In this day and age the Fire Department not only puts out fires and responds to emergency medical calls. Our changing times require firefighters to train for a wide variety of services. Hazardous materials (haz-mat) incidents involving the release of dangerous chemicals, nuclear or biological agents that could cause the loss of life, destruction of property, or harm to the environment must be dealt with. The York County Department of Fire and Life Safety Hazardous Materials Response Team (Haz-Mat) was founded in 2005. The Haz-Mat team is a group of firefighters and staff who have specialized training in the prevention and mitigation of incidents involving hazardous materials. Preparation is a key factor because the job requires highly specialized clothing and equipment along with the knowledge of safe containment, decontamination and disposal in order to work with these events in a safe manner for both the public and for our Haz-Mat responders.
The Haz-Mat team has been extensively trained and equipped to respond to the threat and/or deployment of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as well as fixed facility and transportation incidents involving the release or potential release of hazardous materials. The certified hazardous materials technicians who make up the team include firefighters, firefighter/medics and company officers. Many of these team members are certified as hazardous materials specialists with advanced training in hazardous materials that bring various skills to the team. The Haz-Mat team is operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week and not only responds to calls within York County, but also to other localities upon request and has been requested to assist the regional hazardous materials response team located in the adjacent City of Newport News.
A minimum of five Haz-Mat team members are on duty at all times. In addition, the department has additional firefighters certified as hazardous materials technicians who are not currently assigned to the Haz-Mat team. These firefighters are available for assignment to the team if needed. The most common types of calls the York County Department of Fire and Life Safety Haz-Mat team responds to involve transportation incidents including but not limited to; gasoline spills, chemical spills, and chlorine and vapor leaks. Common household calls often involve inappropriate mixing of cleaning chemicals, BBQ grill propane tanks and natural or propane gas leaks in pipes or appliances.
The Haz-Mat team is outfitted with a utility truck and trailer to store and transport the equipment and protective clothing, suits, gear tools and equipment necessary to mitigate hazardous materials emergencies. The York County Department of Fire and Life Safety posses the capability and equipment to decontaminate, treat and transport victims of radiological, chemical and/or biological exposures.
The Haz-Mat Team also works with several local, regional and federal agencies to develop protocols for different types of hazardous material emergencies. These multi-agency partnerships have been strengthened to foster interagency knowledge, as well as to develop an understanding of what each agency's role is in an emergency situation. It is through these partnerships that York County has partnered with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to serve as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s hazardous materials training site. The site includes classrooms and multiple props that provide “real-world” conditions and situations in controlled environments.
When not responding to or training for hazardous materials emergencies, the members of the Haz-Mat team staff an Advanced Life Support (ALS) equipped engine and an ALS ambulance and respond to standard fire and medical emergencies.