Hazardous Materials Response For "The Biggest Little City in the World"

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...


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All Reno firefighters are EMT-I trained, but provide only medical first response and support until ambulance personnel arrive. The goal of the Reno Fire Department is to have at least one EMT-I trained member on every engine company. Ambulance transport is provided by a private company with advanced life support capability. On average, Reno firefighters respond to two or three structure fires per week and many brushfires annually. Firefighters work a schedule of 24 hours on and 24 hours off for three days and then have four days off. The work week averages 56 hours. Engine and truck companies are manned with four personnel each and rescue units have two each. Rescue units respond as a part of the truck company for fire calls from their stations.

The Reno Fire Department and Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District were consolidated in 2000 and the Reno Fire Department administers the district. The Reno and the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District covers 650 square miles where most residents of Washoe County live, but also responds anywhere within the 6,000 square miles of the county when needed. Washoe County borders Idaho to the north and its entire western border is common with California. Reno Fire also responds to neighboring Story County for mutual aid. Fire protection at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport is provided by a separate fire department that works directly for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority.

In addition to the 18 city fire stations, Reno administers 11 volunteer/auxiliary fire departments in the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District and other unincorporated areas of Washoe County. These departments operate from 12 fire stations and provide 12 fire engines, 16 wildfire units, four water tenders (tankers) and two ambulances.

The Reno Fire Department is part of a Regional Hazardous Materials Response Team with the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District and the Sparks Fire Department. Hazmat team response in Reno began in 1986, not because of any major incident, but because of a general concern of hazmat risks present in the community. No fire department wanted to take on the responsibility alone, so the regional team concept was adopted. Costs of operating the team are shared by member entities.

Reno's hazmat unit is a 2001 American LaFrance/Becker housed at Station 3. Additional apparatus at Station 3 include Truck 3, a 2004 E-ONE 100-foot tiller; Engine 3, a Pierce Quantum with a 1,500-gpm pump and 750-gallon water tank; and Rescue 3, Battalion 2 and Decon 3. All personnel at Station 3 trained to the hazmat technician level. Reno's hazmat response is not dedicated; personnel from Station 3 staff the hazmat unit and respond with other apparatus as a task force for hazmat incidents. Eight technicians and a chief are on duty for hazmat response on any given day at Station 3. Station 13 has been designated as an additional hazmat station with Engine 13 and a water tender. There are 78 total hazmat technician-trained personnel on the regional hazmat team.

Hazmat response is conducted on a tiered basis depending on the analysis of the incident scene by dispatch or first-arriving companies. Engine 13, Truck 3 and the hazmat rigs respond to incidents that occur on the north side of the city. On the south side of the city, only apparatus from Station 3 respond. Level I incidents involve the response of all on-duty Reno hazmat personnel. Level II incidents involve all on-duty Reno hazmat personnel plus Sparks hazmat personnel. Level III incidents involve all on duty personnel from Reno and Sparks and all available off-duty personnel. There is no close-by mutual aid available to assist the Regional Hazmat Team.

Initial training for hazmat team members consists of two weeks of Chemistry of Hazardous Materials, one week of chemical analysis and three weeks of technical operations, which includes monitoring, tactics and incident command. In-service training consists of eight hours per month. All firefighters in Reno are trained to a minimum of hazmat-operations level.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) for hazmat team members includes Trelborg, Kappler and Dupont suits for Level A and B incidents. Respiratory protection is provided with Scott 4.5 self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) utilizing one-hour bottles. Positive-pressure air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) and cartridge respirators are available for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) incidents.