HazMat Team Spotlight: Philadelphia

May 11, 2004
The City of Philadelphia with a heavy chemical industry presence on its South and East sides, has always taken a proactive approach to hazardous materials response.

The City of Philadelphia with a heavy chemical industry presence on its South and East sides, has always taken a proactive approach to hazardous materials response.

This is the first installment of a new section being launched in the hazardous materials section of Firehouse.com. Hazmat Team Spotlight will focus on hazardous materials teams across the country to provide information that can be shared by other departments and personnel. Fire departments throughout the country have always responded to emergencies involving chemicals. In fact the fire department is the nation's first responder to all types of emergencies including fires, emergency medical, natural disasters and acts of terrorism. Resulting from the response to chemical incidents, the term hazardous materials (hazmat) became the buzz word of the 1970's and 80's. With the passage of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986 (also known as the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA) and continued reauthorization over the years, hazmat took a giant leap forward in the emergency response community.Philadelphia Pennsylvania Fire Department Hazardous Materials TeamHazardous Materials Team OverviewUnder the leadership of Commissioner Hairston, the Philadelphia Fire Department has 2400 uniformed personnel who operate 65 engine companies, 28 truck companies, 1 heavy rescue, 37 medic units, 2 fireboats, the hazardous materials unit and 6 foam units. The City of Philadelphia with a heavy chemical industry presence on its South and East sides, has always taken a proactive approach to hazardous materials response. Philadelphia's fire department hazardous materials unit responds to an average of 70 hazardous materials incidents each year. Statistics for hazmat responses within Philadelphia do not include local engine runs for hydrocarbon fuel spills. Each engine carries approximately 25 pounds of oil dry material for cleaning up fuel spills. If the spill is larger than they can handle, one of the 7 "Depot" companies responds with larger amounts of oil dry rather than sending the Haz-Mat Unit for a fuel spill. The "Depot" stations are strategically located throughout the city.Fire Commissioner Harold B. Hairston has shown the fire departments commitment to this effort by the construction of a new station in 1997 to house Haz-Mat 1, the department's new hazardous materials response unit. The Hazmat Station is located in Battalion 1 at 2301 S. 24Th Street, the area of highest hazmat exposure in the city and if bounded by Market Street in Center City on the North, the Navy Yard on the South, Front Street on the East, and 25th street on the West. Haz-Mat 1 responds to incidents through out Philadelphia. While some emergency response organizations have scaled back and eliminated some levels of hazardous materials response, Philadelphia continues to be innovative and proactive in their approach to hazmat. The new specially designed four bay fire station houses the hazmat unit along with other apparatus. Haz-Mat 1's quarters are laid out all on one floor except for a second level storage area for hazmat supplies. The engine bay has locker space for bunker gear, a storage room and decontamination station. Living quarters include separate bath and locker rooms for men and women, bunk room, offices for each company, a conference room, kitchen, and watch desk.Haz-Mat 1 was built in 1996 by Salisbury Fire Equipment Company of Pennsylvania. In addition to the hazardous materials unit, the new station houses Engine 60, Ladder 19, Medic 37 and Haz-Mat Support Unit 101. Engine 60 and Ladder 19 have served South Philadelphia for over 76 years. They were organized on June 16, 1921 and were located at 24th and Ritner Streets. On September 24, 1990 Engine 60 and Ladder 19 were relocated to the former house of Engine 47 at 3031 Grays Ferry Avenue while their new station was being constructed. When a hazardous materials response is requested, crews from Engine 60 and Ladder 19 combine forces to place Haz-Mat 1 in service. The ladder is placed out of service and Engine 60, Haz-Mat 1 and Support Unit 101 make up the Hazardous Materials TaskForce.Equipment on Haz-Mat 1 is organized into numbered compartments. The large walk in air conditioned crew cab contains an area for communications, computer operation, and research protected from the harsh weather extremes in Philadelphia. To assist during hazmat operations, the cab work area has a fax machine, hazmat library 9-portable radios, a lap-top computer, with the software program Computer Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO), 2 mobile telephones, and a instamatic camera and film. The other compartments on the unit contain monitoring instruments, assorted PPE, decontamination equipment, chlorine kits, patching and plugging equipment and supplies, sorbant materials and a wide variety of support equipment. Spare air bottles and a complete air cascade system and generator round out the well equipped hazardous materials response unit.Staffing

The hazmat team members are a close knit group and each has their own "niche" or the things they do best. Some members specialize in research on the computer, while others concentrate on monitoring instruments, and others like to keep the unit stocked and maintained. All shifts work closely together to insure the unit is always ready to respond. Normally in Philadelphia officers are rotated between stations every three years. At the hazardous materials unit, the officers do not rotate and they have a combined experience of over 30 years in hazardous materials response. Most technicians have an average of 3 years experience on the team. The officers and firefighters of Engine 60 and Ladder 19 staff the hazmat team and exhibit a great deal of pride and dedication in their new quarters and equipment. Initial manning includes two officers, 8 firefighters, and Battalion Chief 1 and his Aid, for a total of 12 personnel. Back-up hazardous materials trained firefighters are located at Stations 1, 10, 24, and 49. These personnel fill in at the Hazmat Station when assigned crew members are off and also are available to respond to an incident scene if needed. Firefighters in Philadelphia work two 10 hour days followed by two 14 hour nights and 4 days off.

Training Requirements

All Philadelphia firefighters and medics are trained to the operations level. Philadelphia's hazardous materials team members receive a five level in house training program. The five levels consist of Level I-Understanding Hazmat which is 32 hours, Level II-Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) 16 hours, Level III-Decontamination 8 hours, Level IV-Plugging and Patching 40 hours, and Level V-Monitoring instruments and Meters 16 hours.

