Hazmat Response In Kansas City, MO

March 1, 2008

Kansas City is the largest city in Missouri and is in the northwest corner of the state at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers. The city encompasses 319 square miles with parts in four counties. Population estimates show 447,306 within the city and over 2 million in the Kansas City, MO/Kansas City, KS, metropolitan area.

Kansas City, MO's early fire department was organized in the 1850s with the formation of volunteer bucket brigades. Church bells would signal a fire alarm and everyone would assemble at the scene of the fire to help. In 1867, the city abandoned the volunteer bucket-brigade system and replaced it with a fully paid fire department. Initial firefighting equipment included a Silsby rotary engine with hose and two hose wagons. Colonel Frank Foster was elected the first paid fire chief. Late in 1869, the first ladder company was organized, and named McGee Hook and Ladder 1, in honor of ex-mayor E. Milton McGee. By 1872, the department consisted of three steamers, one hook-and-ladder, one chemical engine and 36 paid firefighters. By the 1920s, the fire department had grown to 30 stations, with 40 companies. In 1928, the first training school was opened and the department was fully motorized.

Today, the Kansas City, MO, Fire Department operates from 34 fire stations with 1,000 uniformed personnel under the leadership of Chief Richard "Smokey" Dyer. The department refers to its apparatus with a pump as a "pumper." There are 34 pumpers, 13 trucks, three rescue units, one hazmat rig and two foam pumpers. The city is divided into seven battalions and each battalion chief is assigned a driver. Each battalion driver is a captain and functions as the safety officer on incident scenes. EMS transport is provided by a separate city agency that is not affiliated with the fire department. Firefighters trained to the basic EMT level respond as first responders to medical calls. Fire protection for Kansas City International Airport is provided by the department from Station 5, located at the airport. The Airport Division operates four front-line apparatus with a staff of 26 personnel, including an administrative battalion chief, a division training officer and 24 uniformed personnel working on three 24-hour shifts. Firefighters in Kansas City are on duty for 24 hours, off for 48 hours and get an extra day off following each nine on-duty shifts. The department responds to over 55,000 alarms each year with about 75% of those being emergency medical calls.

The department's Hazardous Materials Team was placed in service in 1989, following an explosion at a construction site in 1988 that killed six Kansas City firefighters. Pumper Companies 30 and 41 and their personnel were lost in the explosion. The numbers 30 and 41 were added together to form the number for Hazmat 71, which originally was located at Station 47.

The first hazmat vehicles included a 1989 E-ONE pumper (P71), a 1980s-model Dr. Pepper roll-up delivery truck donated to the fire department (S71) and a pickup truck (U71). The beverage truck was replaced by a 1993 Super-Vac hazmat response vehicle, the first hazmat vehicle built by Super-Vac. In 2007, a motor vehicle accident put the Super-Vac out of service and a reserve rescue unit was used until the new HM71 arrived.

Initially, the hazmat team was not dedicated; personnel from Station 47 manned the hazmat vehicles when a hazmat call came in. Currently, HM71 has four dedicated personnel assigned to it each shift. An additional four technicians are assigned to Pumper 71. Foam 71 and Utility 71 are not manned unless called. When that happens, HM 71 and Pumper 71 crew members place them in service. All rescue companies in the city are trained to the hazmat operations level. All other firefighters are trained to the awareness level.

Station 27 was built in 1911 and housed a pumper until the late 1980s. A squad replaced the pumper until the early 1990s, when the station was closed. In the mid-1990s, the original Station 27 was torn down to make way for a new dedicated hazmat station. The new Station 27 at 6600 Truman Road was constructed in 1996 and houses Foam Pumper 71, a 2007 Pierce with a 2,000-gpm pump, 1,000-gallon water tank, 50-gallon foam tank and an additional 35 gallons carried containers on top; Hazmat 71, a 2007 E-ONE; Utility 71, a 1997 GMC with a Hackney body; and Pumper 71, a 2003 E-ONE Typhoon with a 750-gallon water tank, a 1,250-gpm pump, and a Foam Pro system with a 50-gallon foam tank. Pumper 71 responds to fires, medical calls, vehicle accidents and non-emergency calls in addition to hazmat runs. Utility 71 is a secondary hazmat unit that carries supplies needed for extended incidents.

In 2007, when the 13-year-old hazmat unit was a total loss due to a motor vehicle accident, Mark Cannon of the Kansas City Fire Department contacted me about a column I wrote titled "Chicago's Twins" (Firehouse®, September 2005), which spotlighted the Chicago Fire Department's twin hazmat units. Kansas City was interested in the design of the Chicago units. After researching Chicago's hazmat units and rigs from other departments in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area, hazmat team personnel drew up the specifications for the new Hazmat 71. The new unit was designed to specifically support local methods of operation. It took about a year from drawing board to delivery of the new vehicle. Additional hazmat equipment deployed around the Kansas City metro area includes six identically equipped Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS) mass-casualty trailers and a decontamination trailer.

