The Orange County Fire Authority came together in 1995 to address rapid growth in Southern California, and has continued to grow with its community ever since. In the 1980s, more than half of the 500,000 residents served by the department lived in unincorporated parts of the county. By 1991, more than 80 percent of the 800,000 residents lived in one of 16 cities.
Today the OCFA serves nearly 2 million people living in 23 cities. The Authority has 77 fire stations spread across its 948 square miles of coverage area. OCFA has everything you would expect in a large fire department, from logistics and operations divisions to full-blown community risk reduction and public relations arms. They run about 150,000 calls per year. That number jumps to 206,000 when mutual aid is factored in.
In 1996, OCFA brought its hazmat team online. Of the more than 1,500 OCFA staff, 100 are dedicated to the hazmat team. That team is divided into 12 members on duty per shift that are cross-staffed on three rigs on three shifts, supplemented with part-time staff. Each member is trained to the hazmat specialist level.
To keep fresh, the team has daily training briefings. They also have monthly hands-on drills. And quarterly, they train with other agencies including FBI, police and the 9th Civil Support Team. Likewise, they train with other neighboring fire department hazmat teams, such as Anaheim and Huntington Beach. These trainings will incorporate surprise drills and walk-throughs, and the team recently landed realistic CBRNE trainers to enhance realism.
One of the team’s leading accomplishments is that it now teaches its own hazmat technician series. All that focus on training is important as it will help it overcome the team’s largest challenge. Doing more work with police, SWAT teams and bomb squads is pushing them to learn and do more beyond traditional fire- and EMS-type calls. In fact, they have an investigator assigned to the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center Terrorism Unit.
To help cope with those expanded roles, the hazmat team has two KME walk-through hazmat rigs and a Freightliner support unit on order. The new rigs will slot in with their existing foam unit, drone team, WMD mass decon unit and mass casualty unit.
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