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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

The September 11th attack
Hazmat crews respond to 31 calls

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Honolulu Fire Department hazardous materials crews responded yesterday to a record 31 calls to investigate suspicious packages or substances.

By comparison, the hazmat teams responded to 17 calls during the 30 days following Sept. 11. In all of the cases, no traces of anthrax or any other hazardous chemicals were detected, said HFD Capt. Richard Soo.

Yesterday's high number coincided with a mailer from the U.S. Postal Service that described suspicious mail. The Postal Service advised residents to call their local authorities if they came across packages that fit the profile.

Residents apparently didn't regard the leaflet as junk mail because the calls to 911 came in at a steady pace yesterday.

"This is a unique time for the Fire Department," Soo said. "None of us remembers anything like this."

Postal Service and fire officials are asking the public to use common sense before calling for help. Soo said some of the samples identified by the hazmat teams included bird droppings and sugar.

Soo said the two hazmat crews and two special assessment teams are constantly responding to calls. He said that so many calls put a strain on the department and that the fire chief is considering forming two more assessment squads.

Assessment teams consist of a captain and two hazmat-trained firefighters. But Soo said they do not handle any loose substances or packages that are open.

Despite the multitude of false alarms, Soo said, fire crews will continue to respond to all calls as if the suspect material were a hazardous substance. He said residents should call 911 if they have any doubts about a piece of mail.