When you start out learning about hazardous materials response and the myriad of topics that go along with that it can be very daunting regardless of your years on the job. But as time passes and you keep your nose to the proverbial grindstone you start to get a comfort level and that steep learning curve starts to flatten out somewhat. Combined with educational opportunities and even field experience plateaus do occur along the way but it seems there is always more to learn. Then, out of nowhere, learning comes in leaps and bounds and before you know it that learning curve is steep again to the next plateau. But out of those insightful experiences come a renewed vigor and a commitment toward excellence that can only be satisfied by discovering new information.
Chaytor D. Mason, a former University of Southern California professor of human factor psychology, once said in 1975, "We must be constantly looking for new ways to do business". Only by keeping up with changes or new ways to do things in our industry can we make improvements and even maintain our safety. It is in this spirit that this installment is offered.
HazMat Research and Training
A few free research programs are offered by the federal government; WISER stands for "wireless information system for emergency responders" and is offered by the U.S. National Library of Medicine online at; www.wiser.nlm.nil.gov. This database is a work in progress but promises to offer more and more information as new versions are made available. For now, in-depth information on approximately 4,700 chemicals can be researched on levels geared for First Responders, EMS Specialist, and HazMat Specialist. Another free database is available through NIOSH called the Pocket Guidebook Electronic Version at: www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npg.html. This is an excellent data source on over 680 chemicals electronically. (Word has it that the printed version may be obsolete).
Do not overlook the valuable information within the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Case Studies at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire. While most of the firefighters were killed responding to or while at structural fires, several of the case studies involve hazardous materials incidents. Excellent images of these events can also be viewed within the case studies. Also, a very good training site exists at www.usfa.dhs.gov/training/nfa/coffee-break. This "coffee break" training has a new topic each day and the sessions are easily read and brief.
The International Association of Fire Fighters offers several hazmat related courses to professional or full-time fire department affiliates. Access to the free courses is online at www.iaff.org. A few upcoming, newly developed courses include; Illicit Labs, Communicable Diseases, and Firefighter Safety. Another great training program for getting up to speed on monomers and their hazards can be found by contacting David Ghormley from Rohm and Haas Chemical Company at 281-228-2974.
Finally, a couple of very capable and dynamic hazmat instructors have premiered a website that teaches an evolutionary way to learn and apply chemistry to hazmat emergencies. Cris Aguirre and Joe Gorman have launched www.hazmatIQ.com that displays their unique method of street chemistry. This column will not steal their thunder nor attempt to describe their system. You need to login to their website to get the details!
NFPA 704, Standard System for the Identification of the Hazards of Materials for Emergency Response, also has changes in store for how fixed site storage of hazardous materials will be marked in the 2007 version. This system, which uses the recognizable four quadrants of blue, red, yellow, and white, has been around since the early 1950's also uses numbers to indicate hazards from 0 to 4. The change has to do with the white "special information" quadrant that can depict "OX" for oxidizer or the W with a slash through it to indicate water reactivity. A new designation, "SA", can be used for hazardous materials that indicate a risk of "simple asphyxiant". One other change is that the reactivity level for sodium hydrosulfite has been increased from 0 to 1. A December 2000 incident near Oshkosh, Wisconsin is testimonial that sodium hydrosulfite can react with water and generate enough heat to self-combust. Area firefighters and hazmat personnel segregated a rail car of the material and allowed it to burn for several days before overhauling the remains.