Fire department training programs tend to mainly focus on response to transportation accidents, but this article looks at the variety of facilities we can encounter.
Everyday throughout the United States, fire departments respond to hazardous material incidents involving transportation accidents and fixed facilities. While Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations provide requirements for the transportation of hazardous materials, other code entities provide regulations for fixed facilities manufacturing, storing, using, and processing hazardous materials.
Fire department training programs tend to mainly focus on response to transportation accidents. Personnel are taught to stage back, recognize and identify container types, materials, spills and release conditions and mitigate accordingly. Training on fixed facilities tends to be generalized and provide minimal information for response.
The first step to effectively responding to incidents at fixed facilities is to properly pre-plan all occupancies in your response area. Before beginning the process check with your local building inspection authority. The building inspection department may have site/building plans for the facility including building locations and sizes, as well as tank locations and sizes. Mechanical heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), electrical and plumbing plans may also be available as well.
The local GIS department should also be contacted for aerial photos, topographical maps, and other valuable site information that may be available. The local fire marshal's office should also be on the list of entities to contact. Site and building information may be available and information on any construction or operational permits can be obtained.
Section 105.6 and 105.7 of the International Fire Code (IFC) requires building and operational permits for the manufacture, storage, use and dispensing of hazardous materials. The conditions of the permit will outline the quantities, methods of storage, use and dispensing allowed.
The fire inspection history should be checked. Any constant reoccurring violations or hazards found during fire inspections will likely be present during an incident at the site. Pre-planning should also include identifying multiple staging areas remote to the site for responding units and equipment. Having several pre-determined staging areas allows responders to adjust to changing weather and scene conditions if circumstances warrant relocating resources. Pre-plans should be thorough and complete for each site. Thorough pre-planning allows for a game plan to be in-place the day the incident occurs.
Dispatch and Response Policies
Upon being dispatched to a call at a fixed hazmat facility, company officers should begin thinking about hazardous material response. This applies equally to medical as well as fire and spill responses. Questions should be relayed back to dispatch about critical information. Upon being dispatched on a medical call such as breathing difficultly or chest pain to a fixed facility, the officer should ask "why is this person having a medical problem?" Is this because the employee has been exposed to a hazardous material spill or release or is it a health issue unrelated to the facility?
When dispatched to a fire, spill or release the officer should check the facility pre-plan and find out as much information as possible prior to arrival. What is the chemical, are tanks involved if so, what are the capacities (bulk or non-bulk), pressurized or non-pressurized, solid, liquid or gas, etc. Answering these questions will give the first-due officer valuable information to formulate a size-up and begin their tactical objectives upon arrival.