HazMat IQ: Simplifying Complex Chemistry for Emergency Responders

Hazardous materials responders across the country have a new way to look at hazmat chemistry: the "HazMat IQ" system, which lets responders see immediate application of the material to their response world. The HazMat IQ system simplifies complex...


Hazardous materials responders across the country have a new way to look at hazmat chemistry: the "HazMat IQ" system, which lets responders see immediate application of the material to their response world. The HazMat IQ system simplifies complex chemistry concepts into "need-to-know" essentials...


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Hazardous materials responders across the country have a new way to look at hazmat chemistry: the "HazMat IQ" system, which lets responders see immediate application of the material to their response world. The HazMat IQ system simplifies complex chemistry concepts into "need-to-know" essentials that can easily be used in the field in concert with laminated sheets called "Smart Charts."

Created by two experienced fire and hazmat responders, Cris Aguirre and Joe Gorman, the HazMat IQ system has proven effective on hazmat emergencies. The learning concept is built around empowering a responder to understand how chemistry information can be used to think through tactical decision making. In essence, the system does not teach what to think, but how to think and then how to act on one's own. In just one class session, responders are taught how to use the system and how to think using the Smart Charts

Learning the basic chemistry concepts and how to use the Smart Charts does not take long. In less than a half-day, most students can grasp this system that shows them both how to size-up the chemical and physical properties of a hazardous material, along with properly selecting personal protective equipment (PPE) and the appropriate air monitoring instruments (meters) to measure the material that has been released. The system starts out with the initial information from a simple dispatch. Frequently, from the initial information, responders get the chemical identity through a chemical name or an identification number, then they must make an initial decision based on the chemical nomenclature.

The first decision is whether the released material is an "Above-the-Line" or a "Below-the-Line" chemical. This decision is based on background chemistry information that is discussed in the morning classroom setting. Based on their determination as to the chemical and physical hazards of the released material, they should be able to complete this initial size-up in 20 seconds or less. Then, they are on their way to Step 2. Step 2 is the response phase and within two minutes students should be able to verify their own size-up from Step 1. This is a critical step because they may have been errant in their initial size-up. Step 2 verifies, and may even correct, the size-up step through research data bases or books. This step also centers on which PPE to select in respect to the released material along with the meters that are needed to measure its airborne concentrations.

Upon arrival, several minutes later, personnel should be well prepared to go to work. Step 3 has responders round up the equipment that has been identified, check it over for readiness and prepare for Step 4, the entry into the "hot zone" or release area. Responders are also taught to identify their mission in order to prioritize their actions and conduct a risk-benefit analysis. Their mission may be a quick in-and-out for a possible line-of-sight rescue situation or it may involve more deliberate actions such as shutting off valves, leak sealing or spill confinement. (For a brief overview of the HazMat IQ system, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14Cm0cakExk.)

To best depict HazMat IQ in action, consider the following spill scenario: First responders are on the scene of a train versus a tractor-trailer in which the collision ripped the trailer in half and threw numerous 55-gallon drums out of the trailer. They report damaged steel drums on the ground around the wreckage with clear liquid leaking from several drums. It is 9 A.M. on a bright, sunny and cold day (10 degrees Fahrenheit) in early winter and no one was hurt when the truck crossed the path of the slow-moving train. Both the train and the truck stopped a short distance from the collision site and called for emergency services.

The firefighters arrive a short time later, set up site control and immediately set their hazmat action plan into effect. They have not entered the release area, but have called you, the hazmat response team, to take care of the release. This is where the Smart Charts are used to initiate the system, beginning with Step 1.

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