Hazardous Materials Response: Tricks of the Trade

Over time, and after numerous hazardous materials emergencies, methods of response and ways of doing things have evolved. Responders have gained insights in how to do things better, faster, more efficiently, and safer by reflecting on incidents. The school of hard knocks is a great impetus toward improving the way things are done. Additionally, when responders talk to other responders, networks develop and ideas are shared.

Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention and nowhere is this sentiment truer than with hazardous materials response. Great innovations and even practical ideas have been spun from "doing" the hazmat thing over the last 30 years. This installment will list several ideas and their reason for existence to enable other responders in being better, faster, smoother hazmat responders. See if you agree.

Scene Safety

Many teams have used traffic cones, banner tape, and signage to help control hazard sectors for years. Coupled with law enforcement, weather stations, and plume modeling software for hot, warm, and cold zone set-up and monitoring these methods have proven to be effective. Consider the following to augment current scene safety devices;

  • Portable air horn devices, police whistles, or megaphones can serve as warning devices for entry personnel if safety may be compromised.

Hot Zone Work

  • Some teams have invested in personnel carrying vehicles to get to the area of remote train derailments or other obscure areas. Vehicles such as ATV's with trailers, small flat bed 6-wheel transporters (Gators), or even the fairly new 2-wheel Segway Human Transporter that uses gyroscopic technology.

Personal Protective Equipment

  • Some teams have streamlined their dressing procedures by packing most of the needed equipment in one container for each entry person. This idea saves time and energy by reducing the number of trips to retrieve all entry equipment at an emergency. These can be large Tupperware type containers with covers and can be supplied at the beginning of each shift for a specific person or they can be stocked for a certain size person. At an emergency, personnel would only need to retrieve their PPE container, a SCBA (and facepiece), chemical boots, and a radio.

Items to consider in each container are;

  • Dressing procedure in laminated form
  • Chemical suit, Level A or B, NFPA compliant, in appropriate size
  • Coveralls, Nomex or winter weight for cold months
  • Cool vest for warmer months
  • Inner gloves, surgical or cotton for cold months
  • Assorted chemical gloves in appropriate sizes
  • Anti-slip footwear for outside of chemical boots for cold months
  • Hard hat or equivalent
  • Towel, wet wipes, anti-fog for facepiece
  • Flashlight for inside suit
  • Pocket knife for inside suit
  • Small recording clipboard for inside suit

Part 2 of this article will soon follow with tactical approaches and innovations. Stay tuned and stay safe!

As usual, please forward any feedback or input to the author at dcnkm@charter.net