Everything was in fair order to begin
training on September 17. Industry was tapped to teach the neophytes.
Much of the training turned out to be of doubtful value. Chemistry,
which was thought to be important to a hazmat team, did little to
enhance the needed skills. (The original requirement of a chemistry
background for recruitment was quickly reduced to a nice-to-know
attribute, but not essential.) None of the training did too much to
build skills. About the only hands-on training was with chlorine
containers and patching a few drums. Training was mostly lectures and
viewing containers. McRae became concerned after the school. He had a
feeling the team was not ready for the street.
There was no budget for the new team.
Much of the equipment and supplies were mooched from industry. Personal
tools of the men were used in the beginning. The team was to be a
combination rescue-hazmat company, but the new rescue truck lacked room
for the bulkier hazmat equipment and supplies. Nothing in reserve was
suitable for a hazmat apparatus. As a last resort, the old worn-out
rescue truck, which had been retired with the arrival of the new rescue
trucks, was retrieved from the salvage yard. It was to run with the
rescue truck on hazmat calls.
The way things had been thrown together
surely destined the team for a short life. Many new ventures of the fire
department at the time usually faded away after a short while, and it
was quite possible the team would suffer a similar fate. There were no
past experiences to guide the committee that put together the team.
Everything had been hit and miss.
At 0630 hours on October 5, 1979, the
Hazardous Materials Response Team (HMRT) began operations. The new team
was assigned to Fire Station 1. The committee had recommended the team
run out of a fire station in the east end of town near the petrochemical
complexes. Chief Rogers nixed the recommendation. New apparatus and new
special companies were always put at the central station, and HMRT was
no exception. A minor chlorine leak greeted the B-shift on the very
Several days later, the team was pulled
out of service to complete its training at Dow Chemical Company in
Freeport. Dow was unable to do its part during the regular school. The
training proved to be what a hazmat team needed. The out-of-town classes
were totally hands-on training taught by Dow's hazmat team led by
"Beans" Little, a well-respected hazmat responder. His name kept popping
up during the school. Dow's training instilled confidence in Houston's
Only twenty-six hazmat incidents were
recorded during the balance of the year. A lack of hazmat runs would
make it difficult to keep men on the team. Most firefighters craved
action. A busy company has little time to create problems for the
captain and chief. Actually, there were many more hazmat incidents
during the rest of 1979, but fire dispatchers failed to dispatch hazmat
on the alarms. The problem haunted the team for years before dispatchers
remembered the fire department had a hazmat team.
An even greater annoyance soon evolved.
HMRT was saddled with hazardous waste, a problem that was beginning to
plague the country. Tougher government regulations forced midnight
dumping of hazardous waste. No other city department was prepared to
deal with the problem. Retrieval, storage and disposal of the hazardous
wastes fell to HMRT. It was a nagging problem that escalated to a point
where some of the men rebelled. Other than hazardous waste, many of the
other early problems were settled over time.