Firefighters from Naval District Washington Station 14 at Webster Outlying Field joined members of the Ridge Volunteer Fire Department, May 17, to participate in training hosted by St. Mary’s County Hazmat Unit 18.
With a mutual aid agreement already in place with the county — which means emergency responders can lend assistance across jurisdictional boundaries when needed — the possibility of NDW and county firefighters and hazmat teams working together is high.
“NDW has its own hazmat unit to handle emergencies on base, but if an incident would be large enough that we couldn’t handle it by ourselves, they could run mutual aid,” said Webster Field Fire Captain Jason Bean. “Likewise, we also run mutual aid in the county.”
During training, the county’s hazmat team explained how they’d arrive on scene and what they’d do to mitigate an emergency. Topics covered decontamination techniques and the equipment onboard the hazmat truck that might be utilized during a hazmat incident. Such equipment might include various leak detection and gas meters, absorbents, containers to hold hazardous liquids or chemicals prior to proper disposal, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) bottles for firefighters on scene, and different levels of protective clothing that might be needed, depending on the incident, which could be anything from a small toxic spill to a nuclear power plant meltdown.
“We carry different levels of suits, from Level A [providing the highest level of respiratory and skin protection] all the way down to Level D, which is nothing more than a Tyvek suit,” Bean explained. “We need to be prepared.”
Part of that preparation is training together with partnering fire companies, which makes for an efficient and smooth operation when running calls jointly.
“We run mutual aid with Ridge every day and try to train with them as often as we can,” Bean noted. “As a volunteer fire department, they have requirements they have to take care of, so they can’t train with us all the time, but we try to get together at least bi-monthly to train together. The county hazmat unit is centrally located in Leonardtown, so we don’t see their truck quite as often and that’s why Ridge had the unit come down and invited us. It was good for us to see what they have, what they carry, and where it’s at on their truck so if we do show up, we can be of assistance to them as well. We all work together.”
Hazmat response is specialized training, requiring a combination of classroom hours and practical exercises, along with having to pass written examinations in order to earn certification.
“As you move up within your first couple years of being hired at Pax River as a firefighter, you’re expected to become a hazmat technician,” Bean said. “We train on this as part of our annual fire department requirements, but we do different hazmat drills monthly to keep our skills up.”
There are 10 firefighters assigned to Station 14 at Webster Field and all are certified hazmat technicians.