Many smaller jurisdictions cannot afford to maintain this capability for incidents that are few and far between. Equipment is expensive to purchase and maintain. Obtaining a Hazardous Materials Technician certification takes a solid month between the Hazardous Materials Technician and Chemistry for Hazardous Materials Response courses. Firefighters may be required to travel to obtain these courses, placing financial strain upon their jurisdictions. For these reasons and many more, North Carolina has the Hazardous Materials Regional Response Teams.
The North Carolina Hazardous Materials Regional Response Teams were created in 1995 by an act passed by the North Carolina Legislature. The original six teams were supplemented by the addition of a seventh team headquartered with the Charlotte Fire Department several years later. All seven teams function under the auspices of North Carolina Emergency Management. The Regional Response Teams (RRT’s) are designed to provide a regional response capability to hazardous materials incidents and are available to jurisdictions that lack hazardous materials response capabilities and as an additional resource to jurisdictions that do.
The program is currently funded by Tier II Report fees filed by hazardous materials manufacturers and users. All RRT responses are provided at NO cost to local jurisdictions. The cost of the response of the RRT — and any additional costs incurred by local jurisdictions — is the responsibility of the responsible party. Cost recovery is just one component of the incident response that is handled by the RRT. Even though all RRTs have their own first due territories, all RRTs back up each other and respond statewide when and if necessary.
Like all First Responders, the RRTs are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. RRTs are available for incident response, equipment displays, general consultation and training drills, exercises, classes, etc.
RRT 1 is headquartered with Williamston Fire and Rescue and covers the northeastern corner of the state. RRT 2 is headquartered with the Wilmington Fire Department and covers the southeastern corner of the state. RRT 3 is headquartered with the Fayetteville Fire Department and covers the southeastern Piedmont. RRT 4 is headquartered with the Raleigh Fire Department and covers the northeastern Piedmont. RRT 5 is headquartered with the Greensboro Fire Department and covers the northwestern Piedmont. RRT 6 is headquartered with the Asheville Fire Department and covers the western areas of the state. The newest team, RRT 7, is headquartered with the Charlotte Fire Department and covers the southwestern Piedmont. Please view the map to see what RRT covers your jurisdiction.
Requesting an RRT for an Incident Commander is as simple as a civilian requesting a fire department or EMS response by dialing 911. In this case, all you have to do is call the North Carolina Emergency Operations Center at 800-858-0368. The NCEOC is staffed 24/7/365 just like your local 911 center. Initiating a request for assistance will generate a conference call between the EOC Operator, the local Incident Commander (or the person calling for assistance) and a representative of the appropriate RRT. A series of questions will be asked — just like calling 911. You do not need to have answers for every question, but the more information you have, the better able the RRT will be able to determine what resources need to be deployed.
Among the information needed is the name and phone number of the person requesting state assistance, the on-scene agency’s contact names, titles and/or ranks, phone numbers and radio frequencies, (all RRT’s are equipped to talk to the agencies in their jurisdictions via radio), and the name of the facility or shipper involved in the incident. Many facilities and shippers have their own hazardous materials resources that they can deploy to the incident.
- What is the nature of incident?
- Is it a fixed facility, highway, rail, water incident or a combination of the above? What are the incident conditions?
- Does it involve a leak, spill, vapor cloud, fire, container overpressure or a combination of the above?
- What is the name and what are the known properties of the chemicals or products involved?
This information can be found through several sources such as Safety Data Sheets (SDS’s), shipping papers, on-site personnel, UN Numbers, placards and any other visual information that may be available.
- Do you have the ability to fax or email a site plan of the incident location, all relevant Safety Data Sheets or any pre-plan information that you may have?
- What kind of container type is involved? Is it a rail car, tractor trailer, intermodal container, storage tank, pipeline or is more than one container involved?
- What is the container size (approximate dimensions, volume / capacity, etc.)?
- Also, what is the container condition? Is it structurally stable? What is its current orientation?
- Where is the leak and how big is it?
- How Much Product Are We Dealing With?
- What is the approximate amount of product (total)? What is the approximate amount of product released?
- What is the approximate amount of product still in the container?
Is this a rescue situation? Depending on the product involved, structural PPE may give you enough protection to perform a rescue.
- Are there any injuries? If so, what type of injuries are we dealing with?
- How many people have been injured? (Could this be a Mass Casualty Incident?)
- Are there any fatalities? If so, how many?
- What are the local medical capabilities in your area — Basic Life Support vs. Advanced Life Support?
- What is your proximity to the nearest trauma or burn centers?
- What medevac capabilities are available?
What actions have been taken prior calling for the RRT? These actions could have been taken by local First Responders of facility personnel and include, but are not limited to extinguishment, containment, confinement, evacuation, isolation and decontamination. (If so, what kind?)
What are the local weather conditions such as wind direction and speed, temperature, and humidity? Is it sunny, cloudy or clear? Is there any rain, snow, sleet, etc.? Is there a product inversion? (This is a function of temperature, humidity and the properties of the product involved where the product will rise into the atmosphere and then stop as if it has just hit a glass ceiling.)
Finally, what is the apparent cause of the incident? (This is not meant to be part of the accident investigation or to find fault, merely to give the RRT and idea of what they are getting into.)
- What is the approximate time that the incident started?
- What is the location of the incident and directions on how to get there?
- What type of assistance is the local agency requesting?
- Is it advice, an RRT Alert or a full RRT response?
There are three levels of RRT responses and each of the three levels is further broken down into sub-levels. A I Alpha response is merely a telephone advisory. A I Bravo response is a two-person on-site advisory team while a I Charlie is a two-person on-site analysis to determine if a higher response level is needed. A II Alpha response is two to four people for product identification or small incident mitigation. A II Bravo response is six to eight people for moderate incident mitigation. A III Alpha response is eight to 12 people for large incident mitigation while a III Bravo response involves multiple RRT’s responding to the incident.
All members of an RRT are certified as Hazardous Materials Technicians with many certified as Hazardous Materials Specialists — some in more than one area. All members of an RRT are mandated by the contract with the state to attend at least 48 hours of Hazardous Materials Continuing Education each year.
When the RRT arrives on scene, it is there for one reason and one reason only. That reason is to handle the hazardous materials portion of the incident. It is not there to assume command, nor is it there to kick the local responders off of the incident. The RRT will fall under the local Incident Commander, forming the HazMat Branch on the ICS chart.
The RRT will need some assistance from the local First Responders when it arrives on scene. That assistance will vary depending on the products involved, complexity of the incident, etc. Some examples of assistance include an Engine Company to supply water and personnel for the Decontamination Corridor, staffing to assist in non-Hazardous Materials Technician functions such as decontamination activities, diking, diverting, rehab, evacuation, etc. and Advanced Life Support personnel for medical monitoring and standby. A liaison to assist the RRT in getting materials locally would also be highly beneficial. These materials could include foam, sand, heavy equipment, lights, food and water, bathroom facilities, etc.
Please utilize the RRT’s as much as you need them. They are a state resource that is available to you at all hours of the day or night. Help is literally just a phone call away.
Until next time, make sure that you and all of your personnel go home well.
Mark Schmitt is a Captain/HazMat Specialist for the Greensboro Fire Department assigned to the Foam/ARFF Task Force and a veteran of 25 years in the fire service. The majority of his career has been spent in Special Operations. He holds a Master of Public Administration in Emergency Management and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. He has taught numerous hazardous materials courses for the Greensboro Fire Department, local community colleges and the North Carolina Office of the State Fire Marshal in addition to serving as a contract instructor with the National Fire Academy.