On October 25, Health Hazardous Materials Division (HHMD) was recognized for 30 years of service to the citizens of Los Angeles County with the presentation of a scroll from the Board of Supervisors. At the annual HHMD meeting, Fire Chief Daryl Osby presented the scroll to three staff members who were among the original 12 inspectors hired by the County: Supervising Haz-Mat Specialist Bruce Wojcik, Assistant Chief Walter Uroff and Division Chief Bill Jones. Also present were Business Operations Chief Deputy Ron Watson and Prevention Services Bureau Deputy Chief John Todd.
HHMD was created on July 1, 1982, when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a proposal to form a new group within the Department of Health Services to inspect and regulate generators of hazardous waste. For 5-10 years prior to 1982, in Los Angeles County, the State, and throughout the United States, generators of hazardous waste had repeatedly demonstrated an inability to properly and safely handle and dispose of a wide variety of chemical wastes. Their mishandling resulted in numerous incidents involving fires, chemical releases into communities and groundwater, air releases and major transportation tie-ups.
The 12 inspectors assigned to the group were immediately thrown into inspections of industrial facilities, criminal investigations and search warrants, emergency incident responses, site cleanups, and irate business owners resentful of their presence due to the imposition of new fees. But the inspectors persevered. During a time when local and national media closely covered any hazardous materials release, enforcement case, or volatile community meetings, this group of inspectors was out pounding the pavement, issuing notices of violation, writing up reports of investigation for prosecutors, researching public health and environmental impacts of improper handling and disposal of hazardous waste and working closely with a whole host of local, State and federal agency personnel.
Thirty years later, this group transferred from Health Services to the Fire Department in 1991, grew to 135 budgeted positions, and is part of a CUPA (Certified Unified Program Agency). As a member of this Department for 21 years, HHMD is a vital asset and resource and proud to be part of this organization.
Congratulations to HHMD for 30 years of service and contributing to County Fire's mission by protecting public health and safety, and the environment!