“Teamwork,” it’s written on the walls of all our stations, in the manuals we all study, and is quoted as a driving force in many of our decisions, but what does “teamwork” really look like on the fireground. Aside from being both a core value and an operating principle, teamwork is a key contributor to successful outcomes. We can all agree that incidents that involve a cohesive team are highly likely to succeed. This article will discuss how the LA City Fire Department is taking the word teamwork off the wall and making it come alive daily.
Any incident that any Fire Department resource responds to requires a team of players to achieve a favorable outcome. Does a simple rubbish fire only require a nozzle member to extinguish? Or are dispatchers, fleet mechanics, station alerting technicians, fire communications officers, and a number of hidden team members all involved? Few of us consider what happens after a knock down of such an incident. Think of all the street services, sanitation, building and safety, and Department of Transportation (DOT) workers that are involved in even a small rubbish fire. Consider an even larger incident that involves multiple City or county agencies and you’ll see that the team can grow quickly.
Understanding the roles of the team before the incident will increase the likelihood of a positive outcome. By knowing the ability of your hidden teammates, you will be able to plan for their strengths and weaknesses. Every time we move a car out of a street because we know DOT needs to keep traffic moving, we practice this principle. We do it when we tell DWP what hydrant valve we shut off so they know what to repair. Or when we put a “Foothill communications plan” in place because we know allied agencies use other radios. We practice this idea every day without even realizing it. In addition to reacting to incidents in this team-based approach the LAFD also has members proactively building teams full time.
Some specialized units within the LAFD cultivate relationships with other City departments and other agencies full time. Bureau offices are building networks with local council offices, individual fire station members are reaching out to local stakeholders, and within the Homeland Security Division, a unit functions with team building as one of its top priorities. The Joint Hazard Assessment Team (JHAT) exists in part to build a team of agencies that stand ready to prevent, respond to, and prosecute crimes at all kinds of hazardous materials and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRNE) incidents.
The JHAT was formed in response to the expansion of Homeland Security nationwide after the 9-11 terror attacks. It was immediately recognized that there is a benefit to specialized units communicating effectively with each other. The LAFD JHAT is really only truly the Joint Hazard Assessment Team when we are “joined” with another agency. The original JHAT members included the FBI, LA County Health, and LAPD HazMat Unit (LAPD Hazardous Materials Unit). The JHAT now forms up with Postal Inspectors, Watershed Officers, LA Port Police HazMat Officers, LA County Sheriff Deputies, Secret Service team members, Army-9th Civil Support Team, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC), and many others.
The JHAT develops a first name basis relationship with external partners state and nationwide. Imagine that instead of calling Street Services through Metro Fire Communications (MFC) for wires down you could call an old friend with whom you had trained on electrical emergencies. Think of the cohesive response you could have if you could call on someone by name instead of calling an agency dispatch center. Imagine this kind of close-knit team and you are beginning to see the benefit of the JHAT. For on scene commanders who are rapidly working through the eight Standards of Command while also coordinating risk management the JHAT can take key notifications off of their plate.
The JHAT participates in expanded training in the “prevent” and “response” missions of Homeland Security. In addition to being HazMat Specialists JHAT members attend enhanced radiation training and carry both vehicle mounted and backpack mounted radiation detection tools. JHAT members routinely participate in training with outside agencies on white powders, evidence collection, and environmental crimes. The JHAT assists agencies with policy development. This external focus of the JHAT benefits the LAFD bridging the gap between the goals of our agency and the many goals of other stakeholders.
Operationally, the JHAT is ready 24/7 to respond to incidents as needed, and also pre-deploys for sensitive events. During events you will find the JHAT formed with LAPD HMU, LAPD Bomb, FBI, and Public Health partners. We respond as “Rapid Assessment Teams” during Dodger games, Marathons, award shows, and other events. Ordering the JHAT is as easy as contacting MFC or your local HazMat task force.
Administratively the JHAT ensures that the LAFD meets the legally required standards for a qualified HazMat program. Important tasks such as FRO Refresher training and Radiac purchasing affect the entire field and are legally required. We coordinate, monitor, track and test equipment. This includes researching critical items for purchase within the region to ensure that the best technology is available regionwide.
Internally, the JHAT can serve as a Subject Matter Expert for all types of HazMat calls. You can think of the JHAT as a one stop shop for notifications for anything HazMat related. Whether it’s a point of contact for the Presidential protection team or oil in a storm drain the JHAT is ready to get the right players of the team together.
In closing, remember that the LAFD is completely responsible for HazMat calls within the City until they are deemed static by the Fire Department. Then and only then do we pass responsibility to one of many members of our robust team. Your JHAT is ready to get the team together whenever you need them. Contact us with questions: LAFD.JHAT@lacity.org