Hazmat Response In Philadelphia

The City of Philadelphia, with a heavy chemical-industry presence on its south and east sides, takes a proactive approach to hazardous-materials response. While some emergency response organizations have scaled back and even eliminated some levels of...


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The City of Philadelphia, with a heavy chemical-industry presence on its south and east sides, takes a proactive approach to hazardous-materials response. While some emergency response organizations have scaled back and even eliminated some levels of hazmat response, Philadelphia purchased a new hazardous materials unit, Hazmat 1, and built a new, specially designed four-bay fire station to house the unit and other apparatus.

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Photo by Robert Burke
The Philadelphia Fire Department's Hazmat 1 responds to about 70 hazardous-materials incidents each year.

Under the leadership of Fire Commissioner Harold B. Hairston, the fire department's 2,400 uniformed personnel operate 65 engine companies, 28 truck companies, one heavy rescue, 37 medic units, two fireboats, the hazmat unit and six foam units. Hazmat 1 responds on average to about 70 incidents each year. Hairston has shown the fire department's commitment to this effort by the construction of the new station, located at 2301 S. 24th St.

While riding with a friend, Battalion Chief William Doty, I had the opportunity to visit the new station and see Hazmat 1. Talking with the officers and firefighters of Engine 60 and Ladder 19, who make up the hazmat team on A shift, I sensed a great deal of dedication and pride in their new quarters and equipment.

Philadelphia's hazmat team members have received the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Level III technician course, courses covering radiological monitoring and the chemistry of hazardous materials, and a five-level in-house training program. The five levels consist of:

  • Level I - Understanding hazardous materials, 32 hours.
  • Level II - Personnel protective equipment (PPE), 16 hours.
  • Level III - Decontamination, eight hours.
  • Level IV - Plugging and patching, 40 hours.
  • Level V - Monitoring instruments and meters, 16 hours.

Hazmat 1's quarters are laid out all on one floor except for a second-level storage area for hazmat-response supplies. The engine bay has locker space for bunker gear, a storage room and a decontamination station. Living quarters include separate bath and locker rooms for men and women, a bunk room, offices for each company, a conference room, kitchen and watch desk. The building also houses a new police station providing coverage of South Philadelphia.

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Photo by Robert Burke
The crew cab walk-in work area of Hazmat 1.

The hazmat station is located in Battalion 1, the area of highest hazmat exposure in the city, and bounded by Market Street on the north, the Navy Yard on the south, Front Street on the east and 25th Street on the west. Hazmat 1 responds to incidents throughout Philadelphia. In addition to the hazmat unit, the station houses Engine 60, Ladder 19, Medic 37 and Hazmat Support Unit 101.

When a hazmat response is requested, crews from Engine 60 and Ladder 19 combine forces to place Hazmat 1 in service. The ladder is placed out of service and Engine 60, Hazmat 1 and Support Unit 101 make up the hazmat task force.

Initial manning includes two officers, eight firefighters, battalion chief 1 and his aide. Backup hazmat-trained firefighters are located at Stations 1, 10, 24 and 49. These personnel fill in at the hazmat station when assigned crew members are off duty and also are available to respond.

Statistics for hazmat responses within Philadelphia do not include local engine runs for hydrocarbon fuel spills. Each engine carries about 25 pounds of absorbent material for cleaning up fuel spills. If a spill is too large for an engine to handle, one of the seven "depot" companies located throughout the city responds with larger amounts of absorbent material.

1_99_hazmat3.jpg
Photo by Robert Burke
Side compartments of Hazmat 1 with roll-up doors.

Most hazmat incidents in Philadelphia are small and usually involve "unknown materials." The city uses the "Haz-Cat" hazard-categorizing system for identifying unknown materials in addition to an on-board computer and reference materials. (At large fires involving hazardous materials the hazmat unit assumes a support role.)

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