Come January, if no public or private entity can be found to foot a $200,000 annual bill, the Visalia Fire Department’s hazardous materials response team will cease to exist.
The department will still have its million-dollar hazardous materials response unit, a mobile lab packed with state-of-the-art protective gear and analytical tools. But the 18 Visalia firefighters assigned to hazardous-materials duty will be reassigned.
That’s a potentially dangerous situation, Visalia Fire Chief Mark Nelson said. The response team’s operational funds cover extra pay for hazardous duty and year-round training on equipment that’s constantly being upgraded in a jittery, post-Sept. 11, 2001, environment, he said.
“Hazards change as the world changes,” said Visalia Fire Department Capt. Karl Krauss, who heads up the hazmat unit. “You never know what you’re up against.”
Hazmat calls are broken into levels, with “A” requiring maximum protective gear, equipment and precautions. The lowest response-level is “D.”
“You can always scale back after you get a sample of whatever it is you’re responding to and find out whether it’s actually hazardous,” Krauss said.
During the last four years, however, “A”-level calls have been few.
Visalia’s hazmat unit responds to an average of five “A”-level calls a year throughout Kings and Tulare counties, most concentrated along busy Highway 99. Such calls have involved overturned tanker trucks and leaking diesel engines.
Overall, the unit has responded to about 100 calls a year — most of which could be handled by regular crews, Nelson said.
Story and Photo by Visalia Times / newstip submitted by anonymous