Monday, August 21, 2017

Hazardous Materials Team

Gig Harbor fire maintains 9 hazardous material technicians that participate on the larger Pierce County Hazardous Incident Team (HIT). HIT is a county team composed of responders from Central Pierce Fire and Rescue, West Pierce Fire and Rescue, Graham Fire and Rescue, East Pierce Fire and Rescue and Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One. Gig Harbor Fire maintains one response apparatus (Hazmat 59), which is capable of responding where needed and initiating entry operations on a gamut of potential hazardous material incidents. In a nutshell, members of our team enter these dangerous environments for the purpose of facilitating victim rescues, protecting the public, fire control, and stopping and containing the release of dangerous substances. Basically our job is to render any hazardous condition harmless, and we have lots of tools in our tool box to make that happen. 

What is Hazmat?

Hazmat is just a shortened way of saying ‘hazardous materials.’

 So what are hazardous materials?

Well… they’re just that—materials that are hazardous. We usually regard them as substances capable of causing harm to living tissue, the environment, or property.

 So are hazardous materials a problem?

They can be; but usually—no. Most hazardous materials are packaged or maintained in a safe state that renders them fairly harmless. So long as they stay in their container we needn’t worry too much about them.

 So when should we worry?

Well, to start, we begin worrying when a hazardous material gets out of its container—but not just that. A hazardous material also has to touch or come into contact with one of those areas described above; living tissue, the environment, or property.

 And exactly how does it do that?

There are a lot of ways hazardous materials can reach out and cause harm to the things they touch. To start, a hazardous material can be a solid, liquid or a gas. It might also attack in the form of pure energy—like gamma radiation. These physical forms of a hazardous material can ‘touch’ or cause ‘harm’ through inhalation, absorption into the body, ingestion, direct contact or injection.


Let me put it this way… A poisonous gas may cause harm when it is inhaled or allowed to absorb into the skin—cyanide works this way. Liquids may be of minimal risk, until they are suddenly ingested or permitted to absorb thru tissue—think of herbicides. Acids often attack through direct contact, and blood borne pathogens often are spread through injection—like when a medical worker accidentally gets pricked by an infected needle. Make sense?

 So what’s this got to do with the fire department?

Well sometimes these materials are stored or transported in large quantities. That means when they do escape from their containers they may be capable of impacting large areas. If that area is populated, we may have a problem. Consider an overturned chemical truck or a one ton chorine tank with a broken valve. When these events occur, people dial 911, and that goes to us—the fire department. That means it’s our job to come up with an answer.

 So tell me more about these ‘hazardous materials.’

Well the Department of Transportation likes to break them up into 9 classifications:

Gases (flammable, non-flammable, and poisonous)
Flammable Liquids
Flammable Solids
Radioactive materials
and an additional miscellaneous classification.

As this list clearly indicates; if it is capable of causing harm—then it can easily become our problem.

 Like other fire departments across the nation, Gig Harbor Fire has assembled a specialized team who in partnership with our sister departments, strive to reduce harm caused by the events described above. We do this thru continued training and preparation, as well as specialized equipment and protective clothing that allow us to make entry into hazardous environments in an effort to control the problem. We are also the first called in the wake of terrorist events and Weapons of Mass Destruction incidents. That’s right… usually we respond in the wake of large transportation incidents involving trains, container trucks or accidents in industrial plants or processes. However, we also must stay primed for the criminal act. These usually involve explosives, as well as chemical, nerve, biological and even radioactive materials.

 Surely your responders don’t act alone?

Surely not! We have plenty of help. We might find ourselves alone at the beginning of an event, but in time we might find ourselves working side-by-side with several entities to include: other fire agencies, the Pierce County Sherriff’s Department, the State Patrol, the Department of Ecology, the EPA, FEMA, the National Guard, the FBI, the DEM, Joint Base Lewis and McChord and many more. At times it can get a bit crazy. But that’s why we all stay in contact and train together regularly.

This sounds like a lot of responsibility for 9 hazardous material technicians…

That’s true—but the plan is much bigger than that. All fire responders with Gig Harbor Fire are trained to the Hazmat Operations level, which is to say that they too are trained to function at a hazmat incident—under the direction of our technicians. Together it is our goal to either mitigate the emergency event, or at least get the ball rolling in the right direction while we wait for the resources described above to arrive on scene. With the aid of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), we are capable of expanding our operation to deal with virtually any size of hazmat event—at least that’s our goal; we are still trying to come up with a plan for solar flares and asteroid impacts. We’ll keep you posted.

 But seriously. It is the goal of Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One to deal with all emergency events within its capabilities—to include hazardous material events. Through its participation with the Pierce County Hazardous Incident Team (HIT), as well as its involvement with the Pierce Special Operations Response Team (PSORT)—which deals more specifically with technical rescue matters, Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One attempts to offer the highest level of emergency response services to the citizens of the Gig Harbor community.

Committee Information

Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One is considering the proposal of a General Fire Levy Lid-lift measure for the  November 7, 2017 General Election.  As such, we are seeking members for the “For” and “Against” Committees as required by RCW 29A.32.280. Interested parties should contact Executive Assistant Danette Weyn by July 28th at 5:00 PM.


Danette Weyn
10222 Bujacich Rd. NW
Gig Harbor, WA 98332
(253) 851-3111

 Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One | 10222 Bujacich Rd. NW, Gig Harbor, WA 98332 | Phone: (253) 851-3111 Fax: (253) 851-9606 facebook twitter