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Facilities where MRI and NMR are used will be equipped with oxygen monitors and alarms to indicate whether the air is safe to breathe without respiratory protection or if respiratory protection is necessary. If the alarm is sounding, it is likely helium or nitrogen vapors are present and have displaced oxygen in the area. Helium and nitrogen vapors are lighter than air, so crawling on the floor would provide an atmosphere of less helium and nitrogen and more oxygen. Material safety data sheets (MSDS) on helium, nitrogen and any other chemicals in use should be available at the facility.
During firefighting or other emergency operations at an NMR facility, care should be taken to not overturn magnets – they are very top heavy and not very stable. Cryogenic containers called dewars are also top heavy and easily overturned.
In addition to other hazards mentioned above, radiation hazards are present in NMR facilities that may present unique hazards to emergency response personnel. Become familiar with MRI or NMR facilities in your response areas. Consult knowledgeable magnetic resonance personnel, as they are the best source of information when it comes to dealing with the magnetic fields and associated cryogenic hazards.
For more news and training on hazardous materials response, visit: http://www.firehouse.com/topics/rescue-special-ops.
ROBERT BURKE, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFSP), Fire Inspector II, Fire Inspector III, Fire Investigator and Hazardous Materials Specialist, and has served on state and county hazmat teams. Burke is the author of the textbooks Hazardous Materials Chemistry for Emergency Responders and Counter-Terrorism for Emergency Responders. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.