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Reno — promoted as "The Biggest Little City in the World" — is in western Nevada near the California border, 26 miles north of the capital of Carson City and 22 miles northeast of Lake Tahoe, CA, in the high desert. The county seat of Washoe County, Reno has a population estimated at 214,000, making it the third-most-populated city in the state behind Las Vegas and Henderson. It is next to Sparks, with its estimated population of 90,000, and the two are often referred to as the "Twin Cities."
Reno is located on a main route of the Union Pacific Railroad and Interstate 80 and Highway 395 are the major highway transportation routes through the city. Its location positions Reno as an avenue for much of the east-west traffic in and out of California. Shipments of radioactive materials are common along Interstate 80. Highway 395 is a major route to U.S. Army and Navy ammunition depots 60 miles north and 100 miles south of Reno. Along with being a major warehousing and distribution center, the Reno/Tahoe airport is becoming a major air-cargo facility. Daily, thousands of shipments of hazardous materials move safely through the Truckee Meadows area. Major pipelines and fuel farms carrying chemicals from the California Bay Area are also in Reno. The north side of Reno near Station 13 is a heavily industrialized area with the RR Donnelly & Company printing operation, JC Penney West Coast warehouse and Sierra Chemical Company, a wholesaler that packages bulk chemicals and places them in smaller containers. Railcar loads of cyanide and explosives are brought into the state to support Nevada's large mining industry. Other common hazmat exposures encountered in the Reno area include chlorine, phosgene, pesticides, liquefied petroleum gases, oxidizers and hydrocarbon fuels.
Fire protection in Reno began with formation of Reno Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 in 1868 and continued with the organization and reorganization of various volunteer engine and hose companies under the authority of Washoe County. The City of Reno was incorporated in 1903 by the Nevada Legislature, also creating the Reno Fire Department with a career staff. Shortly after, the new Reno City Council authorized the purchase of two new steam fire engines that coincided with the retirement of an 1874 steam fire engine that had reportedly worn out. In 1916, the City Council was urged by the fire chief to consider purchasing motorized fire apparatus. This resulted in the acquisition of two new Seagrave fire engines and initiated the retirement of the Reno Fire Department's stable of horses and horse-drawn equipment. In 1917, the City Council approved purchase of motorized apparatus from American LaFrance that included the city's first ladder truck (an 85-foot model that recently was located by a Reno fire captain and is being restored); a pumper and a chemical-hose car now in the collection of the National Automobile Museum two blocks from Reno Fire Department headquarters.
Paul Wagner is the chief of the Reno Fire Department with 345 uniformed personnel operating from 18 fire stations and staffing 18 engines, 14 wildland fire engines, four trucks, three water tenders (tankers), one light rescue, two heavy rescues, three air cascades, one hazmat unit, one decontamination trailer, one mobile command unit and three water-rescue units (with boats and kayaks). An additional 17 personnel are assigned to the fire prevention and fire investigation bureaus and there are 20 support staff, including mechanics, supply, warehouse and administrative personnel. The department answered 34,676 calls for service in 2006, about 70% of them emergency medical related.