Anaheim Fire & Rescue hazardous materials specialists spend nearly every day at sites throughout the city, ensuring residents remain safe from dangerous chemicals used at businesses such as gas stations, bus depots, and clothing manufacturers.
“Every day is like a field trip,” said Community Risk Reduction Officer Eric Poomi of Anaheim Fire & Rescue. “We get to see how a lot of things are made. For instance, there’s a badge facility, not in Anaheim but in Commerce, that makes our badges. They actually generate a lot of hazardous materials.”
Poomi and Community Risk Reduction Officer Alicia Badosa recently visited an Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) maintenance garage in Anaheim to supervise an annual inspection, ensuring that no materials were leaking, threatening the city’s soil or groundwater quality.
Safety and hazardous materials inspections are not glamorous, but they are among the many ways Anaheim Fire & Rescue keeps the city safe.
Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s four hazardous materials inspectors check about 20 locations each per month. Sites such as gas stations (a frequent destination for inspectors) and the bus depot give the agency 48-hour notice for the annual check to renew city permits, which allows them to coordinate with third-party testing contractors.
At the bus depot, sensors placed carefully outside underground storage tanks are designed to signal an alert if the tanks begin to leak motor oil or other substances. That’s when OCTA would call a licensed contractor to fix the problem before it can escalate.
“As you can see, there’s containment upon containment that helps keep everything and prevents it from getting out into the environment,” Poomi said.
Pumps inside the bus maintenance garage pull oil and coolant from the underground tanks outside the garage to a system inside where mechanics can quickly get the materials they need to keep the bus fleet running smoothly. The used oil is poured into another tank within the garage, and the liquid flows down to an outside underground storage tank for easy pick-up and disposal.
“If we do see any violations, we cite them during the inspection and, depending on how severe it is, they have 30 days to comply with any fixes,” said Poomi, who’s been with the agency for two years and spent two years prior working for Los Angeles County. “If it’s a major fix we give them an extension to amend those corrections because if it’s something huge there’s no way they can get it done in 30 days.”
Anaheim Fire & Rescue inspectors ensure that companies are meeting federal, state, and local requirements, which includes verifying that fire exits are well marked, fire sprinkler systems are in working order, and hazardous materials are properly labeled.
Badosa also approves one-time permits for things like outdoor tents for weekend sales or carnivals, or for candles during weddings at Anaheim’s many hotels. Some business owners Badosa has visited weren’t aware they had a fire alarm, so she works to educate those owners and employees on safety precautions so they’re prepared in case of an emergency.
“I like that there’s such diversity in our city that we literally have everything you can think of except a marina and airport,” Badosa said. “It’s something different every day.”
Recently, Badosa visited a store that had caught on fire due to use of an extension cord and found multiple violations that could endanger lives in an emergency. She explained to the owners the importance of proper wiring, labeling hazardous materials such as oxygen and argon, and keeping propane tanks caged together in one area.
When violations occur, court cases and public policy emerge that affect consumers’ daily lives, Poomi said, citing the home improvement store bins that allow people to dispose of light bulbs and batteries, or the used oil disposal bins at auto stores.
“It’s like the show ‘How It’s Made,’” Poomi said. “We need to understand how things are being manufactured, fabricated, because we have to understand the various waste streams that are generated from each process and apply the regulations and the code to determine how to manage the wastes.”