Hazmat in the Trenches: The HazMat IQ Revolution

In the world of hazardous materials response and especially involving hazmat chemistry, there is a revolution occurring. It is not just a quiet revolution; in fact, it is an up-roar. Responders across the country are singing the praises of a new way to...


To better understand the HazMat IQ system the following is presented; in an industrial setting several steel 55-gallon drums fell off a pallet that was being handled by a forklift. One drum is damaged, on its side, and leaking from its chime near the top. The forklift operator shut off the forklift and vacated the area. He reports that he was moving drums labeled "acrylonitrile".

Hazmat personnel arrive after being called and gather additional information. They also set-up initial site control and then consult their Smart Charts to begin the four-step process. First step! Is "acrylonitrile" a chemical name that is "Above or Below the Line?" Based on the initial training the determination is that it is an "Above-the-Line" chemical!

Above the Line chemicals have flammable tendencies and the SOG from the Red Box will need to be followed initially. The Step 1 size-up provides a worst case scenario that is the starting point for the system, and Red Box materials will usually be liquids or gases. They are usually flammable so they have flashpoints and flammable ranges. Red Box materials also have ionization potentials, they turn pH paper red, and they require turnout gear for personal protection for initial entry. Leak sealing and spill handling will most likely require Level B clothing, or even Level A with proper precautions. Red Box chemicals will require 300 feet isolation zones for gas releases and 150 feet for liquid spills.

Above the Line materials are also better outlined on Smart Chart #3. The prefix "acryl" is found in the flammable clues box on this chart which verifies the material is flammable. In the "name clues" box the suffix ends in "nitrile" and these types of materials are flammable, toxic, corrosive, and polymerization hazards. The meters that should be used for these materials include a temperature gun, combustible gas indicators (CGIs), photoionization detectors (PIDs), flame ionization detectors (FIDs), and colorimetric tubes or chips. The classroom session also stresses the importance of entering with radiation meters along with F paper (for fluorine detection) and pH paper. These indicator papers are attached as "heads-up" displays on the outside of the responders facepieces.

To further expand your size-up, Smart Chart #3 lists turnouts for initial atmospheres up to 10 percent of the lower explosive limit (LEL), Level B for situations below one percent LEL, and even Level A if needed for corrosive atmospheres.

So, the 4 step system has provided a size-up and a course of action for this scenario. The first question was answered with acrylonitrile being an Above-the-Line material with Red Box or flammable hazards. Verification with Step 2 found the hazards to be accurate along with what PPE and meters to use for acrylonitrile responses. The Smart Charts list acrylonitrile as a "Red 9" SOG and the needed equipment to ready for Step 3 upon arrival. Step 4 would enable responders to enter the spill area safely and correctly dressed to better characterize the environment with meters and assess the needs for complete mitigation.

That's it! The HazMat IQ system that has been outlined here is quite often looked upon as being revolutionarily simple! The basic chemistry is implicit in the system and the heavy lifting has been done for all responders. By only looking at the "need-to-know" chemistry information and along with the utilization of the Smart Charts, responders can select their PPE and meters to handle hazmat releases. This system can also handle unknown materials with the utmost safety.

After attending this one day session, hazmat chemistry is often looked upon in a completely different light. In fact, experienced hazmat responders have stated that they learned more in a one-day HazMat IQ class session than they learned in their entire career. That is, after all, the definition of "revolution": a sudden, radical, or complete change, and a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something. And, because of the HazMat IQ revolution, hazmat response and hazmat chemistry will never be looked upon the same again.

Learn More About HazMatIQ Live! Co-Founders Cris Aguirre and Joe Gorman will present "HazMatIQ - First Responder Operations" on July 23 at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore.