Hazmat Team Spotlight: Omaha, NE, Fire-Rescue Department

Feb. 1, 2008
Located on the banks of the Missouri River at the Eastern end of Nebraska, Omaha is the largest city in the state.Slideshow Images: Omaha, NE, Fire-Rescue Department Located on the banks of the Missouri River at the Eastern end of Nebraska, Omaha is the largest city in the state. Omaha sets on the West side of the river across from Council Bluffs, IA.

Located on the banks of the Missouri River at the Eastern end of Nebraska, Omaha is the largest city in the state.

Slideshow Images: Omaha, NE, Fire-Rescue Department

Located on the banks of the Missouri River at the Eastern end of Nebraska, Omaha is the largest city in the state. Omaha sets on the West side of the river across from Council Bluffs, IA.

The Omaha Fire-Rescue Department provides fire, rescue, hazardous materials, and EMS services to 427,872 people within 193.18 square miles. Including the suburban areas adjacent to the city, the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan area is home to over 1.2 million people. In addition, through mutual and automatic aid, fire, rescue and hazmat service extends into Douglas County and other surrounding areas.

Omaha's organized fire service began on May 2, 1860 with the formation of the Pioneer Hook & Ladder Company 1. On July 10, 1866, due to the increased growth of the city a second fire company was formed, Fire King 1 which operated a hand engine purchased by the city from Davenport, Iowa. Engine companies 2 and 3 were soon organized to assist the existing companies.

Continued rapid growth resulted in the consolidation of fire companies in the city into the Omaha Fire Department on April 23, 1875. The newly created fire department was volunteer except for the offices of chief engineer (who received a salary of $1,500 per annum) engineers, drivers and stokers. In addition to the Omaha fire companies, the Union Pacific Railroad formed the "Durant Engine and Hose Company No. 1," in January 1868 for fire protection of railroad properties. This fire company was not part of the Omaha Fire Department but was subject to its call upon special notice from the chief. The organization was purely voluntary, however, no one but employees of the Union Pacific Railroad were eligible for membership. Upon several occasions the company was called upon by the Omaha Fire Department for assistance. The first paid firefighters in the Omaha Fire Department started work in 1867.

Modern day Omaha fire companies are housed in 24 stations located through out the city. Omaha Fire has approximately 661 uniformed personnel led by Acting Fire Chief Mike McDonnell, who was recently appointed to replace Chief Robert Dahlquist who retired after 26 1/2 years of service to the Omaha Fire Department. Omaha firefighters operate 24 engine companies; nine truck companies; 15 medic units; three rescue units; two hazmat units; six battalion chief units and one paramedic shift supervisor unit. Additional equipment includes six brush units; one command vehicle; one technical rescue truck; two mass casualty trailers and one Medi-cart.

EMS and rescue calls make up about 73 percent of the 35,688 annual total alarms. Fire calls account for approximately five percent and other types of alarms account for the other 22 percent. Omaha Fire does not provide fire protection to Eppley Airport which has its own fire department operated by the Omaha Airport Authority.

The Omaha Fire Department began organized hazmat response in the city in 1985. Initially four firefighters were assigned to an engine company with dual responsibility for fire suppression/EMS and hazardous materials response. During the mid 1990's the hazardous materials team became dedicated with four team members assigned to the hazardous materials unit per shift. Their first hazmat response unit was a delivery truck type vehicle. The hazmat team was assigned to a station along with an engine company. Engine company personnel were assigned to a back-up hazmat role in addition to normal engine company responsibilities. In 1995 the Omaha Fire Department created a Special Operations Program which included hazmat, rope rescue, trench rescue and rapid intervention response.

A standard type rescue hazmat vehicle was purchased in 1998 to increase the effectiveness of the team. Additional equipment was purchased to carry out the missions of the special operations team. In 1999 a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) trailer and associated equipment were placed into service. The trailer carries extra PPE, miscellaneous hazmat support equipment, decontamination tents and decontamination equipment. A second hazmat vehicle was purchased in 2005 giving Omaha Fire the capability to place two dedicated hazmat teams into service. Both hazmat units are housed with an engine company that is also staffed with four hazmat technicians. The assigned engine companies serve as back-up for hazmat and special operations tasks.

Omaha's Hazmat team responds to an average of 992 calls per year including fuel spills, gas odors and leaks. Engine companies carry an oil pick up absorbent product that is a pumicite volcanic ash derivative. All engine companies also carry a surface washing agent (Petro Green) in a two-gallon sprayer. A 2:1 ratio of water to Petro Green is used. Engine companies will call in the hazmat team if the spill is larger than what they can handle with on-board supplies. Any spill other than a hydrocarbon fuel spill will result in the hazmat team responding regardless of size of the spill.

Rescue 1 (Hazmat 1) is housed at Station 60, located at 2929 S. 129th Ave. Rescue 1 is a 2005 Emergency One with a Cummins Diesel 500-hp engine. Also housed at Station 60 is Engine 60, a 1994 Spartan Motors Central with a 1250-gpm pump and a reserve truck. Rescue 2 (Hazmat 2) a 1998 Emergency One is housed at Station 5 located at 2209 Florence Blvd. Engine 5, a 2003 Toyne Waterous with a 1500-gpm pump, and Medic 5 are located at Station 5 as well.

