Since 1985 the Fresno Fire Department has been steadily building out its hazmat team. And for good cause.
The 300-square-mile city has more than a half million people exposed to various chemicals moved across two rail lines and four highways that intersect the city. Fresno has a diverse and unique population with hazmat response calls ranging from a large agricultural response, industrial calls and even a large fuel tank farm that services the entire central valley.
Originally the team was a small group of 27 members trained and working out of Station 1. The team was expanded with the help of homeland security funding, which increased staffing to 75 and adding a second station, each housing a hazmat rig. Station 2 houses a mass decontamination trailer.
In 2018 the team received a Type II hazmat apparatus from the state Office of Emergency Response (Cal OES), which came with funding to train 17 additional personnel. The team also deploys with Cal OES as part of the state master mutual aid system.
The team trains at least once a month and as often as possible to review policies, procedures and any specialty equipment. Since so many of the department’s firefighters are cross trained for hazmat, the team is available 24/7. Training often means getting out to do site walk-throughs to pre-incident plan potential target hazards in the region. They also do realistic scenario-based trainings with the USAR and ARFF team.
One of the team’s proudest moments was when it obtained the equipment and training necessary to become a Cal OES Type I hazmat team. But, as with any victory, a team cannot rest too long on its laurels. The biggest worry that keeps them awake at night is securing the financial resources to increase staffing and to keep pace with the technical advances in equipment.
That hazmat team buildout that began in 1985 is very much an ongoing effort today.