No matter where you are, it seems it’s difficult to attract and retain volunteer firefighters. And get them to sign on for hazmat? Forget about it. Yet, in northeast Ohio a 19-member county-wide hazmat team is getting it done.
Part of their success comes from training often and keeping that training fresh. The recently restructured team trains two times a month as a group. That group is made up of firefighters from departments across Mahoning County who receive small stipends for their time. Each member also has access to special online and hands-on training they can complete on their own.
All team members are trained to hazardous waste operations, emergency response technicians and weapons of mass destruction technicians (OSHA 29 CFR 1910.120 and NFPA 472). They must also be certified in trench rescue and confined space rescue; many are also Emergency Medical Technicians.
But what really keeps a spark in their hazmat love comes from the relationships they have with industrial facilities within their 425-square-mile response area. The mix of manufacturing facilities, oilfields and agricultural sites allows the team frequent and, most importantly, varied training opportunities. This, team member Mike Friend says, keeps everyone engaged.
In addition to its main rig, a 2009 Spartan, the team also operates a 2001 International decon rig, a 1999 Ford box truck spill response unit, a 2020 Ford F-250 command vehicle, a 2009 Ford Expedition tow vehicle, and a mass casualty trailer.
In an area with a long history of heavy industry relying on volunteer hazmat specialists, they can ill afford to let apathy or complacency eat away at their team. Frequent and interesting training is proving key to keeping the team thriving.