Calif. county gets sophisticated mobile hazmat vehicle

$800,000 trailer can model chemical plumes, conduct lab analysis, more

By Adam Foxman
Ventura County Star

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. — For most of its roughly 30-year history, the Ventura County Fire Department's hazardous-materials team, when called to an incident, worked out of a former horse trailer converted during Ronald Reagan's first presidential term.

In late April, however, the department replaced the circa 1982 mobile workspace with a custom, information-age vehicle that makes the team's work safer and more efficient for emergency responders and the public, fire officials said.

Engineer Steve Swindle, a department spokesman, said that while the old trailer had to be rewired for new equipment, the new vehicle is designed to grow with technological advances.

'This gives us capabilities far and above anything we ever had before and sets us up to be able to maintain these capabilities far into the future,' he said.

The new tractor-trailer has a camera powerful enough to survey distant hazards, a sophisticated laboratory, three large screens linked to computers, a builtin weather stationand more space, officials said.

A $600,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security paid for 75 percent of the $800,000 trailer, Swindle said.

With a powerful zoom and infrared capabilities, the trailer's camera allows the hazmat team to survey potentially dangerous situations up close before heading into them, officials said. The 36-time telephoto zoom and eight- time optical zoom let emergency responders see objects such as placards or leaking containers from a halfmile away, said firefighter Brian Kinsley of the hazmat unit. The camera also can rise 38 feet into the air on an extendible boom. The camera is connected to a large "smart board" in the trailer. The camera feed allows people in the trailer to watch and direct emergency responders as they work, officials said.

With the trailer's smart board screens, officials can model how potential chemical plumes would be affected by weather, plan evacuations and communicate the information to groups of people, officials said.

The 44-foot-long, 13-foot-high trailer is 4 feet longer and 3 feet taller than the previous trailer, and portions of the walls slide outward to give authorities more space to work .

The space also makes it easier to store and access the gear the team uses. In addition to air tanks, heavy tools and about 20 monitors that help members check for hazards such as ammonia and radiation, the team has more than a dozen types ofgloves. "There's really no one material that protects youfrom everything," said team member William Taylor, an engineer.

Unlike the old trailer, in which the laboratory was little more than a sink and tabletop, the new vehicle has a lab with a fume hood that keeps contaminants from escaping and doors that allow authorities to seal off the trailer. Because the old lab couldn't be isolated from the rest of the cramped trailer, team members sometimes had to test materials outside or stop other work to give people the trailer space to do experiments, officials said.

Copyright 2012 Ventura County Star

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