Preparing The Hospital For Victims Of Hazmat & Terrorist Incidents

Fire departments, EMS providers and other emergency response agencies are being trained to deal with terrorist incidents, but recent testimony before Congress reveals that local public health systems are not prepared to respond to potential chemical or...


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Differences exist between a mass-casualty disaster and one involving hazardous materials. These include the need for decontamination of patients and personnel, and identifying effective safety measures to protect personnel. Standard triage procedures are used for hazmat disasters, except in cases of extremely toxic materials. Without antidotes, many victims of toxic exposure may not be treatable and efforts should be focused on those who can be saved.

Without trained and equipped emergency responders and hospital emergency departments, hazmat incidents and biological terrorist attacks may lead to a disaster for the local medical system. Proper planning, training and equipment at the emergency department will greatly reduce the impact of an incident on the community.


Robert Burke, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland and has served on state and county hazmat response teams. Burke is a veteran of over 17 years in career and volunteer fire departments, serving as assistant chief and deputy state fire marshal. He holds an associate's degree in fire protection technology and a bachelor's degree in fire science, and is pursuing a master's degree in public administration. Burke is an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy and Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, and is the author of the textbooks Hazardous Materials Chemistry For Emergency Responders, published in 1997, and Counter-Terrorism for Emergency Responders, to be published this year. He can be reached on the Internet at robert.burke@worldnet.att.net.