The department responds to about 1,900 hazmat calls per year, including fuel spills, odors, leaks and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms. In 2006, the hazmat unit was number one in the country in total responses in the annual Firehouse® Magazine National Run Survey. Each pumper company in the city carries a bag of absorbent material and five gallons of foam to handle small fuel spills. Personnel from Pumper 71 respond with Hazmat 71 to make up the initial response. There are 37 hazmat technicians in the Kansas City Fire Department. Each pumper company and truck is staffed with four firefighters and each rescue with six firefighters. If the Kansas City Fire Department requires assistance through mutual aid, eight regional hazmat teams are available in the metropolitan area. Additionally, the National Guard 7th Civil Support Team from Fort Leonard Wood, MO, and the 73rd Civil Support Team from Topeka, KS, can provide assistance for hazmat and terrorist incidents. Technicians are provided with an 80-hour operations class that includes hazmat chemistry and the State of Missouri 40-hour technician course, along with an annual eight-hour recertification. Another 40 to 60 hours of refresher training is held each year for team members.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) for the hazmat team consists of Kappler and Dupont for Level A and Kappler CPF-2, CPE-4 for Level B. Respiratory protection is provided with MSA one-hour bottles for hazmat and 30-minute bottles for firefighting. In-suit communications are supplied with chest-mounted radio harnesses and Motorola HT 1000 radios with the Cav Com system, which works with a bone mic system that is placed in the ear.

Hazardous materials transportation exposures in Kansas City include the number two railroad hub in the United States with rail yards that run through the city, in some places 46 tracks wide. Railroads serving the city include Burlington Santa Fe, Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern. Highway exposures occur with Interstates 35, 70 and 435, which run through the heart of downtown. State Highways 24, 40, 69, 71 and 169 are also hazardous materials exposures. Major pipeline systems also cross the city in several locations. Fixed facilities with major hazardous materials exposure include Bayer Chemical, Honeywell, MRI and hazardous waste facilities. Major chemicals found in the city include propane, chlorine, anhydrous ammonia, pesticides and nerve agents.

Several major hazmat incidents have occurred over the years in Kansas City. As noted above, on Nov. 29, 1988, explosions at a construction site killed six firefighters instantly as they fought fires in a trailer/magazine containing blasting agents. The fire also involved two vehicles and a second trailer/magazine, which exploded as well. The trailers were loaded with explosives. The blast left two large craters in the ground and destroyed two fire department pumpers. The force of the explosions, about a half-hour apart, was so great that people were jarred from their beds as far as 10 miles away. Many windows in surrounding neighborhoods were broken. A seventh firefighter, arriving on the scene as a driver for a battalion chief, was injured when one of the explosions blew his fire department car 25 feet and shattered its windows. The fires at the construction site were believed to have been set by an arsonist. Those killed were Captains Gerald C. Halloran, 57, and James H. Kilventon Jr., 54, and Firefighters Thomas M. Fry, 41, Luther E. Hurd, 31, Robert D. McKarnin, 42, and Michael R. Oldham, 32. This incident was the worst firefighter loss-of-life fire/hazmat incident in the city's history.

On Feb. 8, 2007, a fire and series of explosions occurred at the ChemCentral Corp., a chemical-distribution facility that blends and repackages chemicals such as waxes, resins, solvents and acids. Firefighters reported that the building was full of 55-gallon barrels, and that smaller explosions occurred up to two hours after the initial blast, which began at about 2:20 P.M. Fire Chief Dyer indicated the blaze started when employees were off-loading a petroleum-based product. Several 55-gallon drums ignited, touching off the explosions that injured two workers inside the plant. The explosion generated flames 100 feet in the air and covered a section of downtown in black smoke. A company official previously said the chemical may have been polybutene, which is used in a variety of products, including liners for cereal boxes. Firefighters worked in a defensive mode because of the chemical fire and chances of additional explosions. The fire burned for about nine hours before firefighters used foam to bring it under control. Police evacuated homes and businesses within a mile of the plant. Five hundred people and six schools were evacuated. The fire destroyed the five-acre plant with losses estimated at $1 million.

For questions or additional information about the Kansas City Fire Department Hazardous Materials Team, contact Battalion Chief Donna Maize, Kansas City Fire Department, Hazardous Materials Division, 6600 E. Truman Road, Kansas City, MO 64126; telephone 816-784-2020; e-mail [email protected].


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