New Orleans is located in southeastern Louisiana along the Mississippi River, just south of Lake Pontchartrain, the second largest salt-water lake in the United States and the largest lake in Louisiana. It covers an area of 630 square miles with an average depth of 12-14 feet. The south shore forms the northern boundary of the city of New Orleans. New Orleans Fire Department is a career department with 700 uniformed personnel led by Charles Parent Superintendent of the Fire Department. New Orleans is a city of over 485,000 population (prior to Hurricane Katrina) covering an area of 181 square miles. The New Orleans hazardous materials team covers the entire Parish of Orleans and the Parishes of St.Bernard, Jefferson, and Plaqumines.
New Orleans as with most cities in the United States began with a volunteer fire department. The first volunteer fire company was formed 1829. The organization was known as the Firemen's Charitable Association, the (FCA), a title it was to keep for the next 62 years. Henri Buckman was selected as the foreman and first chartered member of the company. Buckman was also present when the New Orleans Career Fire Department went into service in 1891. Because of his 62 years of devoted, efficient service to the FCA, Henri Buckman was officially declared the father of the fire service in New Orleans. The leader of the volunteers, Chief Engineer Thomas O'Connor became the first leader of the new fire department. Over the past 112 years there have been 10 Superintendents.
The New Orleans Fire Department operates 28 engine companies, 3 Squrts, 10 truck companies, 1 Flying Squad, 1 rescue unit and two hazmat units from 33 stations throughout the city (prior to Hurricane Katrina). The city is divided into eight districts with a chief over each. EMS paramedic transport service is provided by the City of New Orleans Health Department. The fire department provides first responders or EMT's on initial responses awaiting the arrival of the paramedics. New Orleans Fire provides primary rescue service.
New Orleans officially formed their hazardous materials team and placed it in service in 1989. During the 1970's, a Hazardous Materials Officer was established for training and coordination of response personnel. The hazardous materials team responds to an average of 175 hazardous materials calls a year. Statistics for hazmat responses do not include local engine runs for hydrocarbon fuel spills and natural gas leaks.
Hazmat vehicles include a 2004 American LaFrance custom-built Eagle hazmat squad type vehicle that was placed in service in May 2004 and a Chevrolet Suburban. They also have a spare 1989 hazmat vehicle manufactured by Pierce. The new squad vehicle contains an inside command center with satellite telephone, fax, computer, and hard copy reference books.
The New Orleans hazmat team is a dedicated team staffed with 9 specialists (3 on duty each shift). Rescue 1 and the Flying Squad firefighters are all certified as technicians or above and provide additional personnel on hazmat calls. All firefighters on the department are certified to the operations level. All hazmat team members work a 24-hour on and 48-hour off shift. There are three levels of activity on the New Orleans Hazmat Team: trainee, technician, and specialist. To be a Hazmat Trainee a firefighter must have two years of service with the New Orleans Fire Department. The Trainee is allowed a period of one year to complete the requirements for team membership. A technician must have a minimum of one year in a full time position on the Hazardous Materials Team prior to applying for a technician position. To become a specialist a technician must have a minimum of two years on the team to apply.