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The fire department formed a hazmat team in the mid-1980s as a result of hazmat calls that occurred in the county. The team originally was based in the western part of the county near several chemical and manufacturing facilities, a major interstate highway and two rail lines. All personnel were trained to the technician level and equipped with response vehicles that included a quick-response vehicle (QRV) and a hazmat unit. Additional equipment and vehicles were purchased as needed. The team was eventually moved to Station 20 in Lawrenceville, where it is located now.
Housed at the hazmat station are Hazmat 20, Medic 20, a pod truck (featuring mass-decontamination and bulk-storage pods), the manpower squad that carries four personnel and the water tender, which carries 3,000 gallons of water and 100 gallons of foam concentrate. Two personnel are assigned to Hazmat 20 on each shift and the remaining units are dispatched as needed. An average of 16 technician-level personnel are on duty each shift with a maximum of 22 at full staffing. Hazmat 20 also responds to medical and fire calls as needed. The hazmat team answers 300 to 400 calls per year, including fuel spills, gas odors and leaks. Engine companies carry absorbent materials and handle spills of five to 10 gallons, but greater-volume spills require the response of the hazmat team. Mutual aid is provided by the DeKalb County hazmat team. Personnel assigned to Station 20 are trained to the technician level and all other firefighters are trained to the operations level. Technician-level training is given in-house and additional training is provided by National Fire Academy classes and Department of Homeland Security courses in Alabama, Nevada and New Mexico.
Equipping hazmat responders
Respiratory protection for the hazmat team is provided by Scott 60-minute bottles. The team also carries air-purifying respirator (APR) masks for protection against chemical agents. Chemical suits used by the team include the Saint-Gobain ONESuit Flash chemical protective hazmat suit for Level A and Level B and Dupont Tychem. Monitoring equipment includes the RAE Systems four-gas detector and four-gas with photoionization detector (PID); Sensit Gold four-gas leak detector; Sensit Gold two-gas detector; Honeywell EC-P2 gas sensor with chlorine and ammonia chips; Thermo Scientific FirstDefender RMX spectrometer and Scientific TruDefender FT and FTi spectroscopy devices; Ludlum 14C Survey radiation meters; Smith’s Detection APD 2000 chemical detector and LCD 3.2E lightweight chemical warfare agent detector; FLIR IdentiFINDER 2 nuclide radiation meter; Canberra UltraRadiac Plus personal radiation monitor; and Draeger pump. Four Panasonic Toughbook laptop computers are available to team members.
Major transportation exposures for potential hazmat incidents in Gwinnett County include Interstate 85, State Highways 20 and 985, and U.S. Highways 23, 29 and 78. The CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads have lines into and through the county. Pipeline exposures are comprised of major natural gas pipelines and the Plantation Pipeline Co. Fixed hazmat exposures include a U.S. Postal Service facility that processes 50% of the mail in Georgia and that has a biological-agent detection system. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a satellite facility in Gwinnett County with biological hazards. Specific chemicals found in the county include chlorine, propane, ethanol and anhydrous ammonia.
Police bomb personnel are trained as hazmat technicians. When the fire department’s Station 31 is completed at the end of 2013, the police bomb team will house its response unit, equipment and offices there along with fire and EMS crews.
Part two of this column focuses on how fire and police personnel work together to mitigate emergency situations that previously were handled separately. For questions or additional information, contact Deputy Chief of Operations Charles Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org.