WSFD Hazmat vehicle

The Winston-Salem Fire Department’s new Hazmat vehicle was on display after a monthly public-safety press conference at the Public Safety Center on Wednesday.

Winston-Salem Fire Department Capt. Jonathan Lindholm had to contain his excitement Wednesday morning about the department’s new, nearly $900,000 “toy.”

Introduced into service about two months ago, the fire department’s hazardous materials, or HAZMAT, response vehicle is a lot of things, but mainly it’s a tractor-trailer moonlighting as a fire engine, with an office in the back and a weather station that can generate computer models to determine where hazardous gas plumes might blow.

And the truck goes fast.

“It’ll get up there,” a smiling Lindholm said when asked about the truck’s top speed.

Being a new vehicle, Lindholm said the department hasn't maxed it out at top speed, yet.

Speaking at the city of Winston-Salem’s monthly public safety news conference, Lindholm explained the risks hazardous materials pose to Forsyth County, and how this new vehicle helps mitigate those risks.

There are more than 214 businesses or processing plants in Forsyth County that are required to report to the county’s Emergency Management Services what kind of hazardous chemicals or materials they’re using, and the maximum amount of it they could have stored on site at a given time, Lindholm said. That’s at least 214 places with potential disaster looming.

“We respond to about 10 to 12 natural gas leak calls a day,” Lindholm said. “This helps provide a safe environment for the city.”

In the event of a fire involving hazardous chemicals, or of a chemical spill, Lindholm said the department’s HAZMAT unit is dispatched to evaluate the situation, make any necessary evacuations and to help clean up the spill.

There are 27 fire department members divided into three, nine-person platoons that work 24-hour shifts on the HAZMAT unit. All 27 members have been training for nearly a year to be able to comfortably drive the truck, and are the only 27 people at the fire department who are allowed to drive it, Lindholm said.

When it comes to ordering evacuations for hazardous gas leaks, a pseudo command office in the back of the truck has a computer that can generate weather models — using data obtained from a weather station on the truck — to determine where the gas plume may spread to, and who is at risk, Lindholm said.

The truck also carries bright orange, fully encapsulated HAZMAT suits that can be used in virtually any “atmospheric condition.” Firefighters are limited to about 40 minutes in the suit at a time, due to dehydration risks, according to Lindholm.

“When you get done in one of those,” Lindholm said pointing at the suits,” you’ll be standing in about 6 inches of water” from sweating.

The fire department’s HAZMAT unit, and by extension the new HAZMAT truck, serves all of Forsyth County, not just Winston-Salem. Should the fire department require additional assistance, Lindholm said Greensboro’s HAZMAT team would be called in to help.

OTHER PUBLIC SAFETY NEWS

The Winston-Salem Police Department announced its partnership with Ring, a home-security company that specializes in video-surveillance equipment. The partnership introduces “Neighbors by Ring,” an app that allows people to anonymously post about going-ons in their neighborhood.

Sgt. Peter Watkins of Winston-Salem police said the department can view every post in the city, and follow up with the poster if they think a police report should be filed, or to get more information about the incident being discussed.

“It’s just to share information,” Watkins said.

Winston-Salem is one of 14 cities in North Carolina with police departments using the Neighbors app. Kernersville police and High Point police also use the app.

Watkins said he hopes people will use the app as a way to share information without fear, which ultimately will lead to more solved crimes,.

“We haven’t had any major success stories yet, but we just started,” he said.

To download the app, text “WSNC” to 555888 on your smartphone.

The Winston-Salem Police Department unveiled its online crime mapping tool for citizen use. The tool allows citizens to see what sort of crimes are happening in their neighborhoods, and throughout the city.

Winston-Salem police Crime Analyst Jordan Adkins said the information is good for citizens who want to stay informed, and can be helpful when deciding what neighborhood to buy a home in, or where to rent an apartment.

The crime mapping tool can be found online at www.crimemapping.com/map/agency/413.

The Carolinas chapter of the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators honored Winston-Salem Detective Christopher Scott Sluder as its officer of the year for 2018. Sluder was an investigator of an embezzlement case in 2018 involving an “apparel company” in the city and one of its former employees.

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lsanderlin@wsjournal.com

336-727-7339

@LeeOSanderlin

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