As reported by InsideNova , the Arlington Virginia fire department recently purchased a device that detect various chemical compounds that it claims will give them a major leg up in confronting hazardous-materials situations.

Using U.S. federal grant funds, the Arlington County government recently acquired a Gemini hand-held chemical-identification system.  Designed by Thermo Fisher Scientific, the machine is designed to allow for quick identification of unknown solids and liquids by the military and first-responders.

“Tools like this are invaluable,” said Deputy Fire Chief John Snider, who showed off the equipment at the annual meeting of the county government’s Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) last week.

“It’s fast, it’s very simple – it’s easy to use,” Snider said as he showed how the system analyzed a white power – which turned out to be harmless crushed Alka-Seltzer – then used laser technology to scan and determine the components of an unknown liquid.

The device, which county officials say retails for about $90,000, has been on the market for about two years.

“Ten years ago, this level of analytical rigor and specificity was only possible inside a lab – with instruments that were far from portable,” said Maura Fitzpatrick, senior director for portable analytical instruments at Thermo Fisher Scientific, when the equipment debuted in 2015.

Having the right tools to correctly analyze and address situations is vital, Snider said.

“Things can get ramped up really quick,” he said. “Even the most simple call can be time-consuming.”

The Local Emergency Planning Committee is a sub-group of the county government’s Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission. The annual meeting of the LEPC, mandated by law, gives county officials a chance to review the past year’s hazardous-materials incidents with committee members, and explain regional strategies for dealing with hazardous-materials situations, whether accidental or intentional.

The annual meeting “helps everyone understand what you do,” committee chair Steve Holl told fire officials.

Arlington has two hazmat-response teams, located at Fire Stations 1 and 9, with 50 members split between technicians (who receive 80 hours of initial training) and specialists (who garner 240 hours of training). Last year, county hazmat personnel responded to 80 calls, with the fire department fielding an additional 168 that were not deemed significant enough for full hazmat response.

Arlington’s hazmat units are designated by the state government to provide regional responses. But the need to dispatch crews to communities across the broader Northern Virginia area has lessened in recent years, since most local governments now how their own hazmat units embedded in public-safety agencies.