Hazmat Studies: Fire and Police Combine For Hazmat Response: Part 2

Gwinnett County, GA, has one of the most comprehensive hazardous materials and hazardous devices response protocols in the Southeast. The county’s response to incidents involving hazardous materials and hazardous devices, comprised of fire and police...


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Gwinnett County, GA, has one of the most comprehensive hazardous materials and hazardous devices response protocols in the Southeast. The county’s response to incidents involving hazardous materials and hazardous devices, comprised of fire and police department teams, is the only such system in the metro-Atlanta area and has become a model for other agencies.

Through this partnership, the teams have mitigated high-profile incidents including drug seizures, accidental hazmat releases and real and potential explosive devices. One such incident occurred in December 2010, when a raid occurred in a methamphetamine “super lab” that turned out to be one of the largest in the U.S. Officers removed 984 pounds of meth with a value of approximately $44 million. Gwinnett County police were assisted by the Gwinnett County Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and area police.

According to Gwinnett County Police Major W.J. Walsh of the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD)/Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Unit, “In the late 1990s, bomb squad response in Gwinnett County didn’t amount to much more than a bomb suit, some x-ray film and imaging technology operated by a hand-crank.” Now, the Gwinnett County Police Hazardous Device Unit operates one of the premier hazardous device response vehicles in the state.

Gwinnett County’s vehicle is a 2010 Pierce custom rescue body with a 400-hp Cummins ISL engine and Allison 3000EVS transmission. The “Bomb Truck,” as it is called, is loaded with state-of-the-art equipment to handle a response to any type of terrorist or criminal incident involving hazardous devices. A command center in the crew cab contains equipment to control remotely operated vehicles, view x-rays taken, along with communications and other equipment for response operations. Special features on the vehicle include a 30-foot telescopic camera; a powerful lighting system; flat-screen TVs that provide direct feeds from cameras on remotely operated vehicles (robots); storage areas; awnings to shade personnel; enough room to store three days’ worth of food in extreme emergencies; and a ramp for loading and unloading the remotely operated vehicles.

Remotely operated vehicles have the ability to x-ray suspicious objects or suspected explosives and return the film for development, thus not exposing personnel to hazardous objects. Response personnel can view developed x-rays on computer monitors in the command center or on large-screen TVs. The Gwinnett County Fire Department played a key role in the design of the police response unit. The police solicited their fire department partners for their assistance. In particular input from the hazardous materials team was sought because much of its equipment is used by both agencies. This support was fostered through years of cooperation between the two agencies.

Several serious incidents have been mitigated over the past several years because of the partnership and organization of the two specialty teams from the Gwinnett County fire and police departments. The teams started training together in 2004 and firefighters and police officers have volunteered to serve on both units. Personnel have received training far above the standard for firefighters and law enforcement in their individual fields. Firefighters learn the functions of the explosive technicians and are able to assist with preparing the explosive technician to enter a potential explosive device incident scene.

Fire department hazmat technicians are cross trained on much of the equipment used by the Hazardous Devices Unit. This includes chemical, biological and radiation detection and identification equipment. All hazardous device technicians are required to be certified as hazmat technicians prior to attending the basic hazardous devices school. Patrol officers in Gwinnett County are trained to the hazmat awareness level. Some operations officers are also trained to the hazmat operations level.

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