Hazardous Materials Response For "The Biggest Little City in the World"

Dec. 1, 2007

Reno — promoted as "The Biggest Little City in the World" — is in western Nevada near the California border, 26 miles north of the capital of Carson City and 22 miles northeast of Lake Tahoe, CA, in the high desert. The county seat of Washoe County, Reno has a population estimated at 214,000, making it the third-most-populated city in the state behind Las Vegas and Henderson. It is next to Sparks, with its estimated population of 90,000, and the two are often referred to as the "Twin Cities."

Reno is located on a main route of the Union Pacific Railroad and Interstate 80 and Highway 395 are the major highway transportation routes through the city. Its location positions Reno as an avenue for much of the east-west traffic in and out of California. Shipments of radioactive materials are common along Interstate 80. Highway 395 is a major route to U.S. Army and Navy ammunition depots 60 miles north and 100 miles south of Reno. Along with being a major warehousing and distribution center, the Reno/Tahoe airport is becoming a major air-cargo facility. Daily, thousands of shipments of hazardous materials move safely through the Truckee Meadows area. Major pipelines and fuel farms carrying chemicals from the California Bay Area are also in Reno. The north side of Reno near Station 13 is a heavily industrialized area with the RR Donnelly & Company printing operation, JC Penney West Coast warehouse and Sierra Chemical Company, a wholesaler that packages bulk chemicals and places them in smaller containers. Railcar loads of cyanide and explosives are brought into the state to support Nevada's large mining industry. Other common hazmat exposures encountered in the Reno area include chlorine, phosgene, pesticides, liquefied petroleum gases, oxidizers and hydrocarbon fuels.

Fire protection in Reno began with formation of Reno Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 in 1868 and continued with the organization and reorganization of various volunteer engine and hose companies under the authority of Washoe County. The City of Reno was incorporated in 1903 by the Nevada Legislature, also creating the Reno Fire Department with a career staff. Shortly after, the new Reno City Council authorized the purchase of two new steam fire engines that coincided with the retirement of an 1874 steam fire engine that had reportedly worn out. In 1916, the City Council was urged by the fire chief to consider purchasing motorized fire apparatus. This resulted in the acquisition of two new Seagrave fire engines and initiated the retirement of the Reno Fire Department's stable of horses and horse-drawn equipment. In 1917, the City Council approved purchase of motorized apparatus from American LaFrance that included the city's first ladder truck (an 85-foot model that recently was located by a Reno fire captain and is being restored); a pumper and a chemical-hose car now in the collection of the National Automobile Museum two blocks from Reno Fire Department headquarters.

Paul Wagner is the chief of the Reno Fire Department with 345 uniformed personnel operating from 18 fire stations and staffing 18 engines, 14 wildland fire engines, four trucks, three water tenders (tankers), one light rescue, two heavy rescues, three air cascades, one hazmat unit, one decontamination trailer, one mobile command unit and three water-rescue units (with boats and kayaks). An additional 17 personnel are assigned to the fire prevention and fire investigation bureaus and there are 20 support staff, including mechanics, supply, warehouse and administrative personnel. The department answered 34,676 calls for service in 2006, about 70% of them emergency medical related.

All Reno firefighters are EMT-I trained, but provide only medical first response and support until ambulance personnel arrive. The goal of the Reno Fire Department is to have at least one EMT-I trained member on every engine company. Ambulance transport is provided by a private company with advanced life support capability. On average, Reno firefighters respond to two or three structure fires per week and many brushfires annually. Firefighters work a schedule of 24 hours on and 24 hours off for three days and then have four days off. The work week averages 56 hours. Engine and truck companies are manned with four personnel each and rescue units have two each. Rescue units respond as a part of the truck company for fire calls from their stations.

The Reno Fire Department and Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District were consolidated in 2000 and the Reno Fire Department administers the district. The Reno and the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District covers 650 square miles where most residents of Washoe County live, but also responds anywhere within the 6,000 square miles of the county when needed. Washoe County borders Idaho to the north and its entire western border is common with California. Reno Fire also responds to neighboring Story County for mutual aid. Fire protection at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport is provided by a separate fire department that works directly for the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority.

