History of the Hazardous Materials Team
Jacksonville Florida is the birthplace of fire service hazardous materials response.
The team became operational in January of 1977 with a group of Jacksonville Firefighters who were true pioneers in their field.
Leading the effort was Captain Ron Gore, unquestionably the "Father" of the Jacksonville Hazardous Materials team, but also very likely the "Father" of organized haz-mat response in the United States. Gore was the driving force behind the Jacksonville team and kept the members together and moving forward in the early years.
In the late 1970's Jacksonville Fire Chief Russell Yarborough saw the needto deal with hazardous materials responses in a trained and organized manner. He realized that Jacksonville was the "Great Shipping Center of the South." Railroads had major operations in the city and there was significant military activity in the area involving nuclear materials. No one had ever taken an orgainzed approach to hazardous materials repsonse before. Yarborough and Gore believed a specialized team was the best approach and that 15-20 volunteers would needed from the firefighting ranks to form the nucleus of the new hazardous materials response team.
The initial request for volunteers produced more than 50 firefighters wishing to become team members, There was no additional pay for being on the haz mat team. Gore looked for some personnel who had experience with chemicals. There were firefighters who had worked for the gas company, some with military experience, and others who had experience with various chemicals. As with anything new, there was distrust and resistance to the new hazardous materials team from officers and firefighters alike. The members were referred to as the "Clorox team" and the "Bleach Drinkers" by other firefighters in the early days.
There were no response procedures in to follow, so tactics were developed as the team responded to incidents. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they did not. The team developed procedures and equipment following incidents where members saw the need for something that would have helped them during an incident. Little haz mat equipment was available commercially, so much of what the team used was created in the shop by the Chief of Maintenance, Incidents were discussed on all three shifts, so many of the early members learned to deal with hazardous materials through trial and error.
The Haz Mat Team was first housed at Fire Station 9, located at 24th Street and Perry. It was chosen for its strategic location near Interstate-95 and the 20th Streets Expressway, which gave the team quick access to all parts of the city, including industry to the east and railroad yards to the west. The team was later moved to their current home on Division Street. They have maintained their easy access to Jacksonville's Highway system.
The 1980's saw the JFRD Hazardous Materials team respond to major incidents. In August of 1984, a huge blaze erupted at the Triangle Oil Refinery. In January of 1985, The Haz Mat Team played a crucial role in suppressing a fire at the Rex Box Plant. The team neutralized a major LP gas leak and extinguished a burning liquid paraffin fire. Haz Mat Team Lt. R.P. Morphew is also named Firefighter of the Year for his actions.
The JFRD Hazardous Materials Team made history when in 1993, the JFRD battled a fire at the Steuart Petroleum Tank Farm Fire. The Department became the first in the world to extinguish an oil tank of this kind.
The terror attacks of September 11th, 2001 began the dawn of a new era for the Jacksonville Hazardous Materials Team as it began to train more on domestic terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. All Jacksonville Firefighters received Level "A" suit training. Many firefighters signed up for chemical, explosive, and radiological classes and traveled across the nation to attend these classes. November of 2001 saw the team go on hundreds of false calls as the nation went through an Anthrax hoax.
The increase in domestic preparedness training, along with the continued strain of Hazardous materials response and the City of Jacksonville increasing its population on an exceedingly fast level, the JFRD Hazardous Materials team was expanded to include Fire Station 21 on Jacksonville's south side. Located on Powers Avenue in the Lakewood section of Jacksonville, Station 21 can serve the southside independently as its own haz mat team or combine with Station 7 to respond as a complete department team.
While Station 7 houses an Engine, Rescue, and Hazardous Materials response unit, Station 21 houses an Engine, Ladder, Rescue, and Hazardous Material response unit. All team members receive a 160 hour Hazardous Materials Technincian course.
Today, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department responds on 700-800 hazardous materials calls a year and remains one of the most proactive hazardous materials team in the nation.