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The ERG primarily contains generic information about hazardous materials or terrorist agents, which is organized into orange guide pages by particular product hazard. Each orange guide page contains two general types of hazard information, one section for health hazards and the other for fire and explosion hazard. Whichever one appears first on the page indicates the most severe hazard of the specific material. Information gathered by the responder to extract information from the guide pages includes four-digit identification numbers, which are found in the center of certain placards placed on bulk shipments of hazardous materials.
Photo by Robert Burke
Hazmat incidents require resources beyond the capabilities of first responders.
The yellow section of the ERG contains a numerical listing of 4-digit identification numbers. Responders match the number from the placard with the number in the yellow section and are given an orange guide page number. This orange guide page contains information about a group of similar hazardous materials.
If a four-digit identification number is not available, but the name of the chemical is known, that name can be taken to the alphabetical listing of chemicals in the blue section of the ERG. This method will also refer the responder to an orange guide page, where information is located to deal with the early stages of the incident. If no four-digit identification number or name is available, there is a placard chart in the front of the ERG that connects to orange guides for information based on the hazard class of the placard. Because the placard identifies only the hazard class, the information given in the orange guide will be much more generic than if the four-digit number or chemical name were known. If none of the above clues are available, there is one additional source of information, which may be taken to the guidebook to determine an orange guide page to use.
The 2000 ERG is the first edition of the book to include a highway trailer and railcar silhouette chart. By matching a highway container silhouette or railcar to the chart, responders may also be able to get orange guide information. But remember, since containers can haul many different types of chemicals, the information given will be even more generic than the placard information. The ERG contains a large amount of information to assist the first responder at an incident scene. It is important that all response personnel receive training on the contents and use of the guide.
Robert Burke, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland. He is a certified Hazardous Materials Specialist, and has served on state and county hazmat response teams. Burke is a veteran of over 19 years in the fire service, in career and volunteer fire departments, having attained the ranks of lieutenant and assistant chief, and served as deputy state fire marshal. He has 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. He is the author of the books Hazardous Materials Chemistry For Emergency Responders, published in 1997, and Counter-Terrorism For Emergency Responders, published in 1999. Burke can be reached on the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org.