Posts

What are the most common HazMat threats for first responders?

by Steven Pike, Argon Electronics

The unintentional release of toxic chemicals can pose a wide range of physical, health and environmental hazards. And when it comes to the storage, handling or transport of hazardous materials (HazMat), safety is paramount.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) defines HazMat as any substance that is potentially harmful to human health or the environment. 

While there are a multitude of precautions that industries will take to stay safe, in the event of accidental spillage due to a road traffic accident or as the result of an industrial incident, highly trained HazMat crews will be called on to mitigate the threat.

In this article, we explore eight of the most common hazardous materials that first responders are likely to encounter in the event of an industrial accident or road transport incident.

1) Carbon Dioxide

Refrigerated carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless, non-flammable gas used to chill or freeze food products as part of the process of transport to market.

Although non-toxic, when carbon dioxide displaces oxygen in confined spaces the carbon dioxide vapors can cause headache, nausea, dizziness or asphyxiation. And when carbon dioxide comes into contact with skin it can also cause severe burns.

When responding to incidents where C02 is stored, firefighters need to be alert to the possibility of leakages. A low oxygen meter should be used to determine that an area is safe for occupancy.

2) Chlorine

Chlorine is a key component in the production of key industrial and consumer products including the vast majority of pharmaceutical production and virtually all crop protection chemicals.

It is a highly reactive and volatile substance, particularly when in the presence of heat, and is considered to be among the most dangerous of hazardous materials.

Chlorine is classified as both a Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) and a Poison Inhalation Hazard (PIH).

3) Fireworks

Both the transport and storage of consumer fireworks pose a high fire risk. In the United Kingdom (UK), the physical movement (transfer) of explosives from one place to another (excluding those moved within a site) requires a Recipient Competent Authority (RCA) document. 

According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) a license is required from an appropriate licensing authority in order to be able to store explosives, however depending on their hazard type certain quantities of explosives can be kept for a short time without the need for a license. 

In the US, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued mandatory safety regulations for fireworks devices that are regulated under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act.

4) Gasoline

Typical gasoline contains approximately 150 different chemicals including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

The highly flammable nature of gasoline, the ease with which it evaporates and its explosive potential in air, makes it a high exposure risk. Gasoline exposure can occur through the breathing of gasoline vapours, via the drinking of contaminated water or by coming into contact with contaminated soil.

Gasoline should only be stored in approved containers and must not be handled near any ignition source.

5) Argon

A refrigerated liquid, Argon is most commonly used in the production of fluorescent light bulbs and in welding.

Argon is classed as neither flammable nor toxic, however it can cause significant tissue damage if it comes into contact with skin and it can be extremely harmful if inhaled. To avoid sudden releases Argon is transported in upright cylinders.

6) Sulfuric Acid

Sulfuric acid (also known as “battery acid”, “hydrgen sulfate” and “oil of vitriol”) is one of the most important compounds in the chemical industry. The annual production of sulfuric acid worldwide has been predicted to hit 260 million tonnes by the end of 2018. 

Sulfuric acid is used widely in the production of phosphate fertilizers, metal processing, lead-based batteries, fiber production and chemical manufacturing (including paints, pigments, dyes and synthetic detergents.)

It is a highly corrosive substance which is destructive to skin, eyes, teeth and lungs. Severe exposure can be fatal.

7) Propylene

Propylene is a volatile, flammable gas used as a crucial product in the petrochemical, packaging and plastics industries.

It is often used in the place of propane in high-velocity oxygen fuel (HVOF) processes. Propylene gas poses a fire hazard when it is handled in the vicinity of any equipment capable of causing ignition.

8) Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)

Comprising a combination of propane and butane, LPG is commonly used as both a fuel (to heat vehicles and appliances) and as a refrigerant. Its mixture of hydrocarbon gases poses a major fire risk which means it must be stored in pressured vessels.

Toxic chemicals can pose a wide range of potential health and physical hazards to those employees operating within industrial plants and to the personnel charged with handling or transporting these substances. And as such they are heavily regulated.

