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State Fire Marshal

A Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety

State Emergency Response Teams: Focus on Hazmat

​By Jim Smith, State Fire Marshal and
Tom McDonough, State Emergency Response Teams Coordinator

As an emergency responder, do you know what to do with those “specialty calls” that happen when you least expect them – hazardous materials, technical rescue, or wide-area search? The state’s emergency response teams were developed for those very unique occurrences.

Minnesota Task Force 1 is a 250-member team made up of personnel from five separate agencies (Minneapolis, St. Paul, Edina, Rochester, and Dakota County Special Operations Team). The personnel on this team have extensive training and experience in high- and low-angle rope rescue, confined space rescue, and structural collapse operations. The Minnesota Air Rescue Team (MART) is a partnership between St. Paul Fire Department and the Minnesota State Patrol Flight Section. They have the unique skillsets to conduct wide-area searches as well as technical helicopter rescue operations.

The Minnesota Hazardous Materials Response Team program has two types of response teams located in jurisdictions throughout the state.  The two types of teams are called the Chemical Assessment Teams (CAT) and the Emergency Response Teams (ERT). The CATs and ERTs are strategically located throughout the state. CATs are located in International Falls, Duluth, Moorhead, Grand Rapids, St. Cloud, Anoka County, Hopkins, St. Paul, Marshall, Mankato and Rochester. The ERTs are located in Duluth, Moorhead, St. Cloud and St. Paul.

All the hazmat teams have the capability to perform anything from standard air monitoring services to mitigating major hazmat spills, leaks and releases. The primary differences between a CAT and an ERT is the number of personnel each is responsible to deploy and the actions that each are expected to perform on the scene of an incident. CATs are expected to deploy within 15 minutes of activation with a minimum of three personnel. Once on scene, CAT personnel will assist the local incident commander with technical advice and recommended mitigation strategies.  ERTs assist local authorities by mitigating a release and stabilizing the incident with a crew of at least nine highly trained personnel.

Any one of these teams can be contacted through the Minnesota state duty officer. The foremost benefit of using the state duty officer as a point of contact is that they can patch you into a conference call with as many agencies as needed to get you the information and/or resources you need to mitigate the situation. There is never a charge to the host agency when making the call to the state duty officer. And if one of the state emergency response teams is activated, you can also rest assured that you will not see an invoice for their services. Always remember that it is best to call sooner than later in your incident operations. Response teams can take up to two hours to respond, depending on the incident location. The numbers to contact the state duty officer are 651-649-5451 and 800-422-0798.