For the past three months, the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Health Hazardous Materials Division (HHMD) has been busy with Woolsey Fire-related activities.
During the emergency phase, HHMD and Cal Fire damage inspection teams identified more than 1,300 damaged or destroyed structures that were affected by the fire. At the same time, HHMD provided staffing to the County Emergency Operations Center which was the clearing house for all Woolsey incident information.
Because of the fire’s impact, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors declared a local health emergency and the Governor’s Office declared a state of emergency. These proclamations allowed the federal and state government to fund the assessment and removal of household hazardous waste (HHW), known as the Phase I recovery effort.
HHMD staff, along with personnel and contractors from the Department of Toxic Substances and Control and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, conducted more than 1,400 HHW property assessments and removals during a two-month period.
The teams mostly removed damaged propane tanks, paints, pesticides, ammunitions, batteries, oils, pool chemicals, cleaning chemicals and visible asbestos. In one case, they discovered a garage full of radioactive sources, crystallized picric acid bottles, solvents, poisons and other exotic chemicals. The Sheriff’s Department’s bomb squad was called out to detonate the picric acid, while the Department of Public Health’s Radiation Management Team removed the radioactive sources.
In a different case, a team member was able to reunite a wedding ring found in the debris with its grateful owner!
During the post-incident phase, HHMD staff manned two disaster assistance and disaster recovery centers to assist affected residents, and also created a call center to field questions from the public. HHMD management also attended several town hall meetings to provide information and answer questions.
HHMD staff that were activated to support this incident demonstrated their flexibility and commitment to the core values of the Department.