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Emergency Response

Hazardous Materials Response Team

Hazardous Materials personnel, in conjunction with City and County Firefighters, respond to hazardous materials incidents, assist the County District Attorney in the investigation of environmental crimes, and respond to illegal hazardous waste disposal complaints. Releases of hazardous materials and/or waste occur in San Bernardino County on a daily basis. Many of these releases are confined to a small area, do not pose a public health threat, and are easily mitigated by the responsible party.

Other times, hazardous materials incidents are more extensive, releasing hazardous materials into surrounding areas, threatening groundwater, closing transportation corridors, or contributing to fires or explosions. These require more extensive emergency response.

Emergency response teamBy definition, any hazardous material has the potential to become a threat if released into the workplace or the environment. In San Bernardino County, hazardous material incidents are handled by the San Bernardino County Interagency Response Team, which is composed of Hazardous Materials Specialists from the County and participating City Fire Agencies.

Hazardous material response requires highly trained personnel and expensive, specialized equipment. Initial training for emergency responders can exceed 200 hours of instruction in chemistry, hazard analysis, risk assessment, personal protection and safety, and the use of monitoring equipment. Public Health and Environmental concerns necessitate the presence of educated, trained environmental health professionals. Personnel, training, and equipment costs are considerable. Specially outfitted vehicles can range in cost from $50,000 to $250,000 or more. It is cost prohibitive for most jurisdictions to establish their own comprehensive Hazardous Materials Response Team.

In 1984 a regional Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Team was formed in San Bernardino County. The program was started through a joint effort of the San Bernardino County Fire Chiefs Association, The San Bernardino County Department of Environmental Health Services (DEHS), and the County Communications Center. The original team included six Environmental Health Specialists from DEHS and thirty firefighters from 15 fire jurisdictions. The agreement called for vehicles, equipment and training to be provided by DEHS and/or State Grants while the participating fire jurisdictions would make in-kind contributions of personnel.

From 1984 to present the team has grown to over 100 personnel, all trained to the State Fire Marshal approved Hazardous Material Specialist level, and nineteen equipped response vehicles, three of which were provided in whole or in part by cities or districts. The 12 Environmental Health Specialists on the Team are now employees of the San Bernardino County Fire Department. The Cities of Ontario, Chino, Montclair, Rancho Cucamonga, and Upland have formed a joint powers authority for purposes of enhancing their response capability, but the JPA still participates in the County Interagency Response Team.

Emergency response teamThe County is divided into three geographic regions for the purpose of deploying Hazmat trained fire service personnel and vehicles and equipment in close proximity to any incident. Dispatch of the San Bernardino County Interagency Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Team is done through the County Communications Center. Private citizens can call complaints into 1.800.33TOXIC. As with all other emergencies, hazmat spills which may endanger life or property should be called into 9.1.1 in addition to legally required notifications.

Chemical Information

As part of the Fire Department's effort to prevent, prepare for, and respond to
emergencies of all types, the Emergency Response program gathers and distributes facility inventory and information describing the properties and hazards of chemicals.

The following sources of facility information are used for emergency response and planning:

1) California Accidental Release Prevention (CalARP) Program ‐ In addition to developing accident prevention programs at specific facilities, this CUPA program generates accident scenarios and other information that can be useful in planning for releases of hazardous materials.

2) Business Emergency/Contingency Plan ‐ This CUPA program is designed to gather the information regarding the hazardous materials stored at a facility for purposes of planning and preparing for emergencies at fixed facilities in the County.

Hazard Identification

Hazardous materials response is a discipline that is mastered through information management. The initial actions at an incident must be taken quickly but with careful consideration of how the chemical will behave under the release conditions which occur at the scene. Hazmat emergencies can involve a virtually infinite number of chemicals and chemical combinations, and occur under a wide variety of circumstances, from industrial facilities, to highway or railroad incidents, to illegal activities such as clandestine drug laboratories or illegal dumping. This assessment requires accurate identification, appropriate classification, an adequate understanding of physical and chemical properties of the chemical, and methods for containment or other mitigation. It also requires some prediction of how these properties will manifest themselves in a real world, uncontrolled situation. This is not a laboratory; it is a complex and dynamic system, filled with uncertainties.

