Hazmat Team Spotlight: San Diego Fire Department

Located on the Pacific Coast in the southwest corner of Southern California, San Diego is the sixth-largest city in the U.S. and the second largest in the state. The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department provides fire, rescue, hazardous materials, EMS and...


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Thermal imaging cameras are used for hazmat responses, as are video cameras that allow video to be transmitted from the "hot zone" back to the command post or other location for review. Cameras for still photographs are also carried on the units. Inside the crew cab is a command center with laptop computers, fax machine, broadband Internet access, two telephones, a satellite phone, radios, computer resources such as TOMES, CAMEO and ORIS, and hard-copy reference materials that include Emergency Response Guidebook and The Merck Index. Each unit also has a weather station for monitoring conditions during an incident.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) used by San Diego is primarily Tyborg for Level A and Tychem 1000 for Level B. Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is manufactured by Interspiro with one-hour bottles. In-suit communications also is provided by Interspiro. For WMD response situations, the crews use positive-pressure air purifying respirators (PAPRs) and MSA Millennium canister masks. Monitoring and detection equipment carried on the hazmat units includes:

  • BTA biological test kits
  • APD2000 chemical agent monitors
  • Multichannel analyzer for radiation
  • Joint Chemical Agent Detector (JCAD) for 12 WMD materials (military technology)
  • MultiRAE and MiniRAE detectors
  • Draeger CDS civil defense set
  • Ludlum radiological detector
  • Hazard Categorization (Haz-Cat) kit
  • M-8 and M-9 chemical agent detection papers
  • M-256A chemical agent detector kit
  • pH Paper
  • pH meter
  • BioCapture air sampler and detection systems

All companies also carry auto injectors containing 2-PAM chloride and atropine as antidotes for nerve agent exposure (a stockpile for civilian casualties is kept at Balboa Naval Hospital).

Currently, San Diego is working to form a Metropolitan Medical Strike Team (MMST) that will include fire, EMS, hazmat and law enforcement personnel. Assistance for WMD incidents is available from the 9th National Guard Civil Support Team, based in Los Alamitos, which is 86 miles away. San Diego's hazmat team is a member of the Joint Hazardous Assessment Team (J-HAT), whose other members include the FBI, Civil Support Team and police SWAT team. J-HAT provides a security assessment of major events taking place in San Diego. J-HAT is under the command of the police department, except when a hazmat incident occurs during an event; then the hazmat team is in command. The J-HAT mission is to assess an event for potential hazards and provide on scene response if a WMD incident, criminal act or hazmat emergency were to occur during an event.

The author would like to thank Battalion Chief Melinda Hathaway and B Shift officers and firefighters for their assistance in providing information and photo opportunities for this column. Additional information and answers to questions related to the San Diego Hazmat Team or other organizations mentioned can be obtained through the following contacts: Hazmat Captain on Duty at 858-636-4885; Battalion Chief Melinda Hathaway at mhathaway@sandiego.gov; or the website.


Robert Burke, a Firehouse contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland. 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 a veteran of 26 years in fire and emergency services, with experience in career and volunteer departments. He has attained the rank of lieutenant, assistant chief and deputy state fire marshal. 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 reached at robert.burke@att.net.