Since 1989, the Elmira Fire Department has had in service a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Level II Hazardous Materials Emergency Spill Response Team. The City of Elmira has shared service agreements with Chemung County to provide HazMat Emergency Spill Response anywhere in Chemung County. With so many industrial centers in the area such as Hardinge, Hilliard, IST, etc., the EFD HazMat Response Team plays an important role in the continued safety and security for the citizens of Elmira and Chemung County.
For more information concerning the Elmira Fire Department HazMat Response Team, contact the EFD Business Office at (607) 737-5714.
The HazMat Response Team responds with specialized vehicles and a twenty foot trailer containing decontamination equipment. Every member of the Elmira Fire Department is trained to the Hazardous Materials Technician Level or higher. Many are certified at the HazMat Specialist level.
To aid the HazMat Response Team, the Chemung County Chemical Hazard Information Team (CHIT) is available to assist the Response Team with the highly technical information needed to safely mitigate a situation. The CHIT team is made up of chemists and other scientists who work locally. The Response Team also has available specialized computer programs designed to combine vital information about local weather, local geography, and the properties of the hazardous materials involved. These resources enable the HazMat Commander on scene to make informed decisions, mitigate the problem, and prevent further contamination. HazMat calls can range from small gasoline and diesel spills to a wide variety of other dangerous toxic chemical spills.
Training in HazMat is now two fold. Firefighters not only must stay current on handling everyday industrial type chemical emergencies but the recent events of 9/11 have created a need to be prepared to protect the population in the event of terrorist type incidents both foreign and domestic. To tackle this problem the city fire department’s hazardous materials team is working with the support of county officials to develop solutions to various problems that may occur.
Classroom training makes up a large majority of HazMat training. Firefighters must understand the chemical and physical properties of substances if they are to properly handle incidents. Understanding vapor pressures, upper and lower flammable limits, flashpoints and IDLH’s can mean the difference between making it home after your shift is over or becoming a statistic. Large scale HazMat incidents are rare but when they occur the toll in life and property can be catastrophic.
Firefighters perform hands-on simulated training on a regular basis. When possible this training occurs on site where the actual problems may occur. These exercises attempt to mimic a real incident as closely as possible. In a recent simulated chlorine leak at a water treatment facility, HazMat entry teams working in level A protection had to successfully apply a one ton cylinder leak kit while in 10% visibility, zero at times. This was accomplished by the addition of a smoke generator to simulate a high vapor concentration in the work area.
Training also occurs outside the department. As part of the Homeland Security Initiative, the department is currently in the process of having its HazMat team members attend various courses in Anniston, Alabama. This is where the Department of Homeland Security’s Training Facility is located. The facility is located on Fort McClellan, where the military trained most of its chemical warfare personnel.
Take a look at the Elmira Fire Department HazMat Team during a recent training exercise:
Why is there a threat of hazardous materials? Many of the luxuries that we enjoy on a daily basis are produced with the use of hazardous chemicals. There are over one million known hazardous chemicals with 70,000 of them being regulated and transported each day in the United States. With several manufacturers and industrial centers located in Chemung County including Vulcraft, Image Sensing and Technology, Hilliard, and Airport Corporate Park, hazardous chemicals are used everyday in Chemung County. Furthermore, most of the population centers in Chemung County are located nearby railroad freight shipping lanes. Each day, trains transport hazardous chemicals through the heart of Chemung County. If any of the trains carrying hazardous chemicals were involved in an accident or derailed, the Elmira Fire Department’s HazMat Unit would be ready to respond with the proper training, equipment, knowledge, and manpower to safely and adequately bring the situation under control and mitigate the threat of the hazardous chemicals.