The LAFD has four hazmat task forces geographically distributed throughout the city. Station 21 is centrally located and staffed with a full-time hazmat squad. Station 21’s task force has Engine 21, Engine 221, Truck 21, Squad 21 and RA 21. Squad 21 is the only fully dedicated hazmat rig; the others are flexibly staffed.
Stations 48, 87 and 95 are each staffed with flex hazmat squads. In addition, the LAFD has six fire stations trained and equipped to provide technical decontamination.
LAFD calls its hazmat program a long-time pioneer in the nation’s hazardous materials emergency discipline. This includes many innovative solutions in training, operations and equipment. For example, the CBRNE unit is housed at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hazardous Devices, with the bomb squad. Together they comprise the Joint Hazard Assessment Team — LAFD and police officers specially trained and equipped for multi-hazard and complex hazmat incidents.
The team got its start in the 1970s. After several significant incidents, the chief engineer saw the need to add an additional company or two to handle all hazards but specialize in hazardous materials. In one of those incidents, several firefighters were injured due to chemical exposures. By the 1980s, it had grown to three dedicated hazmat units throughout the city.
Today, the task force finds itself in an ever-changing world of hazardous materials’ hazards. The biggest challenge they now face is the increased accessibility to synthetic opioids, more so than any chemical issues.
Getting around that issue is like most other issues — learn and train.
At Task Force 21, the motto is “every day is training day.” Having motivated people that want to know their job makes setting up training whether scheduled or impromptu easy. The core unit trains daily and brings in other divisions and departments when possible.