardous Materials and Jane’s Chemical & Biological Materials Book.

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