What's New in HazMat?

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.

NFPA 1992 (2005), Standard on Liquid Splash-Protective Ensembles and Clothing for Hazardous Materials Emergencies, has detailed changes to compliant Level B suits that will have the SCBA under the suit.

HazMat Containers

A new type of propane cylinder has been introduced to the market in the New York area. The 20 pound cylinders are made of fiberglass and come in a plastic outer protective casing but with the standard brass valve and relief device. A local fire authority, Nassau County Fire Service Academy, has tested the composite cylinders in both pool fire and impingement situations and found that while the fiberglass will melt and expose the liquid propane to fire, complete burn off of the fuel occurs between 14 and 16 minutes. Additionally, none of the above tests resulted in a BLEVE! Responder beware! More information is available at http://www.dos.state.ny.us/fire/firewww.html or 518-474-6746.

HazMat Mass Decon

Numerous fire departments and hazmat response agencies have wrestled with the concept of how to best decontaminate the largest number of people the fastest way. Concepts employed include the car wash method of using wide angle nozzles on discharge ports of fire pumpers, master streams on wide fog and low pressure from aerial devices, and even decon tents. All of these methods have advantages and disadvantages. For ease and cost even hoselines can be deployed the fastest and there are now master stream devices that can flow 500 gpm in less than one minute and without any staff to attend to the operation. The ultimate low cost and simplest device to date for mass decontamination purposes may very well be what the Columbus, Ohio Fire Department has developed-a mass decon hydrant cap. Every engine company in the city carries one and they are even pre-deployed before large events such as at the Ohio State Buckeye's football games. Captain William Brobst describes them as regular hydrant caps that have had numerous holes drilled into them to allow a wide angle shower of small jets of water when the hydrant is opened. In the event of a WMD event, contaminated victims could be directed toward a hydrant with the caps on and water flowing.

HazMat Response

A long time ago, Captain Harry White from the Nashville Fire Department's hazmat response team, used to comment at hazmat seminars he presented at that most hazmat teams were started with good intentions and little else. After many years of learning and experiencing hazmat emergencies it is now readily apparent what Captain White meant. It is simply this; there is much more to hazmat response than having a shiny truck and supplies for stopping leaks and cleaning up spills. Teams of today now know that to respond safely they need state-of-the-art suits, boots, gloves, monitoring instruments, control equipment, data sources, communication equipment, and most importantly, comprehensive training based on sound standard operating guidelines.

The early days saw many of us with steep learning curves and little experience but over time we overcame these large handicaps. Consequently, our decision making and risk assessment skills have improved greatly as a result of our experiential based careers. What follows is a short list of what has been learned over the years.

  • Experiential based risk assessment techniques
  • Learned to use and rely on monitoring instruments data
  • Learned to avoid Level A when a lower level is safe
  • Learned to analyze chemical and physical data of a released material in concert with environmental conditions to make safe and efficient decisions
  • Learned the difference between an "emergency" and an "incidental response"
  • Learned to integrate with private teams
  • Learned to better prepare first responders
  • Learned to apply lessons learned to future incidents

In closing, a recent case study illustrates how all of the above has been integrated and knowledge and experience can be applied at a hazmat emergency;

So, we come full circle! Only by learning more through seminars, conferences, websites, talking with each other, and learning vicariously through case studies, can we flatten the learning curve and handle our hazmat incidents efficiently and safely. Chaytor Mason was right in that we need to constantly look for new ways in which to respond because our world is full of changes and updates. It behooves all of us to be watchful because there is always something new in hazmat! Lets be careful out there!