The Fire & Rescue Branch of the California Emergency Management Agency (CAL EMA), formerly the California Office of Emergency Services, has been actively working – along with California FIRESCOPE (Firefighting Resources of California Organized for Potential Emergencies) – on a long-range program of certifying the response competency of metropolitan hazmat teams throughout the state. The basic intent of the program is to ensure that the state’s metropolitan hazmat response teams can be brought into the state Master Mutual Aid Plan for California in accordance with accepted FIRESCOPE mutual-aid response standards. Another program goal is to ensure that there is a mechanism available for local authorities to access in the event of any major incident requiring numerous additional resources when local and operational (i.e., county) hazardous-materials resources have been exhausted. The program has four (4) significant objectives, as follows:
- The establishment of training requirements, standardized and certified;
- The development of a hazardous-materials Standardized Equipment List (SEL) – which should be based on performance;
- The development of a hazmat-team “typing” concept; which should be based on the intervention capability of individual teams; and
- The institution of on-site inspections of the teams – to ensure the standardization of rules throughout the state and their compliance with those standards.
Following are brief status reports on each of those objectives:
Training Requirements: The first objective was achieved by 1989, when the California Specialized Training Institute (CSTI – a branch of CAL EMA), and the California State Fire Marshal’s Office adopted standardized training criteria for a four-week/160-hour Hazardous Materials Technician (HMT) course, and a six-week/240-hour Hazardous Materials Specialist (HMS) course. The lesson plans for the courses were developed gradually over a five-year period; a driving criterion was to ensure that they met or exceeded the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) Standard #472: Standard for Professional Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials Incidents.
Standardized Equipment List: It was considered particularly important to ensure the standardization of the equipment normally carried by a hazmat response team. But there were two complications: (1) There was a significant variance from team to team in regards to certain intervention capabilities; and (2) There was a parallel variance in the adherence to industry and safety standards or requirements with regard to the purchase of specific items. Nonetheless, the development of a Standardized Equipment List was essential to standardize the equipment inventory of all hazmat teams throughout the state. The SEL was divided into 13 different sections – based on anticipated use and/or performance of the tools and equipment – as follows: 1. Field Testing and Detection; 2. Air Monitoring; 3. Sampling; 4. Radiation Monitoring and Detection; 5. Chemical Protective Clothing; 6. Ancillary Protective Equipment; 7. Technical Reference; 8. Special Capabilities; 9. Intervention (Mechanical, Chemical, and Environmental); 10. Decontamination; 11. Communications; 12. Respiratory Protection; and 13. Tools, General Purpose and Hand.
Each SEL criteria section is carefully defined. Within each section the appropriate tools or equipment are listed numerically and are further defined individually. Minimum units or quantities are specified. If there is an appropriate standard that applies to a specific tool, it is indicated in a separate column (in the accompanying table) marked “Certification or Standard.” For example, many of the individual items listed in the Chemical Protective Clothing section must meet specified certifications. Vapor protective clothing, for example, must meet NFPA Standard #1991, liquid splash-protective clothing must meet NFPA Standard #1992, and safety helmets must meet ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards.
Adoption of the SEL was achieved by 2003; the latest (2009) edition is now posted on the FIRESCOPE web site. An example of how inventory items are listed is shown in the table below.
Team Typing: FIRESCOPE provides the criteria by which all of the state’s fire, rescue, and hazardous-materials resources are typed. This is an important factor during operations in which any of the state’s emergency-response agencies participates within the California Mutual Aid Plan. The request by CAL EMA for the mobilization of specific apparatus from metropolitan agencies varies: (a) first, in accordance with the specific apparatus (pumper, grass units, hazmat teams, etc.); and then (b) by type (types 1, 2, 3, etc.). The typing itself is dependent on the “intervention capability” of individual teams. The development of a tiered-typing scheme for hazardous-materials units permitted a three-tier system to be created, after which the intervention-capability standards were developed for each of the 13 “criteria” sections (paralleling the SEL). (Not incidentally, the California team-typing concept has been modeled by the federal government’s National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the National Mutual Aid Resource Typing Group.) The intervention capabilities required for each team in each tier are as follows:
(a) Type 3 Haz-Mat Team: This team basically meets the minimum training criteria established for a hazardous materials technician, and is equipped to intervene in any incident involving liquids and/or powders, but the intervention is limited to known chemicals only. The team’s equipment inventory is therefore noted accordingly (to match its minimum intervention capabilities). Team staffing for statewide-activated mutual-aid purposes is five members.
(b) Type 2 Haz-Mat Team: This team, an upgrade from Type 3, must meet the minimum training criteria established for a hazardous materials specialist. The equipment inventory required of a Type 2 team is based upon a higher level of intervention capability, including: (1) any incident situation involving gases or vapors; and (2) encompassing any and all unknown chemicals. Team staffing for statewide-activated mutual-aid purposes is five members.
(c) Type 1 Haz-Mat Team: This team, an upgrade from Type 2, must meet the minimum training criteria established for a hazardous materials specialist, but also must have a minimum of 16 additional hours of specialized WMD/CBRN (weapons of mass destruction/chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) training. The equipment inventory required of a Type 1 team is based on the highest level of intervention – which now includes WMD/CBRN chemicals. Team staffing for statewide-activated mutual-aid purposes is seven members.
As is evident in the previous table, the SEL also indicates, in separate columns, whether a specified equipment item is required for each of the three types of teams. A separate Team Typing Chart categorizes all 13 criteria components. A portion of one section, “Field Testing,” of those criteria is shown below.
On-Site Inspections: Participation in the California Mutual Aid System by all emergency-response organizations is voluntary. However, during times of major emergencies or declarations of disasters, if an agency is asked if it can provide apparatus, it must conform to the criteria and team-typing status spelled out above.
To ensure that hazmat teams in California do meet the team-typing requirements, metropolitan fire departments and other participating agencies are encouraged to submit “Letters of Request” for an inspection. The Hazardous Materials Section of the Fire & Rescue Branch then arranges for an inspection date. On that date, a team of four inspectors visits the agency and inspects all equipment that should be on hand for the team-typing level requested; there are 252 inventory items required for a Type 1, 223 items for a Type 2, and 179 items for a type 3.
Adherence to federal NFPA, ASTM, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), and/or EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) industry standards is also verified. If the unit (and agency) passes the inspection, a congratulatory letter is sent to the chief of the department. The specified unit is then noted as meeting the minimum requirements of hazmat team typing, and various databases within CAL EMA are amended. When these units are added to the databases, they are considered to be voluntarily making themselves available to respond to a potential request for mobilization statewide.
Now that the Haz-Mat Team Typing inspection process is under way, a total of 17 hazmat teams have achieved a team-typing certification. They are shown in the table above. It is estimated that there are approximately 90 hazardous-materials response-team programs operational in California. The goal is to ensure that as many as possible of these teams are brought up to speed with a standardized equipment list, inspected, their typing status certified, and the teams become operational components of the CAL EMA Fire & Rescue Mutual Aid System. The Mutual Aid System itself will benefit, of course, by having these metropolitan hazardous materials resources available for state activation and mobilization in the event of disasters, declared emergencies, and/or at any other time when all local hazmat resources are exhausted.
If and when – through local mutual-aid support – all local hazmat resources are exhausted but additional resources are still needed, the State Mutual Aid System can be activated by the on-scene Incident Commander (IC), who would issue a request through normal dispatch procedures – and in accordance with the guidelines set forth in the California Mutual Aid Plan – for the specific number and types of hazardous-materials resources required. There is general agreement that the gradual expansion of the state’s Mutual Aid System in recent years will not only significantly augment California’s resource-mobilization capabilities but also might serve as a useful model that other emergency-response organizations and agencies throughout the United States may want to emulate.
Addendum (13 December 2017): Since this article was written, Cal EMA has merged with the Office of Public Safety Communications and been renamed the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). The current California Fire Service and Rescue Emergency Mutual Aid Plan was revised in December 2014. Updated information regarding California’s team typing efforts can be found on the CalOES Team Typing Information page.
Jan Dunbar, a former division chief of Special Operations of the Sacramento City Fire Department, retired from the department in 1999. During his 33-year career he was instrumental in developing the first hazmat response team concept for Sacramento, one of the first on the west coast. He was an original member of the National Fire Protection Association’s Standards Committee on Chemical Protective Clothing. He also was a member, for over 25 years, of the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Hazardous Materials Committee. Immediately after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the then-California Office of Emergency Services brought him on board as a consultant on issues involving hazardous materials and terrorism preparedness. He has been working on the Haz-Mat Team Typing project for the past five years.