Monitoring Instruments & Identification Equipment

Philadelphia uses the "Haz-Cat" system for identifying unknown materials in addition to their on-board computer and reference materials. Other portable monitoring devices for air monitoring and biological and chemical testing are shown below.

Radiological Kits:

  • SensIR Industries, TravelIR
  • Ludlum Radiological Response Kit 2241-3
  • Philadelphia Rad Kit II: Ludlum Model 3 w/ 44-9 Probe and an Eberline RO-2 Ion Chamber
  • Philadelphia RAD Kit I: CDV-700 and CDV-715
  • ThermoElectron: IdentiFinder Na-I
  • MGP: MGP2000 Pager/Dosimeter

Terrorist Agent ID:

  • Rapid Analyte Monitoring Platform (RAMP): Anthrax, BoTox, Ricin & Small Pox
  • HazCat Anthrax Kit
  • M-9 tape, M-8 paper, and M-256 Kits.
  • APD-2000
  • Chemical Agent Monitors (CAM)

Corrosive Gas:

  • pH Paper
  • CL2 & NH3 ToxiMeters (Chlorine & Anhydrous Ammonia)
  • MSA: 5-Star CGI with CL2 & NH3 Sensors


  • Oxidizer Paper
  • MSA:5-Star CGI & MSA Orion

Qualitative Detector Tubes:

  • Drager Colorimetric Tubes

Low Level Detection:

  • Rae Systems: MiniRAE2000 PID
  • Photovac MicroFID
  • ThermoEberline TVA-1000 FID/PID
  • Rae Systems: SentryRAE
  • Rae Systems: AreaRAE

Identification Kits:

  • HazCat Kits
  • Spilfyter: Chemical Classifier Strips
  • Inficon: Hapsite (Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer)

Personnel Protective Equipment

Level A

  • DuPont Tychem Tk
  • Trelleborg: APS & TLU
  • Kapler Tychem Responder
  • DuPont: AcidMater

Level B

  • DuPont: Chemrel, Tychem CPF 3 & Tychem CPF 4

Respiratory Protection

  • Scott Air-Pak 50 w/60 min. bottles (SCBA)
  • (All Level A suits have a fitting to be connected to the Scott Air-Pak to a supplied air system.


Motorola 800 mhz Portable Radio: XTS 300R with the Mask Mounted Envoy System for a hands free operation.

Standard Operating Procedures/Guidelines

Check with Philadelphia Hazmat for specific SOP/SOG's

Hazardous Materials Exposures

Most of Philadelphia's hazardous materials facilities are located on the south and east sides and consist of large refineries, chemical plants, and transportation routes. These facilities include Ashland Chemical, Sun Oil Company, Allied Chemical and Rhom & Hass. Port facilities are also present where super tankers are loaded and unloaded as well as smaller intermodal containers from ships. Many of these intermodals contain hazardous materials and are transferred from the ships to trucks and rail flat cars for transportation to other parts of the country. Several major highways pass through Philadelphia including Interstate highways 76 and 95 and U.S. Highways 1 and 13. Conrail and CSX are the major railroads that serve the city and routes pass through the North, South and Central portions of Philadelphia. Two major rivers also border Philadelphia, on the East the Delaware, and on the South the Schuylkill. Many of the hazardous materials transported through the city travel the river to or from the many chemical facilities located on the rivers banks. Dangerous chemicals located in and transported through Philadelphia include sulfuric acid, ammonia, formaldehyde, ethylene oxide (which is an ether), propane, benzene, hydrochloric acid, chlorine, and a wide variety of petroleum products are manufactured, stored, and shipped through the city.

Terrorism Response

During the 1990's a new buzz word has surfaced in hazardous materials response, terrorism. Incidents at the World Trade Center in New York City and the Federal Building in Oklahoma City have brought home the dangers of terrorism to our emergency responders. Because we are the first called to all types of emergencies, firefighters and EMS personnel need to prepare for response to terrorist incidents. Although not mandated, additional training and responsibilities have once again emerged for emergency responders nationwide. This time there seems to be an abundance of Federal money available for training, but little up to this point for equipping emergency responders to deal with acts of terrorism at the community level. The Army through its Chemical & Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM) has developed Terrorism response training for emergency responders in 120 of the nations largest cities. Philadelphia is one of those cities and they have already received the training. These training courses include Responder Awareness and Operations, Incident Command, Responder Technician, and Specialized EMS Training. Captains and above in Philadelphia received the Incident Command Training. Hazardous materials team members and their back-ups received the Technician training. All other firefighters received the Responder Awareness and Operations Training and Medics received the Specialized EMS Training. On September 15-17, 1998 Philadelphia conducted a major terrorism exercise to test their response capabilities. They are currently developing a Terrorism SOP for the City. One of the potential exposures for responders to terrorism events is nerve agents. There are effective antidotes for nerve agents if they can be administered soon after exposure. Philadelphia has issued antidote kits to all of the city's companies for their personnel to be carried on their rigs. EMS units also have available to them enough antidotes for 5000 civilian casualties from nerve agent attacks.

Contact Information

Philadelphia continues to set the pace for response for all types of hazardous materials response. With support from the fire department administration, the new quarters, equipment vehicle and dedicated personnel will serve Philadelphia well into the 21st Century. For additional information or questions, contact:

Battalion Chief Joseph McGraw
Philadelphia Fire Department
HazMat Administrative Unit
5200 Pennypack Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19136
Telephone: 215-685-8061

Robert Burke, a Firehouse? contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland. 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 a veteran of 24 years in fire and emergency services, with experience in career and volunteer departments. He has attained the rank of lieutenant, assistant chief and deputy state fire marshal. 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 reached in the Internet at [email protected].

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!