HazMat Risk Assessment is an important part of the emergency response to all firefighters and HazMat personnel. While responding to a working fire usually we know that we are going to get off the truck and pull a line and advance it to the fire. While having the opportunity to Instruct HazMat at a small fire department in Ohio, I found that the firefighters where responding to a HazMat call the same way they would a house on fire. The members suited up and were ready to stop a leak to a leaking drum with out doing the proper Risk Assessment. They were used to getting off the truck and putting the fire out. Yes when we fight a fire we do a mental risk assessment and decide to fight the fire offensively or defensively. In HazMat we must STOP and do a proper Risk Assessment, we must see where our benefit is before we make entry. We all know that the hazard is always going to be HIGH. After all if there are no victims if we take our time the leak will most likely stop and then we could go into a defensive mode. Now let’s put victims into the response. On that day we found that it would take about two hours for a HazMat team to arrive and be ready. In no way should the HazMat team be doing rescue because the Fire Department should all ready have completed the task. If the victims are not viable there is no rescue there is a recovery. Therefore, the HazMat team should concentrate on stopping the leak and will not need to worry about victims. As HazMat Technicians we need to do a proper Risk Assessment. What is the benefit for us to make entry? What can we gain? What can we do right now? These are just a few questions that we may want to ask ourselves before we enter. Example: We respond to an Anhydrous Ammonia tank in the middle of a corn field with no victims and no exposures confirmed. Do we need to make entry on this? Maybe or maybe not, we know that Anhydrous Ammonia is a fertilizer. We know that the tank will eventually stop leaking, we know there are no exposures, and we know there are no victims. What are our risks? What are our benefits? Personally the risk is high and our benefit is low!
Do we really need to put someone in a suit and have them fix the leak? Now for real this not a huge tank, this is a small tank from a farmer. The hazards for our entry team are going to be heat related, agility in a suit on rough terrain, and so on. Where is our benefit? What are we saving? Now let’s change this around and put the Anhydrous Ammonia tank in front of a school on a Wednesday at 1300 hours. Our risk is still HIGH, but now we must ask what we are going to gain. YES, our benefit is high! NO, we are still not going to rush off the truck like a working structure fire, but yes we must act quickly. What can we do right now? What can we gain? Do we need to store in place or evacuate? These are all the things that we must ask and act upon as HazMat Technicians. Most likely we will need to make entry and take care of the leak.
HazMat Risk Assessment, stop and think! What is the risk and what is the benefit?
You make the Call!