Erie County’s Hazardous Materials Response Team, or Haz-Mat, is a group of highly skilled volunteers equipped to respond to all types of hazardous materials emergencies, including incidents involving poisons and poisonous gases, corrosives, flammable liquids and gases, petroleum products, radiological materials, reactive materials, biological agents and weapons of mass destruction.
The team also plays a vital role in identifying unknown substances that are released to the environment or that may present a public safety threat. Individual team members also consult with public safety officials from communities in the county as necessary for developing plans and responses to hazardous materials emergencies in their areas.
The team, which is on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, is a formally recognized county entity under the direction of Erie County Emergency Management.
The Hazardous Materials Response Team was formed in 1983 at request of the Erie County Emergency Management Agency, after it was determined that a capability to respond to incidents involving hazardous materials was required. The team, all volunteers, acquired the needed equipment and training through funding from Erie County and donations of money and equipment from area businesses and fire departments. The Erie County Hazardous Materials Response Team was one of the first teams to be certified by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
By having this certified team in place, Erie County meets its obligations under Act 165, the state’s Hazardous Material Emergency Planning and Response Act. This act, along with the Federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act and Erie County Ordinance Number 10, 1991, provide funding for the team through fees assessed to facilities who use or store hazardous materials. The team can also be reimbursed for resources expended during responses by those parties who cause a release. All specialized training, physicals, equipment, vehicles and insurance for team members are provided to the team by the county using funds generated under Act 165. Team members are protected from civil liability when responding to releases as described in Act 165.
The team is organized and operates according to its Standard Operating Guidelines. There is a president and officers for conducting normal team business and meetings, and chief and operational officers for managing emergency responses.
Each member of the team has at a minimum a background in firefighting or industrial safety, emergency operations, and the required hazardous materials courses. Each team member must also attend annual refresher training in hazardous materials response and meet the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standards for Emergency Responders for Hazardous Materials Incidents (29 CFR 1910.120) as required by Act 165.
The team is dispatched by the Erie County 911 Center. The team can be requested via radio, phone call or through a communications center. A majority of the team members will respond directly to the incident, with the remainder responding with the required equipment. The county’s Emergency Management director, or a designee, will also respond, as required by Act 165.
The Haz-Mat team operates under the Incident Command system. The team is not the incident commander, but is a branch of the response operation. Under state and federal laws, Haz-Mat can only mitigate a situation. Once the situation is under control, the team’s duties are considered complete. The team cannot remove any hazardous materials from a scene; cleanup is the responsibility of the spiller and must be done by a certified individual or company.
The team’s response is to be considered mutual aid. The team will only respond if there is a fire department, minimum one pumper, and a medical unit on scene, which are required to maintain Pennsylvania certification. Teams members must have vital statistics taken and documented by EMS personnel before and after entering a hazardous environment.