In the rare case of accidental release, the knowledge of HazMat crews can provide life-saving assistance in identifying the threat, containing the area and mitigating the effects of the incident. 

This article was first published on the Argon Electronics website.

___________________________________

About the Author

Steven Pike is the Founder and Managing Director of Argon Electronics, a leader in the development and manufacture of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) and hazardous material (HazMat) detector simulators.
He is interested in liaising with CBRN professionals and detector manufacturers to develop training simulators as well as CBRN trainers and exercise planners to enhance their capability and improve the quality of CBRN and Hazmat training.

U.S. System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders Program

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established the System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER) Program to assist emergency responders making procurement decisions. Located within the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), the SAVER Program conducts objective assessments and validations on commercial equipment and systems, and provides those results along with other relevant equipment information to the emergency responder community. For more information, read the SAVER Program Fact Sheet.

The SAVER Program mission includes:

  • Conducting impartial, practitioner‑relevant, operationally oriented assessments and validations of emergency response equipment; and,
  • Providing information, in the form of knowledge products, that enables decision‑makers and responders to better select, procure, use, and maintain emergency response equipment.

Addressing Technologies

SAVER contains more than 1,000 assessments of equipment that falls within 21 different categories on the DHS Authorized Equipment List (AEL). Categories include:

  • Search and Rescue
  • Information Technology
  • CBRNE Detection
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Decontamination
  • Surveillance
  • Explosive Countermeasures

This information is shared nationally with the responder community, providing a cost-saving resource to DHS and other federal, state, and local agencies. Additionally, more than 20 different programs offer grants to purchase equipment on the AEL List.

Objective Assessments and Validations

SAVER is supported by a network of qualified technical agents who play a critical role in providing impartial evaluations and by helping to ensure these evaluations address real-world operational requirements. Participating organizations include the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic, DHS S&T’s National Urban Security Technology Laboratory, as well as emergency response practitioners, law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, and emergency managers, all of whom help to ensure these activities address real-world operational requirements.

Based on their assessments, technical agents produce documents, including product lists, reports, plans, rating charts, handbooks, and guides that describe the equipment, their capabilities, features, and potential applications. This provides first responders with a well-rounded picture to help inform procurement decisions.

SAVER Documents and Outreach

Partnerships

Biodetection Resources for First Responders

National Institute of Standards and Technology

Lesson Learned Information Sharing – Knowledge Base

Inter Agency Board – Standardized Equipment List

JUSTNet: The Website of the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center

Transport Canada publishes quick reference guide for first responders

As part of the Government of Canada’s ongoing commitment to providing first responders and emergency planners with the tools and resources they need to respond to a dangerous goods emergency, Transport Canada convened a meeting of the Steering Committee on First Responder Training today.

The meeting brought together stakeholders and government representatives to help steer the development of a national training curriculum for personnel who respond to railway incidents involving the transportation of dangerous goods.

At the meeting, Transport Canada announced the publication of a quick reference guide, You’re Not Alone!, which is designed to help first responders at the scene of an incident involving flammable liquids.  The guide outlines important safety measures and groups them into five steps as part of emergency planning.

The guide was added to Safety Awareness Kits published by Transport Canada in 2017 and is aimed at first responders and communities.

Transport Canada published these kits and the quick reference guide to raise community awareness of existing available resources on dangerous goods.

The Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, in a statement said: “Communities and first responders need to know that if a dangerous goods incident occurs, they’re not alone, and there are resources available to help. The safe transportation of dangerous goods by rail remains one of my top priorities.  We all share a common goal of making sure everyone is prepared for a dangerous goods emergency and the ‘You’re Not Alone!’ quick reference guide is an important piece of that preparation.”

The reference guide can be accessed here.

Have you “PRIMED” Your First Responders?

By Grant Coffey

 

Regardless of your occupational specialty – environmental professional, facility safety expert, military or first responder – YOU’VE BEEN THERE.  Yeah, you’ve been at that incident where the hair stood up on the back of your neck.  The one where you thanked fate it was just a “close call” and nothing more.  What are you doing within your organization to learn from these incidents?  How are you equipping your personnel with critical tools to respond more effectively and safely?  More critically, what training are you giving them to utilize the most important tool –their BRAIN?

Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) emergencies can be huge, overwhelming, complicated and full of unknowns.  Since we can’t have a specific SOP for every event, it’s common for the responder to regress under stress.  In many cases, that means retreating from what we know best.  Often, this yields disorganized, unsuccessful outcomes.  Same bad habits –same failed results.  Experience is critical, but it must adapt to tested street truths.

It is critical that we not only learn from our past incidents, but from each other. FLIR Systems recently introduced FLIR PRIMED – a one-stop resource for response professionals.  FLIR PRIMED strives to deliver informative and useable information in the form of a video-series that includes techniques, tools, and checklists based on best practices.  What does PRIMED stand for?

  • Prepare – Much of the battle is fought before you arrive on the scene of an emergency. Are you training your personnel for success? Use tested truth and then practice, review, modify and do it again…until it becomes a HABIT.
  • Recognize –All events have certain patterns. Early recognition of the “Big Picture” is acritical step. Utilizing available systems and tools helps us to avoid command “vapor lock” or overload confusion.
  • Input –Some decisions can be made initially, but the use of field checklists can assist in the orderly and thorough analysis of available on-scene “Cues and Clues.” You might not be able to identify a specific threat, but thegoal should be tosee it within a family of possibilities and rule out what it’s not.  I call the later “RIO” orRule it Out.
  • Monitor – Monitors are often used as presumptive tools. They should be seen as part of the total picture. They are important, but your brain is the best tool.
  • Experience –Experience is a double-edged sword. If it’s not nurtured and updated by improved response effectiveness, it can reinforce bad habits that lock us into a pattern of mistakes. Decision –Successful decision-making requires good information and competent use of available tools and equipment.  But make no mistake; decisions are ultimately made by humans -not equipment or procedures.

A CBRNE event can overwhelm the response equation.  Although the chemistry and physics of such events are relatively unchanging and predictable, the human aspect isn’t.  However, predictable patterns or outcomes still exist in emergencies.  If we couple this with a keen sense of our personnel, we can utilize those markers to improve response effectiveness.  Here are some “next step” ideas you can implement to improve your safety and effectiveness during a Hazmat or CBRNE response:

  • Instill a “Learning Attitude” with those personnel likely be the first to respond. Make it a daily event.  Learn tips from others or through resources like FLIR PRIMED.
  • Utilize your Hazmat Technicians to develop and deliver lessons, strengthening the bond of trust between your experts and the first responders. Because CBRNE events are atypical and infrequent, training must take place more often.  It should also highlight the mastery of concepts like, “turn it on and put it on.”  Personal Radiation Detection (PRD) equipment is vital at a rad scene.  Equip your first responders with good decision-making tools and education.
  • Integrate with allied agencies NOW, not later. Effective coordination between multiple agencies at CBRNE incidents is critical, but often overlooked and can be the Achilles heel.
  • Assemble your own field gu ides and checklists. These tools can help the IC avoid overload and assist them with important decision points. Don’t have any?  Start with some FLIR PRIMED downloads and modify them as needed.
  • Keep it simple! Use easily-remembered mantras like: “The 3 Cs” –Chemical, Container, Context. If you don’t, they won’t use them when pressured.  The threat is there.  Good tools are available.  One of them is FLIR PRIMED.  The video series delivers cutting-edge education and decision skills you can use right now.  Each episode concludes with a downloadable field guide or checklist.  Check it out today a flir.com/primed.

 

About the Author

Grant Coffey is a retired Portland Fire & Rescue Hazmat Team Coordinator, College Fire Science Instructor, and  CBRNE expert of nearly 40 years. He trains Fire, Police, Military and industry Hazmat Responders. He has NFPA certifications for Radiation Specialist and is a State of Oregon Radiation Safety Officer. He is also a Hazmat Specialist and Incident Safety officer and has experience in Emergency Manage ment and various other CBRNE Hazmat disciplines.