By Author(s): Bob Vaccaro 
Published Thursday, January 1, 2009
| From the January 2009  Issue of FireRescue 
Founded in 1986 the Westchester County (N.Y.) Department of Emergency Services (WCDES) Hazmat Team is the oldest in the Hudson Valley. The county is bordered by New York City to the south Connecticut to the north and the Hudson River to the west. Mutual aid responses sometimes take the unit to several other northern counties and Connecticut.
“Protecting a diverse response area keeps the members on their toes ” says Pete Pitocco chief of the Special Operations Division. But it also underscores the need for the department’s apparatus to be up-to-date.
“We started to look at replacing our 15-year-old hazmat unit when we began to run out of room on the old truck ” Pitocco says. “Technology has changed over the past 15 years. Some of the new products on the market such as WMD equipment wouldn’t fit in our truck.”
Taking a Look Around
The WCDES took its time speccing a new apparatus beginning in 2006. “The commissioner and I along with two team leaders were involved in researching information about different vehicles on the market ” Pitocco says. “We attended several fire service conferences around the country and spoke to several other teams to see what worked and what didn’t.”
The department wanted to keep a short wheelbase and elected to have storage compartments on the top of the body. “It was also imperative to make it safe for our team members to access the equipment on the top of the vehicle without it being a hassle to retrieve it ” Pitocco notes.
At a fire service show WCDES members observed the automatic deployable stairs (ADS) Hackney had developed and engineered on its vehicles. “We were immediately sold on that idea ” Pitocco says. The department made the decision to go with Hackney a short time later.
“We had our pre-construction meeting down at the Hackney factory ” Pitocco says. “We discussed our needs and specs and made some changes right on the spot. Hackney sales and engineer personnel were very helpful.” WCDES members made another visit during the middle part of the construction phase to ensure the process was on schedule for a quick delivery time.
“We wanted a larger vehicle not only to carry more of our equipment but also to function as a hazmat command post to make command decisions and to have information available to us in real time ” Pitocco says.
Hackney accomplished this order by designing the cab of the vehicle with a two-man command and logistics center with three computers a wireless weather station with instant readout uninterruptible power supply cabinet towers on each side of the desk a library shelf above the desk and a satellite communications system.
“One of the special features we installed on the vehicle was the Scott Emergency Management System ” Pitocco says. “This system allows us to track 12 wearers of SCBA at the scene and is able to transmit information to the command desk such as low cylinder air. It also allows us to signal selected individuals or all logged-on users to evacuate up to 48 users and track 100 total if needed. This system gives us better accountability of firefighters on the fireground and can also alert us within 10 seconds of a firefighter down.”
The truck also features a Spartan Advantage cab and chassis and a 21.5' Hackney aluminum body that features 13 ground-level compartments and three rooftop compartments totaling 980 cubic feet of storage space. Access to the roof compartment is provided by Hackney’s ADS. The truck also has full-body-length awnings on both sides with enclosure curtains.
A 25 000-watt PTO generator is located in the left front compartment fully protected from saltwater spray commonly experienced in some of the response district’s coastal regions. The generator supplies power to body-mounted floodlights on both sides of the vehicle as well as to rear tripod and portable lights. Two bumper-mounted reels supply 200 feet of 10/4 cable.
The taller compartments feature drop-down step platforms to allow for safe access to the upper equipment storage. A slide out Speedi-Dry hopper that stores up to 80 lbs. is installed behind the right rear wheels.
Factors to Consider
Chief Pitocco and his team members worked with Hackney—a fire service leader in building hazmat vehicles—to design a new hazmat vehicle that will meet the department’s needs for a long time to come. The team and Hackney’s engineers designed a simple yet functional vehicle capable of handing all types of hazmat incidents in this region of the country.
Planning for the present while also taking into account your future needs is not always an easy task. With your apparatus committee visit other area departments and fire service conferences to see what’s available and to determine what may and may not work for you.
Before you begin writing specs talk with the various manufacturers out there and see if they can build a vehicle that specifically meets your department’s needs. If they can’t design what you need move on to another manufacturer. Don’t just settle for a standard vehicle that you will quickly outgrow.
Finally take into account some of the specialized equipment you must carry and where it will be stored on the vehicle and don’t forget about firefighter safety. The WCDES vehicle includes the ADS system to allow firefighters to safely access the top compartments as well as slide-out steps to allow firefighters to access equipment stored at the top of the side compartments.
If you mind all these concerns and plan accordingly the result will be a vehicle that will serve your department well into the future.
Westchester County (N.Y.) Hazmat Team
The Westchester County Hazmat Team has been serving its community for 22 years. It responds within a 450-square-mile area with a population of 923 459 that make up 45 municipalities. The team has 42 members and represents 58 fire departments; it goes on more than 100 runs each year.
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