The 1980s saw an uptick in the training, equipping, preparation, and responses to hazardous materials emergencies. At that time the emphasis was on accidental transportation-related and industrial incidents. The following era, particularly after the 9/11 attacks, saw a shift to concern about the use of biological and radiological agents to intentionally inflict harm upon individuals.
One of the most public issues for Worthington and other fire departments was the number of responses to "white powder runs" following the 2002 anthrax mailings to elected and other government officials and agencies. Despite the fact that the majority of these were false alarms using unharmful materials, the heightened public awareness and paranoia made it crucial that emergency responders treat each incident as the real thing.
With the nation in armed conflict overseas, numerous individuals, de-facto organizations, and nation-states began threatening to develop and use "dirty bombs" to spread radioactive contamination over wide areas. Fire departments had to once again shift their preparedness efforts, this time to radiation detection and mass decontamination.
This variety of hazardous materials dangers has increased the need for constant training and professional development by Worthington firefighters as part of our "all-hazards" mission.
Worthington Fire & EMS is part of a regional hazardous materials organization known as the Northwest Area Strike Team (NAS-T). The founding purpose of NAS-T was to establish a resource to assist the suburban northwest Franklin County fire departments in their investigations of significant fires. Following the success of this concept, the affiliated fire chiefs decided to expand the regional resource to include response to hazardous materials emergencies.
Each of the original seven departments was assigned one of the disciplines necessary to effect a safe and cohesive response. These include field communications, foam supply, specialty EMS, decontamination, and Worthington's specialty, hazmat entry.
The role of the entry team is to don appropriate selected chemical protective clothing (CPC) and perform close-range rescue of persons and control of leaking hazardous materials within the "hot zone". This is the area closest to the actual spill and presents the highest risk to responders. The equipment used ranges from children's toy wagons (to transport leak-control and rescue gear from the truck to the scene) to highly technical monitoring and detection instruments that assist in identifying the danger levels of the leaking material.
Worthington firefighters are all trained to the "Hazmat Operations" level and a large number have gone a step further to become "Hazmat Technicians". When a hazardous materials emergency is dispatched, an officer will designate which of the on-duty personnel will man Hazmat 101, our specially equipped response vehicle.