Staying prepared for emergencies that develop out of thin air

In Michigan, Washtenaw County HAZMAT Team’s new multi-gas meters sniff out danger in various forms

More than 115,000 pigskin fans saw their beloved University of Michigan Wolverines defeat Notre Dame here in 2013.

Well over 105,000 took in the 2014 NHL Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. And just over 109,000 watched Manchester United topple Real Madrid in 2014—the largest crowd to see a soccer game in the United States.

It’s Michigan Stadium, a.k.a. The Big House, in Ann Arbor—and it’s the largest stadium in the U.S.

“All those people in one arena,” notes Victor Chevrette, director of the Washtenaw County Hazardous Materials Response Team. “That’s a lot of people to protect.”

Post 9/11, the Washtenaw County HAZMAT team was tapped by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for air monitoring during events at The Big House, in the event of a chemical or radiation release.

The Wolverines faithful can feel a little more secure in knowing that Washtenaw County HAZMAT recently acquired a new series of wireless multi-gas detectors, known as AreaRAE Pro monitors, to replace its aging fleet.

These new AreaRAE Pro devices can detect multiple gases—including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, oxygen and combustibles—and also provide radiation monitoring, with built-in GPS capabilities and audible alarms.

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“We deploy them on every incident. We use them for entry into buildings, and they send a radio transmission back to our command post so we can see the readings our people are getting,” notes Chevrette. “We can also talk to each other through these devices—which is another huge advantage, given some of the conditions are crews are dealing with.”

A federal Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) grant paid for seven new monitors, and the Washtenaw County HAZMAT team is doing private fundraising to secure three more.

Safety is at the heart of everything we do at Enbridge, and we’re committed to improving safety in the communities where we live and work. A recent $5,000 donation from Enbridge is helping Washtenaw County’s HAZMAT team get its hands on more of this life-saving technology.

Chevrette’s HAZMAT team includes 40 members from 17 fire departments across the county. In addition to protection duties at college football events, the team responds to about 15 incidents a year—all of them high on the danger scale.

“We’ll get involved with tanker truck accidents that involve hazardous materials, spills or chemical releases at automotive industry facilities, things like that,” says Chevrette. “We’ve gone into buildings to monitor natural gas leaks. We work with our tech rescue colleagues to provide support in confined spaces. We’ve monitored air quality in schools after chemical releases, to make sure things are safe for 24 hours before the kids go back in.

“We use these monitors at every incident. There’s so much at stake.”

(TOP PHOTO: Michigan Stadium, a.k.a. The Big House, in Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan Wolverines football squad.)