You are here
Home > Community > Fire Rescue, SPD prepare for hazmat incidents

Fire Rescue, SPD prepare for hazmat incidents

Fire Rescue personnel use a fire hose while participating in a hazmat simulation in September. (Courtesy Doug LeValley)

Hundreds of Seminole Fire Rescue and Seminole Police Department (SPD) personnel recently completed hazardous materials (hazmat) training. For Fire Rescue it’s an annual event; for SPD it marked a first.

Fire Rescue Division Chief Doug LeValley, who has worked for the tribe for 11 years, oversees the training. He came to the tribe after retiring from almost 30 years of service with Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue.

The Fire Rescue training was conducted for 75 of its personnel from Sept. 18 to Sept. 21 at the Public Safety Complex on the Big Cypress Reservation. It’s a mix of classroom lectures and outdoor drills using hazmat gear, packs, props and simulated smoke. LeValley said the drills, or simulations, are organized by Fire Rescue’s training division.

Personnel also learn about Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines and standards, and the contents of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s emergency response guidebook. Trainees also receive a review of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive.

LeValley said one of the differences between Fire Rescue’s training and that of SPD is that Fire Rescue’s is an operational training. SPD, for example, might arrive to a hazmat situation initially, and be trained to recognize it as such and help secure a scene. But Fire Rescue personnel would be called to mitigate its effects, using fire hoses, pumps, water and structural firefighting gear to disperse chemical vapors, for example.

SPD’s inaugural training included specialized hazmat response and a WMD awareness overview. It was conducted two days a week from June through August to accommodate the rotations of 152 police officers.

LeValley said the officers received a chem-bio (chemical-biological) kit with hazmat protection gear, splash protection, masks, gloves and boots.

“We got them in all their gear as part of the training,” he said. “They were able to recognize and identify chemicals to assist us. We need extra bodies, so we trained them to assist us on a hazmat call.”

‘Plan of attack’

LeValley recalled a real hazmat event that took place when he worked for Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue.

“We responded to the Publix manufacturing facility in Deerfield Beach for an anhydrous ammonia leak,” he said.

LeValley said anhydrous ammonia is toxic and can be a health hazard if it’s not handled safely. The effects of inhaling it range from lung irritation to severe respiratory injuries, with possible death at high concentrations. It’s also corrosive and can burn the skin and eyes.

LeValley said after a long and arduous 16 hours of mitigation, the situation was brought under control without any injuries.

One of the props used in the tribe’s hazmat training is simulated anhydrous ammonia tanks.

“We run air and smoke to it. When they roll the vapor looks the same as the real thing,” LeValley said. “They have to stage accordingly – isolate it and come up with a plan of attack on how they will mitigate it.”

Mitigation includes running hose lines from a fire truck to spray water to knock the vapors down. Firefighters then shut down the tank’s valve, followed by backing up slowly and monitoring it to make sure the leak is stopped.

“It takes a lot to get to that point,” LeValley said.

Closer to the tribe, LeValley remembers a hazmat event – a natural gas leak – that took place during the early days of construction of the Guitar Hotel in Hollywood.

“A four-inch main [line] was cut,” he said. “Natural gas is lighter than air, so it traveled up the floors of the [original Hard Rock] hotel,” he said.

The hotel and part of the casino had to be evacuated until the leak was mitigated.

Other props used in the drills include compounds that personnel could encounter on the reservations. During one drill, two trucks were staged with four, 55-gallon drums that represented different hazardous materials.

“Two were leaking sulfuric acid – a product used on the reservations in water treatment facilities,” LeValley said. “They had to dike the area and [block off] the storm drains. Meanwhile they’d shut off valves, upright drums and over pack drums – little things like that will mitigate the situation.”

Fire Rescue personnel go through a simulated hazmat event in September. (Courtesy Doug LeValley)
Members of the Seminole Police Department don full chemical-biological gear during summer hazmat training. (Courtesy Doug LeValley)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at