- Slideshow Images: Houston FD HazMat Team
Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States, with a population of 1.9 million people and covering an area of 617 square miles. Houston is located in southeast Texas approximately 48 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Houston is known as the "Petrochemical Capital of the World." It is reported that there is a greater concentration of chemical plants and refineries in Houston than anywhere else in the world. Most of the facilities are located along the shipping canal in Southeast Houston. Major fixed facility hazmat exposures include major oil companies Phillips and Shell tank storage, natural gas wells, an ammonia plant, the largest sulfuric recycle plant in the U.S., Houston Alkynes (acetylene), Liquid Air Products, NASA Johnson Space Center, medical centers and universities, and many small companies. Chemicals routinely found in the area include chlorine, LPG, ammonia, sulfuric acid, bleach, zinc and combustible metals. In addition to the shipping channel there are several major highways that criss-cross Houston including Interstates 610, 45, 10, and 59. Highway 225 is a major Texas highway that goes through Houston. Railroads entering Houston are the Union Pacific and a small local line.
The Houston Fire Department is an ISO Class 1 career department with an annual operating budget of $293 million boasting 3,470 plus uniformed personnel and 700 civilian employees led by Chief Phil Boriskie. Houston Fire operates 86 engine companies, 37 truck companies, 11 booster trucks (for small fires, brush, trash, etc.), 54 basic life support ambulances, 14 medic units, three hazmat units, two technical rescue units, three air cascades, a rehab truck, 11 aircraft crash units and miscellaneous vehicles. The fire department is organized into 21 districts with 89 fire stations and several new ones in various stages of construction and development. Houston personnel responded to over 326,000 alarms in 2004, including over 90,000 fires, with an average call volume of over 36,000 per month.
Houston, as with most cities in the United States, began with a volunteer fire department organized in1838. Volunteers protected Houston for 57 years when firefighters became paid in 1895.
Houston officially formed their hazardous materials team and placed it in service on October 5, 1979 and during 2004 celebrated 25 years of service. The team was equipped and trained for an initial outlay of $19,000. In 1983 the hazmat team became a stand alone dedicated team. The hazardous materials team responds to an average of 1,200 hazardous materials calls a year, not including local engine runs for hydrocarbon fuel spills and natural gas leaks. Engine companies carry 10 gallons of dispersant for use on small fuel spills. Any thing large is handled by the hazardous materials team. Houston Hazmat uses a liquid agent dispersant for hydrocarbon spills. Brush rigs have been outfitted with spray booms that apply that agent to the surface of the spill.
Station 22 located at 7825 Harrisburg St. is a dedicated hazmat station. No other equipment is stationed there. Hazmat vehicles include two identically equipped hazmat response units, which are 1995 and 1996 Super Vac vehicles. Also located at Station 22 is Foam Engine 22 with a 2000 E-One with a 2000 gpm pump, 500-gallon water tank, 750-gallon foam tank, 1,000 feet of four-inch hose and a Williams Hot Shot II Foam System. Foam Engine 22 also carries decontamination equipment and can respond alone on some types of hazmat incidents. Also at Station 22 is a flatbed utility truck for carrying bulk foam and other equipment housed in a utility building behind Station 22.