Nearly 20 years old, the Kalamazoo County HazMat Team protects Southwestern Michigan. Spread across their 580 square miles, lives more than 265,000 residents.
Purportedly Kalamazoo means “the mirage or reflecting river,” which is appropriate give that the county has 19 square miles of water — the Kalamazoo River has posed hazmat threat. In 2010 the Enbridge Energy pipeline leaked more than 1 million gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in the county that borders it on the east. In addition, it has major highways and railways.
The team originally formed in 2004 only covering the city of Kalamazoo. However, area fire chiefs knew a specialized hazmat team was needed outside city limits, and the team was expanded to cover the entire county.
Because the team comprises members from different fire departments, monthly trainings can be difficult. Those departments are meant to pay their people for time spent working with the hazmat team. However, some department budgets don’t always support additional training, so they tap into county emergency management funds often.
In fact, being able to operate at technician level with a very limited budget is one of the things the team is most proud of. They are also proud of being able to respond often to help mutual-aid partners. Much of that is due to their training often with diverse fire departments and other response groups.
One such group housed in a neighboring county is the National Guard 51st Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team. That 22-person team has members with 450 to 2,400 hours of hazmat training with the purpose “to provide military unique capabilities, expertise and technologies to assist state governors (to) prepare for and respond to CBRNE incidents. Team must complement and enhance (not duplicate) state CBRNE response capabilities.”