In addition to the 18 city fire stations, Reno administers 11 volunteer/auxiliary fire departments in the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District and other unincorporated areas of Washoe County. These departments operate from 12 fire stations and provide 12 fire engines, 16 wildfire units, four water tenders (tankers) and two ambulances.

The Reno Fire Department is part of a Regional Hazardous Materials Response Team with the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District and the Sparks Fire Department. Hazmat team response in Reno began in 1986, not because of any major incident, but because of a general concern of hazmat risks present in the community. No fire department wanted to take on the responsibility alone, so the regional team concept was adopted. Costs of operating the team are shared by member entities.

Reno's hazmat unit is a 2001 American LaFrance/Becker housed at Station 3. Additional apparatus at Station 3 include Truck 3, a 2004 E-ONE 100-foot tiller; Engine 3, a Pierce Quantum with a 1,500-gpm pump and 750-gallon water tank; and Rescue 3, Battalion 2 and Decon 3. All personnel at Station 3 trained to the hazmat technician level. Reno's hazmat response is not dedicated; personnel from Station 3 staff the hazmat unit and respond with other apparatus as a task force for hazmat incidents. Eight technicians and a chief are on duty for hazmat response on any given day at Station 3. Station 13 has been designated as an additional hazmat station with Engine 13 and a water tender. There are 78 total hazmat technician-trained personnel on the regional hazmat team.

Hazmat response is conducted on a tiered basis depending on the analysis of the incident scene by dispatch or first-arriving companies. Engine 13, Truck 3 and the hazmat rigs respond to incidents that occur on the north side of the city. On the south side of the city, only apparatus from Station 3 respond. Level I incidents involve the response of all on-duty Reno hazmat personnel. Level II incidents involve all on-duty Reno hazmat personnel plus Sparks hazmat personnel. Level III incidents involve all on duty personnel from Reno and Sparks and all available off-duty personnel. There is no close-by mutual aid available to assist the Regional Hazmat Team.

Initial training for hazmat team members consists of two weeks of Chemistry of Hazardous Materials, one week of chemical analysis and three weeks of technical operations, which includes monitoring, tactics and incident command. In-service training consists of eight hours per month. All firefighters in Reno are trained to a minimum of hazmat-operations level.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) for hazmat team members includes Trelborg, Kappler and Dupont suits for Level A and B incidents. Respiratory protection is provided with Scott 4.5 self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) utilizing one-hour bottles. Positive-pressure air-purifying respirators (PAPRs) and cartridge respirators are available for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) incidents.

Reno Hazmat's operational procedures emphasize analysis and monitoring of incident scenes to mitigate emergencies more quickly and shrink the required distances of "hot zones." Using this process, the team has reduced average incident time from six hours to 45 minutes. Hazmat team members are trained to be analysis "experts." One primary tool for on-scene analysis is a laboratory-grade portable Inflicon Hapsite mass chromograph gas spectrometer used to identify unknown liquids and gases. This is an expensive instrument and very few departments have this resource available to them because of the cost. Additional equipment available includes radiation monitors, Area Rae, chlorine and carbon monoxide detectors, four-gas meters, HazCat kits, Foxbough-HID/PID for organic vapors, Guardian Reader for biologicals and the M256 kits for WMD. The Hazcat Kit involves chemical analysis to identify unknown materials or identify chemical families they belong to. All trucks, rescue units and chiefs carry four-gas meters. Station 3 houses a maintenance and calibration shop operated by hazmat technicians for testing, calibration and maintenance of monitoring equipment.

Computer-related and hard-copy reference information carried on the hazmat unit includes NIOSH Pocket Guide, ERG, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, U.S. Coast Guard CHRIS Manual, CAMEO, TOXNET, Farm Chemical Handbook, IFSTA manuals relating to hazardous materials response and an MSDS database.

Additional information about the regional hazmat team and its operations is available by contacting Division Chief Bob Knoll at 775-334-2315.

ROBERT BURKE, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland-Baltimore. He is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFSP), Fire Inspector II, Fire Inspector III, Fire Investigator and Hazardous Materials Specialist, and has served on state and county hazardous materials response teams. Burke is an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy and the Community College of Baltimore, Catonsville Campus, and the author of the textbooks Hazardous Materials Chemistry for Emergency Responders and Counter-Terrorism for Emergency Responders. He can be contacted at [email protected].


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