HazMat Team Spotlight: Philadelphia

The City of Philadelphia with a heavy chemical industry presence on its South and East sides, has always taken a proactive approach to hazardous materials response.


During the 1990's a new buzz word has surfaced in hazardous materials response, terrorism. Incidents at the World Trade Center in New York City and the Federal Building in Oklahoma City have brought home the dangers of terrorism to our emergency responders. Because we are the first called to all types of emergencies, firefighters and EMS personnel need to prepare for response to terrorist incidents. Although not mandated, additional training and responsibilities have once again emerged for emergency responders nationwide. This time there seems to be an abundance of Federal money available for training, but little up to this point for equipping emergency responders to deal with acts of terrorism at the community level. The Army through its Chemical & Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM) has developed Terrorism response training for emergency responders in 120 of the nations largest cities. Philadelphia is one of those cities and they have already received the training. These training courses include Responder Awareness and Operations, Incident Command, Responder Technician, and Specialized EMS Training. Captains and above in Philadelphia received the Incident Command Training. Hazardous materials team members and their back-ups received the Technician training. All other firefighters received the Responder Awareness and Operations Training and Medics received the Specialized EMS Training. On September 15-17, 1998 Philadelphia conducted a major terrorism exercise to test their response capabilities. They are currently developing a Terrorism SOP for the City. One of the potential exposures for responders to terrorism events is nerve agents. There are effective antidotes for nerve agents if they can be administered soon after exposure. Philadelphia has issued antidote kits to all of the city's companies for their personnel to be carried on their rigs. EMS units also have available to them enough antidotes for 5000 civilian casualties from nerve agent attacks.

Contact Information

Philadelphia continues to set the pace for response for all types of hazardous materials response. With support from the fire department administration, the new quarters, equipment vehicle and dedicated personnel will serve Philadelphia well into the 21st Century. For additional information or questions, contact:

Battalion Chief Joseph McGraw
Philadelphia Fire Department
HazMat Administrative Unit
5200 Pennypack Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19136
Telephone: 215-685-8061


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 a veteran of 24 years in fire and emergency services, with experience in career and volunteer departments. He has attained the rank of lieutenant, assistant chief and deputy state fire marshal. 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 reached in the Internet at robert.burke@att.net.