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HazMat Response

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!

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Replies to This Discussion

Todd, I have been working the last two years developing a technician course that is risk-based in response. A systematic process by which responders analyze a problem involving HM/WMD, assess the hazards, evaluate the Risk, and determine appropriate response actions based upon facts, science, and the circumstances of the incident. This is the same process that we use when we size-up a structure fire.

We need to eliminate the paralysis by analysis that has been ingrained in HazMat response.

Lets us take a look at the NH3 scenario: Most of us from the Midwest know the hazards of NH3 without the need to look it up in a book (off the top of my head) VP 8.5 atm MW 17 IP 10.1eV LEL 15% UEL 28% we know that Anhydrous means without water and we also know that NH3 is lighter than air .60 VD

We also Know that NH3 has great warning properties most often we can see the cloud so we know where the NH3 is and the odor threshold is very low in fact our nose can detect NH3 before our monitors (this is not to say Techs should use their nose rather we may smell it at a concentration that is not dangerous)

Also both of your scenarios are outside in the open

I am of the opinion that handling a leaking NH3 nurse tank is not always a HazMat team response. An engine company dressed in turn-out and SCBA with a charged hose line can safely approach the damaged or leaking container and pull the emergency shut off valve. Most of the time this will fix the problem. I know I have done this on responses and have taught many classes on this technique.

I have also walked up to the tank with the wind at my back avoiding the very present cloud and shut off the tank. How many farmers do you see in Level A? And to this day I have never seen someone stand in a NH3 cloud long enough to die. Now I do admit approaching a damaged nurse tank unprotected is not a good idea however the circumstances of the incident allowed this.

Risk-based response is experience; I have had many years of experience with farm chemicals and an agriculture degree with a license for restricted use chemical application.

Have you reviewed the new NFPA 472?

I truly believe that HazMat teams can get off the truck suit-up and go in to fix the problem in many instances. In my course I push the students to do something within the first 15 minutes on the incident. We have, on average, $ 30,000 to $120,000 worth of monitoring equipment and 260 hours of training for our techs and hazmat teams. Using our equipment, knowledge, and experience gaining incident stabilization within an hour or less is not out of the question in most incidents.

There is no reason to wait for calls or responses to gain experience. For NH3 talk to the local supplier they may be able to provide you with a nurse tank that you can plumb with compressed CO2 or talk to your state health and environment folks they may let you conduct a class using NH3. At any rate training in hazmat should be as realistic as possible and out of the class room hands-on scenario based.
A.J. _ Thank you for the reply and it was all good stuff! However, I would be very worried about having anyone shut of the tank with out proper respiratory protection. A small sniff won't kill you but it will make you feel funny and we have the protection on our trucks, so let's be safe and use it. I do agree that this should be a fire department JOB, but as I found today during our training that most firefighters would not approach do to the rule of thumb training they receive. Why wait for hazmat when this can be done in seconds! Great stuff like I said! Feel free to reply to more discussions in our group, your thoughts are valued. Todd McKee
The rule of thumb crap irritates the living hell out of me. Firefighters are not stupid, perhaps ignorant at times but not stupid. The other thing I can’t stand is “if you don’t know don’t go it might blow”. As trainers and instructors we must move this thought process out with the dinosaurs it is far past retirement. We also need to crack the laid eggs before they hatch. The days of death by power-point hazmat training should also go with the above mentioned.

Using scenario based training we can give firefighters and hazmat techs the tools and skills to make safe, sound, and rapid decisions. The first and most important tool they need to use is their brain.
A.J.- I can not agree with your more, I teach for a University here in Ohio and we do use the Power point for all our HazMat classes. I really feel that we need to do more hands on and allow the guys to feel comfortable in the suits, the only way for that is repetition. I do not teach rule of thumb or don't go any further than the first dead cop you see. I teach be aggressive but with caution. Know the job, do the job, and confirm before you do the job. Great replies! Keep in touch and keep your passion! Todd McKee
I have dealt with HazMat flip flop since I joined my team back in 1992 and have watched the issues go back and forth on almost every topic in the book. In my county no fire department has a HazMat capability not even my own. Thats why I joined the County HazMat Team. To keep my butt out of trouble. But I would be wary of using my crew, even with my knowledge on your scenario.
Having a background in biochemistry and spending many years in fire based EMS I can agree with you that SCBA should be used with any product other than O2. You just never know. As for fire intervention with anhydrous, it’s a risk-based scenario. Even using the HazMat IQ system (if the department had the meters) that I feel greatly decreases the analysis paralysis you still arrive at do you risk turnout entry or wait. Your scenario at the school would need further information for a decision. Can this leak be stopped quickly? If not the chemical burns to the “Moist Areas” will have your crew in full retreat if this leak can not be stopped in about 2 min. You almost certainly will have some chemical burns even if you can stop the leak with a turn of a shutoff.

My team had an Anhydrous Ammonia leak in a meat packing facility some time back. It was a weekend so only a fraction of the workers were on duty and they all made it out as soon as the leak was cause by the tow motor. They shut down all electrical equipment on the way out including the refrigeration pumps and the ventilation fans. Upon our teams arrival we made a best guess at the volume of the leak and how long it was going to leak using information from the tow motor driver, the Refrigeration Company and CAMEO. The major problem was that this product was not being vented but being contained in the facility. By this time the leak had almost exhausted the systems continence so we wanted to provide enough air exchanges to get rid of the product. This required an entry. The IC on the scene did not want us to use any suits for entry because the news was on the scene and he wanted to “Keep it low key”. Roughly translated, the owner of the company was his political crony. To make a long story short we refused as a team to go in without level a and he sent his own son and his crew in with just turnout and SCBA. I printed out the medical treatment of anhydrous burns and walked it over to the ambulance crew on scene. They wanted to know why I was giving them this and I assured them that in about 2 min those guys would be running out of the building and would need treatment. I did not finish my explanation when I heard the guys screaming inside their masks heading out of the building in a full run. There was a fight for the booster hose and all spent 2 days in the hospital. We went in, in level a and activated the exhaust system and in a few hours, using the refrigeration companies meters had the building cleared out. I had 6 technicians all go home to their families and 3 of the fire departments crew…. including the Chiefs son spent 2 days in the hospital. One still claims that he has a skin condition from that incident. As I said before, you just never know what will happen when exposed to anything but O2.

I may be overly cautious but I far rather error on the side of my team members. If I had suits. I would use them. If the product was releasing into the great outdoors. I would use binoculars and watch it. But keep in mind that live stock is as important to farmers as their own family and in some cases even more important. One may find themselves mitigating an incident for a coop full of chickens.
Very Well said and thank you for your reply


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