Florida Fire, Police Officials Get Tools To Detect Radiation

Say a faulty X-ray machine creates a radiation leak at an area doctor's office.

How would public safety officials, such as firefighters and police, safely respond to the leak without risking contamination?

They would likely use dosimeters, radiation detection pagers used for measuring and recording doses of radiation.

In recent weeks, batches of dosimeters have been sent to Manatee County law enforcement and firefighting agencies from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the state fire marshal's office, according to Rick Morera, spokesman for FDLE in Tampa.

"What we're trying to do is deploy equipment to the different agencies in our region that will improve our capabilities to respond should we have any incident," Morera said. "Not that there's a specific threat, but it's another weapon in our arsenal to help us."

Dosimeters are made of small pieces of radiation-sensitive material and change color when irradiated. A spectrophotometer measures the amount of color change and helps calculate the total dosage accumulated.

Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue Division Chief David Quarderer and West Manatee Fire and Rescue Capt. Ernie Cave said dosimeters help firefighters establish hot, warm and cold zones when tackling a radiation leak.

If firefighters are too close to a hot zone, they'll receive a higher, more lethal dose of radiation immediately dangerous to their lives and health. Dosimeters allow them to work from the safety of warm and cold zones, where they'll be safer from possible exposure.

"I hope we never have to use them," Quarderer said. "But it's a useful tool if we ever need to use it."

The same applies to police officers, who must secure such a scene. While the Manatee County Sheriff's Office has not received the equipment, the Palmetto Police Department and the Bradenton Police Department have.

"It's another tool for the officers," Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said. "It keeps them out of harm's way and keeps the community safe."