Hazmat Equipment
Most of the equipment carried on the hazmat vehicles is typical for hazmat and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) response situations.

On a daily basis each hazmat unit is staffed with four technicians. Each engine company at Stations 5 and 60 is also staffed with four technicians. So on any given day, the ideal staffing would be 16 technicians between the hazmat units and engine companies. There are 48 total hazmat technicians assigned to Stations 5 and 60 on all three shifts. There are approximately 25 additional hazmat technicians on duty on each shift scattered about on other apparatus around the city that can be called into service if needed.

Mutual Aid
Mutual aid for hazmat incidents is available from the Bellevue Volunteer Fire Department, Offutt Air Force Base Fire Department, and Council Bluffs, Iowa Fire Department. All these departments have fully dedicated hazmat teams. Also, the State of Nebraska has a National Guard Civil Support Team and a state MOU??? for Hazmat with 10 hazmat teams including Omaha.

Omaha's Hazmat Team has mutual aid agreements with surrounding counties and towns, and they are part of the State MOU Hazmat response plan.

Training Requirements
Hazmat personnel are required to be trained to the technician level. Initial training includes a 40-hour hazmat technician course (conducted by McKinzie Environmental out of Olathe, KS). They are the EPA's contractor for Region VII. Hazmat technicians must also go through 16 hours of rope rescue and Confined Space training along with eight hours of trench rescue training. Omaha fire instructors are used for rope rescue/confined space initial and refresher training. They also use a contractor from Colorado (Innovative Access Inc.) for training as well. Hazmat personnel assigned to Stations 5 and 60 receive 24 hours of annual HAZWOPER training. The remaining hazmat techs on the fire department receive a minimum of eight hours of annual HAZWOPER training. All Omaha firefighters are trained to the hazmat operations level and have (WMD) awareness training as well.

Monitoring Instruments & Identification Equipment

  • Monitoring capabilities include:
  • Drager CMS Kit
  • Mini Rae PID Meter
  • Multi Rae 5 Gas Meter
  • Industrial Scientific T82 CO Monitor
  • Industrial Scientific M40 4 Gas Monitor
  • Haz Cat kit
  • Saw minicad MK II
  • APD 2000
  • Smith's HazMat ID
  • Smith's Gas ID
  • Radiation Monitors:
    • Ludlum 2241 radiological detector
    • ThermoEberline FH406-L Radiological Monitor

    Personnel Protective Equipment

  • Level A
    • Dupont Tychem 41590
    • Kappler Responder Plus
    • Kappler 46560 Reflector (Aluminized)
  • Level B
    • Kappler CPF 3 with hood
    • Kappler Hooded Tyvec
    • Kappler Saranex fully encapsulating
    • Kappler CPF-4 fully encapsulating
  • Respiratory Protection
  • Scott SCBA 30-minute and one hour
  • Five minute escape air packs
  • Supplied Air Respirators


  • Scott Envoy Radiocoms
  • Motorola Impress portable Radios
  • Scott Voice Amplifiers

Research Resources

  • Hard Copy Reference Books
  • Dangerous Properties 9th Edition
  • Fire Protection Guide to Hazardous Materials
  • 2004 Emergency Response Guide Book
  • Farm Chemical handbook
  • GATX Tank Car Manual
  • Emergency Handling of Hazardous Materials
  • Volumes of Omaha Sewer Systems Maps
  • NIOSH Pocket Guide
  • Volumes of CHRIS Manuals
  • Volumes of OSHA Manuals on Hazardous Materials
  • Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary
  • Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare
  • Radiological Emergencies Response Handbook
  • Emergency Response to Terrorism
  • Pocket Guide to Tanks Cars
  • EPA Standard Operating Safety Guides
  • Emergency Care for hazardous Materials Exposures
  • Computer Based Programs
  • Cameo/Marplot/Aloha
  • Annual Subscription to Expert Publication for Hazmat Teams

Standard Operating Procedures/Guidelines
Check with the City of Omaha Hazmat Team for specific SOP/SOG's

Hazardous Materials Exposures
Transportation exposures in the Omaha area include Interstates 80, 480, and 680. The Missouri River is a major barge traffic route on the East side of the city. Omaha is also a major rail center with potential exposures from chlorine, ethanol, various liquid chemicals and pressurized and non-pressurized chemicals. There approximately 220 facilities in the Omaha area that must file Tier II reports each year. Some of the major chemicals listed are anhydrous ammonia and sulfuric acid. Various pipelines carrying hazardous materials can be found through out the response area.

Contact Information
For additional information or questions, contact:
Captain Jim Palensky
Omaha Fire Department
Special Operations/HazMat Coordinator
1516 Jackson Street
Omaha, NE 68102
[email protected]

Slideshow Images:

ROBERT BURKE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is the fire marshal and hazmat team member for the University of Maryland. a 28-year veteran of fire and emergency services, Robert is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist, NPQS Board Certified Fire Inspector III, Hazardous Materials Incident Commander, and Hazardous Materials Technician, and has served on state, county and local hazardous materials response teams. He is the author of books: Hazardous Materials Chemistry For Emergency Responders, Counter-Terrorism for Emergency Responders, Fire Protection: Systems and Response and the feature Hazmat Team Spotlight on Firehouse. Robert can be reached on the Internet at [email protected] To read Robert's complete biography and view their archived articles, click here. You can reach Robert by e-mail at [email protected].

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