Orlando Fire Department Hazmat Response

The City of Orlando Fire Department has been providing fire and rescue service to citizens and visitors in Orlando since 1885. Organized firefighting in Orlando began in the early 1880s following a fire at a hat- and dress-making shop. William Sherman, a former Boston firefighter who moved to Orlando to open a jewelry store, is credited with establishing the city’s first volunteer fire department and became its first chief. In those days, volunteer firefighters were summoned to action by a bell on top of the firehouse that was rung by any citizen who discovered a fire.

Eventually, all volunteer fire companies in Orlando were consolidated into one organization, Mechanics Hose Company 1. William Dean became the first of Orlando’s 16 paid fire chiefs in 1908. He served 28 years as chief – the longest of any chief to date – and had a total of 48 years in the fire service. During Dean’s tenure as chief, the Orlando Fire Department became fully paid in 1924. Hook and Ladder Company 1 was the first company to be formed in the new department. Its motto was “We Raise to Save.†Dean’s son Gideon succeeded him as chief and became the first Orlando fire chief to die in the line of duty when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1940.

The present-day Orlando Fire Department, led by Chief Robert Bowman, is an ISO Class 2 department comprised of 14 stations organized into four districts. Bowman is the only person who has served as Orlando’s fire chief on two different occasions. His first appointment as chief was in 1993 when he served for three years as Orlando’s 13th fire chief. He was appointed again in 2003 and presently leads a department of 446 uniformed personnel and 62 civilian staff. The department has a coverage area of 100 square miles with a population of 208,000 in the city and 1.8 million in the metropolitan area. During the daytime hours, the population of Orlando swells by a half-million workers and tourists. (Orlando International Airport has its own city-government fire department.)

The Orlando Fire Department operates 15 engine companies with advanced life support (ALS) capability, five tower ladders with ALS and hazmat capability, one heavy rescue squad with hazmat capability, eight non-transport ALS rescue units, one air cascade/light unit, four “woods†trucks, one Hazmat Team unit, one Bomb Squad vehicle (see page 145), two Dive Team rescue boats, four district chiefs, one division chief and one airport crash-rescue unit at the city’s general-aviation airport. It also is home to Florida Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 4. The department responds to over 83,000 calls for assistance each year, but does not provide ambulance transport service; Rural Metro, a private ambulance service, provides transport for EMS calls.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Dave Barker put together the city’s original hazmat team, patterned after the Jacksonville team, one of the pioneer hazmat teams in the country (watch for a report on the Jacksonville Hazmat Team in an upcoming issue). Following training and deployment of equipment, the Orlando Hazmat Team became operational in 1981. Its first vehicle was a Ford van, followed by a converted beer-delivery truck that stayed in service until 2000, when the team took delivery of its current unit, a Stuffen/Hackney designated as Hazmat 1.

Inside Hazmat 1 is a command center equipped with a video monitor to watch local TV coverage of incidents. Through external ports, members can hook up an outside TV feed to the unit from a television station truck to watch aerial or on-the-ground coverage of an incident using a news helicopter. Video that is to be broadcast to the public can also be reviewed before it goes on the air. Outside telephone lines can be hooked into the unit to supply landlines inside. Satellite telephones are provided in the command center as well.

Equipment carried on Hazmat 1 is typical for most hazardous materials response vehicles. Driver’s-side compartments are set up for entry equipment. A weather station and awning to protect personnel from the elements while dressing out are provided on the driver’s side. The rear compartment carries salvage drums and passenger-side compartments hold spill- and leak-control equipment. Offloading equipment and miscellaneous tools are also carried in the compartments. Spotting scopes are available for hazmat and bomb squad work. The optics are so powerful that a tripod is needed to hold the device still for optimum vision.

Hazmat 1 is quartered at Fire Station 1, located at 429 South Magnolia in downtown Orlando. Nicknamed the “Big House,†additional apparatus there includes Engine 1, Engine 101, Tower 1, Heavy Rescue 1, Rescue 1, Hazmat 1, District Chief 1, Division Chief 1, Dive Van and Boat 1 and the Foam Unit. Hazmat 1 is not a dedicated unit, as only two personnel are assigned to drive and maintain the unit on a daily basis. One of the firefighters must be an FBI-trained bomb technician. The Foam Unit carries 2,250 gallons of bulk foam in a tank and three additional 30-gallon containers along with multiple five-gallon containers of foam. Hazmat personnel staff the Foam Unit.

Hazmat responses in Orlando get a full structure assignment of two engines, a truck, a rescue and a district chief. When a hazmat call is dispatched, Engine 101 runs in tandem with the Hazmat 1 and Tower 1. The bomb squad usually responds automatically as well. An additional engine is dispatched for decontamination along with Rescue 1 as a rapid intervention team. If needed, the air cascade unit is dispatched from Station 2. Each additional tower ladder in the city is staffed with four hazmat technicians and responds on hazmat alarms as needed. Paramedics who are a part of the medical rescue assigned to the hazmat response are trained and equipped to administer antidotes, if required. Assorted antidotes are carried on medical rescue units.

All engine companies in the city are trained to provide decontamination for the hazmat team. Hazmat technicians receive 160 hours of in-house training. Some hazmat personnel have also attended classes at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, AL, for terrorism training, Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, New Mexico Tech EMRTC for Explosives Training and the Nevada Test Site for radiation-response training. All personnel in the department receive three-day operations-level training and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) training during their initial fire department training class. Assistance at hazmat incidents is available from the Orange County and Seminole County hazmat teams.

Monitoring and detection instruments used by the hazmat team include PHD four-gas, Multi-RAE, Mini-RAE, MSA, APD 2000, Ludlum, Travel IR, AHURA, Protein Test and Amino Assay. Personal protective equipment (PPE) for Level A incidents is DuPont Trellborg HPS and Level B PPE is primarily DuPont Saranex-coated Tyvec. Respiratory protection is provided by Scott self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) with 60-minute bottles for hazmat incidents. Communication within suits is accomplished with Scott facepiece microphones that hook to 800-MHz radios. Reference materials used by the team include computers that are internet capable and fax capable, CAMEO, CATS, Chem Watch, Sacks, Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Railroad Bureau of Explosives Book, GATX Manual, PPE selection book and GENIUMS.

Transportation hazmat exposures in and around Orlando include Interstate 4, State Route 528, Regional Route 408, the Florida Turnpike and the CSX Railroad. Taft Pipeline Company has storage tanks at Orlando International Airport. Several high-tech facilities that support the NASA space program are located in the city as well. Light-industrial areas are to the north and northwest. Chemicals most often encountered are petroleum products, organic peroxides, super acids, super bases, chlorine, propane, arsine and fluorides.

For additional information or questions about the Orlando Fire Department Hazmat Team or Bomb Squad, contact District Chief of Special Operations Armando Bevelacqua at Armando.Bevelacqua@cityoforlando.net.


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 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 at robert.burke@att.net.

Loading