While we cannot eliminate it, we reduce the level of uncertainty through the collective knowledge and skill of the emergency response team. Safe and effective response is a team effort in the broadest sense. The team includes the first responder, the entry team, the information support personnel, and the industry which applies its collective expertise to a successful incident outcome. The various disciplines, duties, and functions are coordinated into a single effective response through the Incident Command System.


There are several ways to identify a hazardous material:Placard hazardous material sign

The placard, a four-sided, diamond-shaped sign, will be displayed on the trucks, railroad cars and large containers that are carrying hazardous materials. Many placards are red or orange, while a few are white or green. The placard may contain a four-digit identification number as well as a class or division number that indicates whether the material is flammable, radioactive, explosive or poisonous.

Shipping papers will have the name of the substance, the classification (such as flammable or explosive), and the four-digit identification number. With very few exceptions, the shipping papers identifying hazardous materials are required to be in the cab of a motor vehicle within the reach of the driver, in the possession of a train crew member in the engine or the caboose, in a holder on the bridge of a vessel or in the aircraft pilot's possession.

Labels can be found on containers and packages containing hazardous materials. These may name the substance, the classification and the four-digit identification number.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are required to be developed by manufacturers for those products which contain hazardous substances. The MSDSs describe the hazardous components and the physical and chemical properties in a substance or mixture. These are important sources of data for emergency response to mixtures.

On-Scene Hazard Categorization

Physical and chemical properties give clues to the emergency responders about the identity and hazards of the material of concern. Such properties as specific gravity, solubility, vapor density, chemical structure indicate whether a material is likely to sink or float in air or water, whether it will dissolve, and how it will behave where it was spilled. Testing for flashpoint, pH, and the presence of certain compounds indicates what hazards the material may pose to responders and the public. Each situation is different in terms of what kind of information is necessary to properly contain, transport, and dispose of a hazardous waste. Some of this information can be acquired through the use of field monitoring equipment, sampling, and field testing. In some cases critical information about the identity and hazards of the substance must be obtained through laboratory analysis.

Shelter in Place

Although the chance of a significant chemical release is small, the possible health effects could be serious. Therefore, it is important for citizens to know what to do. These accidental releases can occur quickly. For the first few minutes of any emergency, citizens need to rely on their senses. If you are outdoors and you smell a strong chemical odor, protect yourself by immediately going inside the nearest building, home or vehicle. This is called Shelter in Place. The two basic means of citizen protection are shelter-in-place and evacuation.

Shelter in Place is usually the best way to protect yourself and your family in the event of a chemical release. This works because the outside air does not quickly enter inside buildings when they are closed or sealed. Shelter in Place protects you from the most toxic vapors as the cloud passes. This is the procedure:

  1. Go indoors immediately.
  2. Close doors and windows.
  3. Shut off heaters and air conditioners. Close fireplace dampers.
  4. Other precautions to consider: Cover nose and mouth with wet cloth, seal windows.
  5. Listen to local Emergency Radio Stations or local television station for further information.
  6. Wait for additional instructions. Following an "all clear" message, air out your home.

Remember a shelter can be your home, a place of business, or an enclosed vehicle. If you are outdoors without access to a shelter, move cross wind (in a direction so the wind is blowing from your left to right or vice versa, but not into your face or from behind). This offers the best advantage for getting out of the path of the release.


Most chemical releases will last only a few minutes and staying inside should be adequate for your protection. If the release is prolonged or there is a danger of spreading fire or explosion, the police or fire department may order evacuation.

  1. Evacuate only at the direction of police or fire officers; or
  2. Follow directions of Emergency Radio Stations or your local television station.
  3. If evacuating, pack only what you need ‐ clothes, medications, baby supplies, portable radio, flashlight, checkbook, and credit cards. When making decisions about your pets, keep in mind that some shelters may not be able to accommodate them.
  4. Evacuate only by streets once advised by the police or fire department, radio station or local television station.

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