Hazmat Sidebar: Fire-EMS Response to Indoor Marijuana Grows

An indoor marijuana grow is an illegal operation where the plants are grown or engineered to maturity and sold or the concentrated resin (hashish oil) is extracted from them. These operations can range from very simple to extremely complex. Marijuana grow...

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In addition to the chemical and process hazards at indoor marijuana grows, responders must be aware of anti-personnel devices (APDs) placed as booby traps. These devices are sometimes designed to protect the grow owners’ investment while they are away and to serve as warning devices to aid in the owners’ or operators’ escape. Unfortunately, they can also incapacitate first responders. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MOVE, HANDLE OR DISARM A CONFIRMED OR SUSPECTED APD. THIS IS A JOB FOR TRAINED PERSONNEL.


Response Guidelines

Preparation is the key and that includes a clear idea of your actions before the incident or operation occurs. The first step in preparation is providing proper training to all response personnel. This should include identification of indoor marijuana grows and an awareness of the risks associated with them. Growing operations been discovered in locations that include attics, basements, apartments, storage units, barns, underground locations and confined spaces.

  • If an indoor marijuana grow is suspected during routine fire-EMS calls, local law enforcement should be alerted immediately and the area secured
  • Firefighters may need to provide law enforcement with breathing equipment or other tools and supplies
  • Attempting to control a structural fire may be very hazardous to the fire attack team
  • If an initial fire attack is in progress when the location is identified as a large growing operation, withdraw the attack teams and shift from an offensive to a defensive operation
  • Discontinue overhaul and leave the structure if chemicals, plants and/or drug apparatus are found
  • Decontamination considerations before any entry, especially in case of a responder emergency, must be thought out carefully and focused on hasty or emergency decontamination procedures
  • If a drug lab is found upon entry into a structure, alert other responders on scene without delay and do not touch anything, including light switches, then back out immediately, watch for anti-personnel devices and other hazards and, if possible, bring all occupants out with you
  • Fire-EMS responders must use care when interacting with growers – remember, you may have also happened upon a crime scene

If your jurisdiction has a hazardous material response team, it may need to be called to the scene to assist with decontamination and set up control zones. Upon the team’s arrival, brief the members about your findings and actions, and support and assist them as needed.

Additional precautions include:

  • DO NOT touch anything in the grow
  • DO NOT turn on any electrical power switches or light switches
  • DO NOT turn off any electrical power switches or light switches
  • DO NOT eat or drink in or around a grow
  • DO NOT open or move containers with chemicals or suspected chemicals
  • DO NOT smoke in or near a grow
  • DO NOT sniff any containers
  • DO decontaminate yourself and your clothing
  • DO wash your hands and face thoroughly
  • DO call your local law enforcement as soon as possible

—August Vernon