Hazmat Teams Must Plan for Political Emergencies

Preparing for a range of unknown or unlikely hazmat threats is no small task. Yet, that kind of thinking and planning is necessary to ensure the team is ready when the unexpected occurs.

The same is true for those unlikely threats to the very survival of the hazmat team. As we saw in the Great Recession, a drastic fall off in tax funds will send shockwaves through emergency response services.

The recession was forecast. Some things you just don’t see coming. Take, for example, the political food fight in Florida over what’s commonly known as the “don’t say gay” bill. Pushback came from many corners, among the more notable was Disney Corporation. And lawmakers backing the bill were not seeing the magic in Disney’s stance.

Disney World has long operated as a special tax district within Florida known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a champion of the bill, struck back by announcing his intentions to do away with the special tax district effective next June.

Disney World, under the umbrella of Reedy Creek, provides fire and emergency services. And that includes an elite hazmat team that was featured on Hazmat Nation. There’s been at least one lawsuit filed already claiming the governor violated Disney’s First Amendment rights and violated the Florida Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, WFTV reported . More lawsuits are expected.

Also Read: Hazmat Team Helps Keep Magic Alive at Magic Kingdom

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings told the Orlando Sentinel that taking over Reedy Creek’s “first response and public safety components” with no new revenue would be “catastrophic” for the county’s budget. “It would put an undue burden on the rest of the taxpayers of Orange County to fill that gap,” he said

And it doesn’t take a psychic to predict that anything catastrophic to a government budget will lead to reduced operating money and probably reduced services. In such a catastrophe, would a hazmat team be on the defunding chopping block?

Your agency may never be caught, through no fault of its own, in the middle of a full-on food fight. But can you say with 100% confidence that no one in your local government will ever hurl a handful of mashed potatoes at a political opponent? Didn’t think so. Then, it is important to have at minimum a skeleton of a plan for what to do with things go sideways.

The recession from the early part of this century taught us some things worth including in a political emergency kit. Alternative funding sources is chief among them. Remember the corporate sponsor logos on fire apparatus and hydrants? Private and public funding partnerships are a real opportunity. Think of outside funding as a marriage between volunteer fire department pancake breakfasts and corporate event sponsorship marketing.

Look into establishing a nonprofit entity, such as a 501c3, if your organization doesn’t have one. You may need this entity to do fundraising and pass the donations through in the form of purchased equipment or monetary gifts.

The sad truth is that hazmat threats don’t disappear when the funding does. To survive and thrive, funding will have to be found somewhere.

Also Read: 4 Tips to Keep Your Hazmat Team from Being Cancelled

And do your best not to put a political target on your back. Sometimes the best place in a food fight is crouching under the table until the combatants have exhausted themselves.

Here’s another look at our four tips to keep your hazmat team off the political chopping block.


Stay abreast of who holds power and what their pet projects and pet peeves are. Channel your inner Godfather by keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. Engaging often with friend and foe will help you build support before it is needed and possibly head off problems while they are still small. Letting potential adversaries see you as professional, caring and human can take some of the wind out of their sails. And get people on your side who can advocate on your behalf.


Be your own best advocate. Opposition often arises out of ignorance. Keep elected and appointed officials, as well as the general public, up to date on the need for the team and its accomplishments — great and small. Use social and traditional media and word of mouth to highlight wins, team member’s individual accomplishments and incidents elsewhere that could be a threat to your community. In short, make sure people see the good that you do.


Be data driven. There will likely come a time when you need cold, hard numbers to justify your team’s worth. Build that data profile now. Track everything you do that benefits the community, and where possible, attach dollar figures to it. Calculate how much was saved in potential damage had your team not been on scene taking action. Also, find national data or data from a similarly sized community to contrast the good work your team is doing. Once you have solid data, put it in terms that is easy to digest. For example, in Muskegon County, the county’s portion of the hazmat team’s operational budget is nearly half the cost of one police officer’s base salary.


Be sure your team actually is doing good work for a good value. If there are problems with spending, staffing, training, etc., that is only known internally, fix them now. There may not be a county commissioner actively looking to shut down your team, but expect one will be coming someday soon. It is best to get your house in order before the team is put under a microscope. Getting in front of problems allows you to address them on your terms and takes away ammo for those looking to pull the plug on your team.

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