Hazmat Response in Yonkers

April 1, 2007
In 1990, the Yonkers Fire Department recognized the need for a special unit to respond to the rising numbers of hazardous materials incidents.

Yonkers is the fourth-largest city in New York State, covering 20.3 square miles with a population of over 196,000. Located on the Hudson River and the northern border of the Bronx, Yonkers is the only land connection to New York City. The city was the setting for the movies "Hello Dolly" and "Lost in Yonkers" and was the home of the Otis Elevator Company, inventor of the elevator, which made construction of high-rise buildings possible. Yonkers also was the site of the first golf course in the United States, St. Andrews Golf Club, it's where Bakelite, the first completely synthetic plastic, was invented, and the first FM radio broadcast originated there. Today, much of the early industry is gone and Yonkers has become a suburban bedroom community of New York City, although it is still home to Yonkers Raceway and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, a manufacturer of subway cars, and several other industrial companies.

The Yonkers Fire Department has 450 uniformed personnel led by Fire Commissioner Anthony H. Pagano. Firefighters work out of 12 stations in two battalions and respond to over 13,000 alarms each year. Each company normally operates with four personnel. Sixteen Yonkers firefighters have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, the last occurring in 1986.

In 2006, the Yonkers Fire Department marked 110 years as a paid agency. It has grown from one engine and truck company with six firefighters to 11 engine companies, six truck companies, a heavy rescue, an air cascade, a foam unit, a collapse unit, a hazardous materials team, a mobile command unit, a special operations bus, a field communications unit, technical support trailer, an EMS support trailer and a fireboat. Last year, three new engines - 303, 304 and 314 - and Squad 11 were added to the Yonkers fleet. All three engines are 2006 American LaFrance apparatus with 1,000-gpm pumps and 500-gallon tanks. Squad 11 is a 2006 American LaFrance rescue pumper with a 1,000-gpm pump, 500-gallon tank, 10-kilowatt generator and Lukas Tool.

Squad 11 functions as an engine company on all first- and second-due responses. When it is third or fourth due, the crew may be assigned search and rescue duties. When the rescue is not available, Squad 11 is assigned to boxes citywide as a replacement. The unit may also be special-called citywide if required by the incident commander for a technical rescue, fire or hazmat incident. Yonkers Fire Department response is divided into two battalions with a chief over each and a third safety battalion chief. The safety battalion chief operates citywide 24/7 and responds to all structure fires, vehicle accidents on the interstate and parkways, technical rescue in addition to hazmat response. Yonkers Fire Department does not provide transport for EMS, but it does have a first-responder program to render aid until paramedic ambulances arrive.

Hazmat transportation exposures in Yonkers include Interstate 87 and State Route 9A. There are no major pipelines that go through the city other than natural gas. Barge traffic uses the Hudson River, although Yonkers does not have a port facility. Conrail train tracks are located through the city along the Hudson River. One major industry using hazardous materials is a sugar refining company that experiences frequent acid spills. There also are compressed gas companies and a hospital in Yonkers. Within the Hillview Reservoir site are two water-treatment buildings, one with 30 one-ton containers of chlorine and the other with 50. The containers are transported through the city to reservoir. Residential neighborhoods are located just a few hundred yards from the reservoir site, making them an exposure in the event of a chlorine release from the site.

In 1990, the Yonkers Fire Department recognized the need for a special unit to respond to the rising numbers of hazardous materials incidents and to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations for hazmat response. Six fire officers were trained to the technician level and all other firefighters were trained to the operations level. The team was started and commissioned as Squad 1 in 1992 and continued for seven to eight years as a two-person squad. One officer and one firefighter manned the unit around the clock when called on for serious hazmat incidents while remaining in their positions on engine and ladder companies.

All uniformed firefighters are now trained as hazardous materials technicians during rookie school. All truck companies, along with Hazmat Engines 307 and 310, carry "hazmat skids" (plastic totes) that contain two Level A responder suits, two pairs of Tingley boots, two hard hats, two portable radios with Scott envoys attached, four 60-minute SCBA bottles, CL2 single-senor gas detectors and Scott 4 Scout detectors. Spare bottles and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) are equipped to accommodate a supplied airline system.

Currently, the hazmat team operates with a tiered "task force" concept. Gas-odor response involves the rescue or Squad 11 plus the first-due engine and ladder with a battalion chief. Carbon monoxide response is a single ladder with gas-detection equipment. Minor fuel spills/hazmat investigations involve a single first-due engine response. Large fuel or unusual hazmat situations are single-engine or single-ladder responses and a rescue can be requested for additional hazmat support. Full hazmat responses for minimum manpower involve the first-due engine and truck (eight personnel), two hazmat engines (eight personnel), Squad 11 (four personnel), the rescue (four personnel), Safety Battalion (one) and battalion chiefs (two). Engines 307 and 310 are designated as hazmat engines. Yonkers also has a tractor-drawn "beverage" truck that was donated to the fire department that transports major hazmat equipment to incident scenes.

One battalion chief and the Safety Battalion chief respond on hazmat incidents as well. When foam is needed, Foam Unit 13 responds from Station 13 with the crews of Engine 313 and Ladder 73 providing manpower. Foam 13 is a 1994 Sutphen 1,000-gpm pumper and carries 120 five-gallon pails of foam. Additional foam is stockpiled at Stations 3 and 13. Each engine company carries four five-gallon pails of foam and an eductor. The hazmat team responds to 400-500 calls per year, including fuel spills, but not counting gas leaks and odors.

Four personnel are assigned to Special Operations during the day on weekdays for support and to calibrate meters, check that equipment is operational, test suits, respond to incidents with specialized equipment when requested, repair equipment, maintain supplies, develop standard operating procedures (SOPs), keep a reserve fleet ready, and specify and order new equipment. During July and August, two Special Operations personnel are detailed to the fireboat.

Hazmat training requirements for all Yonkers firefighters includes New York State Awareness, Operations and Technician. In-service training includes training on their own equipment, monitoring instruments and chlorine kits. Hazmat team members wear Kappler Responder, Responder Plus and Responder Reflector Level A suits. SCBA is Scott with 60-minute bottles. For fire response, ladders, rescue and Squad 11 carry 45-minute bottles and engine companies are equipped with 30-minute bottles. Hazmat also uses Scott positive air pressure respirators (PAPRs) for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) events and Reeves EMS equipment. In-suit communications equipment is provided by the Scott Envoy. For WMD response, all fire department units, medic units and the police carry Mark I antidote kits for nerve agent exposure. Monitoring instruments for hazardous materials and WMD detection include MultiRae, Rae Rapid Deployment Kit, Scott Scout 3 and 4 gas detectors, single-sensor MSA Pulsar, Portal Monitor, Canberra Rad 60, APD 2000, Ludlum Response Kits, Defender XL, HazMat ID Command System, Tetracore Bio strips with Alexeter Reader and M-8 paper.

For questions or additional information on the Yonkers Hazmat Team, contact Chief of Operations William Fitzpatrick at 914-377-7505 or [email protected].

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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