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Developing regional haz-mat teams

Examining what three provinces have in place for hazardous materials incidents

December 7, 2007 

8In an effort to improve province-wide hazardous material response capabilities, several provinces have set up regional haz-mat response teams. Fire Fighting in Canada surveyed the provinces of Manitoba, New Brunswick and Ontario for a sampling of what is in place in different jurisdictions.

Some weaknesses in response capabilities were discovered by these provinces after the events of 9/11. The haz-mat threats are not restricted to just manufactured acts of terror, but may include the more common occurrence of incidents related to transportation of hazardous goods along highways, railways or by air.

All teams surveyed are trained to the NFPA 472 Standard for Professional Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials Incidents 1997 Edition. Training is conducted on a regular basis, with teams required to maintain their NFPA 472 standing. Equipment carried includes protective suits; chemical, biological and radiological detection equipment; communications equipment, decon-tamination equipment and supplies.

Local fire departments continue to be the first line of defence for the public in hazardous materials incidents. Local fire fighters who arrive on scene and find an incident beyond their capabilities may request the response of the provincial team.


A provincial initiative, coordinated by the Office of the Fire Commissioner was undertaken in 2003 to develop better capabilities. Prior to 2003, the City of Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service was the only formally trained haz-mat team in Manitoba.  A provincial CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) response team was formed in 2005.

“The purpose of setting up teams was to provide a tiered response, based on the severity of the incident,” said Shirley Dufresne, an emergency services officer with the OFC in Manitoba. “Currently, Operations teams are trained to provide mainly defensive actions until the Technician team arrives. Technician teams are called out to Level 2 and Level 3 incidents, while most Level 1 incidents would be mitigated by operations teams.”

Mutual Aid Districts and Northern Training Districts in Manitoba have 223 members within 17 districts which may be called on at the Operations level, and these resources are able to mitigate most incidents. For Haz-Mat Technician level responses, the team consists of members from the Office of the Fire Commissioner, the Brandon Fire Dept., the Shilo Fire Dept. and Thompson Fire & Emergency Services.

For the most serious of incidents, the CBRN Team draws its members from the OFC, the Brandon Fire Dept., Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, and the Brandon and Winnipeg Police Services.

There are two Technician level teams located in the north and west of the province. Future plans include the development of a third response team in the east. These teams are equipped with all equipment required for the mitigation of major incidents. Operations level teams are equipped to provide support to Technician teams, and to mitigate minor incidents.
The Manitoba Emergency Services College has three full-time hazardous materials instructors. These instructors are also active members of the provincial Technician and CBRN teams.

Andy Glynn is a Program Specialist in the Emergency Management & Response unit (EMR) with the Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM) in Ontario. “As a result of the challenges emanating from 9/11,” he said, “Ontario provincial chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear teams were developed with the goal of ensuring that competent multi-disciplinary teams were available on a province-wide basis to respond to large scale natural and/or human caused emergencies in a planned, co-ordinated and timely way.”

These teams provide support to municipalities in the event that the local response capacity is exceeded, or where the municipality requests support from the province. The Level 3 CBRN teams have been operational since 2002, and Level 2 CBRN teams were added to the roster in 2003 and 2004. Level 3 Technician teams are funded annually through a provincial grant program. The provincial government supports Level 2 teams by providing needed CBRN equipment and supports operations of the team primarily in the role of decontamination. Emergency Management Ontario (EMO) is responsible for the operational costs associated with an approved response of the CBRN teams.

CBRN teams are staffed by fire fighters from the host communities. Level 3 teams operate with 12 fire fighters each trained as a minimum to the NFPA 472 Technician level, and are located in Ottawa, Toronto and Windsor. Level 2 teams operate with eight fire fighters each, trained to the NFPA 472 Operations level. These teams represent the municipalities of Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, Peterborough, Cornwall and the Waterloo Region consisting of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo.

As part of the Memorandum of Understanding agreements signed between the province and each team, members of the Level 2 and Level 3 teams meet annually at the Ontario Fire College (OFC) in order to conduct CBRN training and evaluation sessions. These sessions are co-ordinated and organized by the OFM Emergency Management and Response Unit, and include the participation of the Ontario Provincial Police, Muskoka EMS and EMO.

In 2004, the OFC began offering IFSAC-accredited Hazardous Materials Operations courses, and in 2005 received IFASC and PROBoard accreditation for the delivery of hazardous materials technician courses.

Many of the Level 3 teams were already in place prior to the provincial initiative to provide province-wide capabilities. These units have similar up-to-date equipment purchased by each individual fire department. The annual CBRN training gives these teams the opportunity to share information on these technologies.

Level 2 teams were each equipped with standardized response equipment by the province, including protective clothing, a radiation monitor, gas detection equipment, chemical agent monitor, an inflatable tent/shelter and equipment to support two decontamination lines.

New Brunswick
The province is in the process of establishing five teams to, “ensure that we have specialized resources in the province to deal with Hazardous Materials incidents which exceed the capability of local fire departments,” said Catherine Richard, media relations co-ordinator for the Department of Public Safety in New Brunwick. The provincial plan will ensure, “timely access to properly trained and equipped teams to ensure the safety of the public.”

The first “heavy” team was established in 2004 and is staffed jointly by the Fredericton and Oromocto fire departments. A second “heavy” team will become operational in Saint John in 2006. Three remaining teams will become operational in Bathurst, Moncton and Edmundston once the sponsoring fire departments are satisfied that their personnel have been fully trained. These three will be set up as “light” teams.

Light teams will respond with a minimum of four fire fighters, trained to the NFPA 472 technician level. These teams will be responsible for establishing communications with local officials, evaluating the situation and establishing safe perimeters, and will communicate with the incoming heavy team if they are required.

A heavy team will respond with a minimum of 12 NFPA 472 technicians. All five teams will be equipped with identical provincially provided trailers, each carrying the same equipment. Training is provided by the Department of Post Secondary Education and Training, and ensures all technicians are trained to the NFPA 472 standard. Initial start up costs were $1,300,000 in partnership with the federal government. The provincial government is providing over $400,000 per year in funding to cover equipment, training and development costs.

Each host department will sign, or has signed a Memorandum of Understanding which among other operating parameters, may include the cost of backfilling fire fighter positions when the hazardous materials unit has to respond outside of the host city.W

Andrew Sanojca is a regular contributor to Fire Fighting In Canada and a Captain with Musquash (N.B.) Fire Rescue.

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