MCFR's hazardous materials team responded to more than 150 emergencies during the 2010-2011 fiscal year; including gas leaks, fuel spills, carbon monoxide emergencies, aircraft emergencies and many other hazmat calls. Crew members also logged more than 2,700 training hours.
The acronym B-NICE can help citizens understand and remember the capabilities of a hazardous materials team. Hazmat technicians identify Biological, Nuclear, Incendiary, Chemical and Explosive materials.
Life safety is the number one priority when responding to hazmat calls. Crew members’ first goal is to rescue patients. Then they move on to decontaminate anyone exposed to hazardous products, chemicals or materials. After that, these specialized rescuers focus on identifying the product and mitigating the hazard.
Marion County is known for its central location, farms and rapid growth. Most farm owners transport and use pesticides to grow successful crops. Additionally, hundreds of semis and tankers carrying acids, bases, corrosives and explosives drive through Marion County every day, traveling major roads such as Interstate 75, U.S. highways 27, 301 and 441, as well as State Road 40 to name a few.
If technicians respond to a hazardous materials incident on a farm or freeway and need to decontaminate a patient, crews set up a decontamination tent in the field. This enables hazmat technicians to remove contaminated clothing, rinse contaminated patients and scrub patients using a decontamination solution. The process usually takes three to eight minutes per person.
Hazmat technicians are trained to quickly identify whether a product is a solid, liquid or gas; whether it's organic or inorganic; and whether it's easily absorbed, inhaled or injected.
They can also compute the vapor pressure and molecular weight of a product to determine the "hot zone," or area most at risk. This information not only helps technicians decide whether to evacuate an area, but it also helps them provide better care to patients in the field.
Hazmat technicians are responsible for working and training with other agencies, rescuing and decontaminating patients, identifying products and mitigating hazards. For example, if a tanker truck overturns and spills hundreds of gallons of gasoline on the ground, crews will mitigate the hazard by ensuring a private contractor follows proper state and federal guidelines when cleaning up and disposing of the product. This prevents potential damage to the environment and Florida's aquifer.
MCFR's 53-foot Regional Hazardous Materials Mobile Command Center carries highly specialized tools and equipment. While this unit primarily responds to hazmat emergencies in Marion County, crews could receive orders to deploy anywhere in Florida. This unit deployed in February of 2007, when a tornado touched down in The Villages of Sumter County. Firefighters and technical rescue team members used the center as a command post. MCFR used grant money from state and federal agencies to pay for this unit.