Hazardous Materials Teams Train Together to Improve Response

By February 17, 2015LACoFD News

In an effort to be proactive, Hazardous Materials (HM) teams within and adjoining the County of Los Angeles have been planning to meet and train together. They all recognize the potential for a major hazardous materials incident, such as terrorism, that would require more resources than any one agency can handle. Fire Captain Tony Duran credits the Department’s HM Team members for the idea, as it was suggested prior to his arrival into his position as Hazardous Materials Coordinator in April 2014.

The multi-agency collaboration has begun with recent meetings between our Department and Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), Santa Fe Springs, Vernon, Burbank, Ventura County, Torrance, Ontario, Anaheim, Downey Fire Departments, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the 9th Civil Support Team (USA-Reserve/ANG).

“We are entering the grassroots effort with many future meetings in the planning stages,” says Duran.

Duran and Fire Captain Greg Hitchcock have been collaborating with neighboring HM units to compare equipment and experiences. Meetings through the FIRESCOPE HM subcommittee involve sharing ideas, such as recognizing the potential for a HM incident in jurisdictions that have little to no HM response capability. FIRESCOPE has developed a “typing” format to allow any agency to request a “typed” HM team to deploy to their region for assistance. This process would be identical when agencies request “Type I or II engine” companies for wildland incidents.

“Occasionally HM teams are requested to incidents that overwhelm local resources.  The concept of FIERSCOPE is simply a plan for agencies to help each other out,” says Fire Captain Brad Haldeman of the Orange County Fire Authority. “Regional training is necessary to evaluate the compatibility of equipment and to ensure that mutual aid responders are qualified to meet the needs of the incident objectives. The advantages of training with a variety of departments provide opportunities for fresh ideas among responders and operational consistency on calls.”

Duran hopes to schedule future drills and exercises with all agencies involved so that when the teams meet on an incident they will understand each other’s procedures and strengths. Improving relationships and building a working rapport with all agencies to facilitate the inevitable disaster that requires a multi-jurisdictional response is just as important.

“The recent meeting with Ventura and LACoFD HazMat teams was instrumental in continuing to build strong working relationships between our neighboring agencies,” says Fire Captain/HazMat Specialist Stan Ziegler of the Ventura County Fire Department. His colleague, Firefighter/HazMat Specialist Aimin Alton also shared his recent experience regarding the benefits of the collaboration that was in display during the Mission Incident in Santa Paula that occurred last November:

“When assigned to an Air Monitoring team at a High Risk Facility directly downwind of the incident, I  heard that LA County HazMat was requested. A quick text message confirmed that Task Force 150 and HazMat Captain Duran were on their way up. Captain Duran is known to many of our HazMat Technicians and Specialists,” he says. “Some of our personnel have taken classes with him at HazMat Continuing Challenge in Sacramento and the Crude Oil by Rail Class at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center in Pueblo, Colorado. He’s also taken some classes here.  When Task Force 150 showed up at the facility, I recognized about half of the team as having helped teach my HazMat Specialist class at Del Valle. This in itself was reassuring. Having that facial recognition without a doubt helped ease the transfer of assignments between our teams.”

Later that day Task Force 150 was sent into Oxnard to evaluate some possibly contaminated vehicles and belongings that had traveled from the original site while our Regional Ventura County Team was working the original location. Also, that same day, another unrelated hazardous materials call was received in the Thousand Oaks area and a Los Angeles City HazMat team came in and provided Mutual Aid.

“That day alone, we had HazMat teams from the Naval Base Ventura County Fire and Rescue, LACoFD, LAFD, Oxnard City Fire, Ventura City Fire and Ventura County Fire all working multiple incidents in our County. It’s not hard to imagine a how a HazMat incident could become increasingly dynamic and require the efforts of many teams throughout Southern California. Familiarity between our teams helps strengthen the collaborative spirit, which helps us do our jobs better and safer,” says Alton.

The recent hazardous materials training involving the use of live ammonia held this past January at the Del Valle Regional Training Center invited many of the agencies mentioned above. Teams were able to network with other jurisdictional teams during this training. Duran also highlighted a previous railroad disaster drill, where Task Force 105 worked with OCFA HazMat Task Force to mitigate a simulated railroad derailment with leaking Bakken crude oil.

There are many more training sessions planned, including the 9th Civil Support Team and HMTF 105 in April. Another involves railroad training with the Burlington Northern – Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway, to which Duran has invited other HM teams to take advantage of the opportunity coming up in March.

“My vision is that each of the teams will become comfortable enough with each other to act seamlessly at a major disaster involving hazardous materials to quickly and effortlessly control and mitigate the hazards for the safety of the public, to themselves and each other,” says Duran.