N.J. Pilot Program IDs Hazards in Abandoned Buildings

A new pilot program in New Jersey is aiming to locate and identify hazardous materials inside abandoned buildings that could pose a threat to firefighters and other responders.

The "Boots on the Ground" program, established by the Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Emergency Response, has begun in Camden, where a team of investigators has inspected 31 abandoned buildings since last December, according to a news release.

The contents found at each location were analyzed and data was entered into a Geographic Information System, which will be made available to public safety personnel through mobile computer systems or dispatching services.

The data will allow responders access a property's profile when called to one of the buildings and immediately pinpoint any hazards that may exist.

The inspections turned up minimal amounts of hazardous chemicals and toxic materials, but did find combustible materials -- including drums filled with waste oil, propane tanks and various types of solid waste -- that could fuel fires.

Other hazards discovered included syringes, needles, mold, blood, feces, wild and domestic animals, and holes in the floors of buildings that could be deadly traps for responders.

Each property profile also lists the construction type of each structure, whether or not it is still powered by gas or electricity and the presence of any underground storage tanks.

Additional mapping shows each building's proximity to fire hydrants, hospitals and schools.

A series of large fires in abandoned buildings in Camden last year led to the creation of the pilot program.

"We believe each of these property profiles will benefit firefighters in terms of safety, while also reducing the risk of larger chemical fires that have occurred in Camden," State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes, who oversees the state Office of Emergency Management, said.

State officials are considering extending the program to another city next year.

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