Responder Profile

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department
Hazardous Materials Response Team

By Battalion Chief Martin Ranck

The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department (FCFRD) is a combination career and volunteer all-hazards department providing a full complement of emergency medical services, fire suppression, technical rescue, swift water rescue, hazardous materials response, arson investigation, and fire and life safety education. Comprised of more than 1,400 uniformed men and women, 355 operational volunteers and more than 175 full-time civilians, the FCFRD is the largest fire and rescue department in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The department operates 38 fire and rescue stations strategically positioned to meet the emergency service needs of the residents, businesses and visitors in Fairfax County.

The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department is an official partner of NCT USA 2019!

The Hazardous Materials Response Team (HMRT) is one of the specialty teams within the Special Operations Division. The team is overseen by a battalion chief who manages the day-to-day operations, continuing education training requirements, and logistical needs of the team. There is a hazmat-certified captain assigned to the main hazmat unit on each shift that oversees hazmat personnel. All personnel on the HMRT are certified to the Hazardous Materials Technician level or higher per NFPA 472 standards. 

There are approximately 220 members on the HMRT. They respond to flammable liquid spills, significant natural gas leaks, and fixed facilities chemical spills. They also respond to the intentional release or manufacturing of chemicals, fuels, biological agents, radiological materials, explosives or hazardous waste related to environmental crime and terrorism. The team is specially trained and equipped to detect and identify unknown chemicals, WMDs, and other hazardous conditions and environments. The HMRT provides environmental protection and decontamination of persons ranging from one or two individuals to mass decontamination.  The HMRT responds to approximately 1,500 hazmat incidents per year.

The HMRT resources are strategically positioned throughout the county at Fire Stations 1, 11, 19, 26 and 40. These locations allow for timely responses to a hazmat incident to provide subject matter experts and equipment needed to safely mitigate the situation. These stations house a heavy rescue company with four hazmat certified technicians. Fire Station 40 houses the main hazmat unit and support unit with a total of six hazmat certified technicians. These units are all staffed full-time 24 hours a day. 

The HMRT is a regional partner in the National Capital Region (NCR) and coordinates with regional hazmat teams, county agencies, state partners, and federal agencies.  The HMRT conducts continuing education training monthly to maintain the knowledge, skills and abilities as listed in NFPA 472. The team routinely coordinates training with regional partners, high hazard facilities, such as water treatment plants, schools, government facilities, and other industrial businesses with significant chemical hazards on site. The HMRT provides training and presentations to the FCFRD and other organizations regarding current threats and how best to respond and mitigate them safely.

In the unfortunate event of a crisis on the national territory, the military and civilian CBRN defence forces will likely have to work together: what are some challenges and learning opportunities in domestic civil-military cooperation and how have they been addressed to this date?

The threat of WMD use on domestic soil is a permanent concern taken very seriously at the highest level, especially in France from the 2015 terrorist attacks.

The civil-military cooperation is organized differently from a Nation to another. In France CBRN Defence capabilities have the same status than those among the armed forces. They are not first responders and are primarily dedicated to the support of the Armed forces. Their equipment adheres to military standards and is not developed to support population thus relying of their dual-use ability. However upon request from the civilian authorities approved at the national level, CBRN Defence military capabilities can deploy on the homeland territory in order to complement or supplement first responders when required.

France has early identified the need to foster civil-military cooperation and ability to deploy together. From the 2008 Defence and Security White Paper, a CBRNe National Civil-Military Education and Training Center (CNCMFE NRBCe[2]) was set up, relying on a network of non-permanent Zonal Training Centers in each of the seven territorial Defense Zones which have to conduct at least two interdepartmental trainings per year, each. The CNCMFE provides focused education courses; develops common procedures and coordinates specific trainings and national exercises. While this is a permanent effort, this ensures that mutual knowledge is developed and a minimum common approach is in place.

The HMRT has attended and participated in the NCT CBRNE USA conference for the last three years. The FCFRD’s HMRT strives to be one of the top hazmat teams in the country and to keep up with cutting edge training and technologies for the ever-emerging threats faced in today’s hazmat and CBRNE environment.