Dispatch: Engine 427, Engine 435, Engine 422, Rescue Squad 426, Foam 426, Medic 422, HazMat 440, Battalion 405, Special Operations Chief. Respond to Interstate 95 for a vehicle accident involving multiple cars and a tank truck containing an unknown chemical. All incoming units, we have numerous reports of the tank truck leaking and people trapped.
Dispatch to Engine 427: State P.D. confirms that a family is trapped in a minivan with unknown liquid running under it. State P.D. states the placard on the side of the truck has a four-digit number of 2078.
Engine 427 to dispatch: 10-4.
This dispatch is a first-arriving company officer’s worst nightmare. Put yourself in the front seat of the engine. You’ll be arriving in less than five minutes to a scene where an unknown chemical is leaking and there’s a high likelihood that victims will need rescue. How comfortable would you be if faced with a rescue on this incident? Would you be confident making a go or no-go decision when people’s lives are at stake? Are you prepared to send your crew into the hot zone to rescue a family trapped in a minivan? Most company officers have never had to make this call, but it could happen at any time.
Firefighters normally receive 24 hours of hazardous materials First Responder Operations (FRO) training in the academy. The main objective of FRO training is to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. This objective is accomplished by instructing firefighters how to act defensively. We’re trained to identify the product, isolate the incident, stay upwind and uphill, and to call for additional resources. Firefighters are also taught to recognize container shape and sizes, placards, labels, markings and shipping papers, and how to use the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG).
In the opening scenario, the officer on Engine 427 would have minutes to make a decision about whether the crew is properly protected and equipped to safely achieve the rescue mission. Through FRO training, they would have been able to recognize the tank truck, understand the placard system and use the ERG to determine that the UN ID number 2078 is toluene diisocyanate (TDI). The ERG would then instruct the responder to go to Guide 156 within the ERG.
Guide 156 indicates that the substance is toxic and/or corrosive (combustible/water-sensitive). In the Potential Hazards section, “Fire or Explosion” is listed first, meaning these are the primary hazards. It then states that this material is combustible and will react with water, releasing flammable, toxic or corrosive gases. It goes on to say that vapors form explosive mixtures in air, vapors are heavier than air, vapors may travel to an ignition source, contact with metals may produce hydrogen gas and containers may explode when heated or contaminated with water.
The next listing in the Potential Hazards section is “Health,” meaning it’s a secondary hazard. The ERG states that the substance is toxic and that “inhalation, ingestion or contact (skin and eyes) with vapors, dusts or substance may cause severe injury, burns or death,” and that “reactions with water or moist air will release toxic, corrosive or flammable gases.”
Farther down in Guide 156 is the “Protective Clothing” information. This section states, “Wear positive pressure self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Wear chemical protective clothing that is specifically recommended by the manufacturer. It may provide little or no thermal protection. Structural firefighters’ protective clothing provides limited protection in fire situations ONLY; it is not effective in spill situations where direct contact with the substance is possible.” Clearly, you need chemical protective clothing and SCBA.
After reading the information in Guide 156, the crew, dressed in turnouts and wearing SCBA, ponders the critical question: go or no-go on this rescue? Do you see the problem here? Everything but common sense tells us to NOT go. Unfortunately for this crewâ€”and all firefightersâ€”the ERG does not address the go or no-go issue. The ERG offers guidance based on generic potential hazards, leaving Engine 427 no better prepared to facilitate a rescue.
NFPA 472 Changes the Game
In 2008, the committee for NFPA 472: Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents took a bold position on FRO-trained responders regarding rescue/recon. Recognizing that rescue is an integral part of a firefighter’s job, the committee changed the standard so that FRO-trained personnel may now enter the hot zone to perform rescue/recon.
In the portion of the standard that covers mission-specific competencies, it states that the “authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) can now train FRO responders to enter hot zone for the purpose of rescue/recon.”
It also states, “The operations level responder assigned to perform victim rescue/recovery shall be that person, competent at the operations level, who is assigned to rescue and/or recover exposed and contaminated victims at hazardous materials/WMD incidents.” Further, “The operations level responder assigned to perform victim rescue/recovery at hazardous materials/WMD incidents shall operate under the guidance of a hazardous materials technician, an allied professional, or standard operating procedures.” Also, “The operations level responder assigned to perform victim rescue/recovery at hazardous materials/WMD incidents shall receive additional training necessary to meet specific needs of the jurisdiction.”
Now that the standard gave jurisdictions the ability to train their personnel to enter the hot zone, all that was needed was the additional training and standard operating procedures (SOPs) that would ensure crew safety.
HazMat IQ Fills the Gap
In 2008, HazMatIQ tackled the task of designing hazmat training and SOPs, and implemented a new FRO training program where FRO now stands for First Responder Offensive.
HazMatIQ FRO is a four-hour class that trains first responders how to assess risk based on the hazards of a chemical. It incorporates the Above the Line/Below the Line size-up tool at the First Responder level. HazMatIQ SOPs give the first-arriving company officer the tools required to make safe, risk-based go or no-go decisions. Training alone can’t ensure the safety of crews entering the hot zone, so in addition to the training, crews must also be supplied with monitoring equipment to detect hazards.
Teams entering the hot zone need to have five basic meters/papers to safely work in a contaminated area. The “Stay Alive Five equipment” Kit (SAFe Kit) was developed with the help of the Federal Resources Supply Company. It is a rapid deployment case that contains a radiation detector, pH paper, fluorine paper, a temperature gun and a lower explosive limit (LEL) meter.
Each piece of equipment will detect dangerous hazards that have the potential to injure first responders. Turnouts and SCBA provide only limited protection from chemicals, so the SOPs instruct responders to read their meters and turn back if any “Red Light” level is reached. The only mission that would allow for running a “Red Light” is a “Line-of-Site Rescue,” a rescue where the victim is in clear site. A change of color from pink to yellow on fluorine paper is an automatic STOP, even if there is a Line-of-Site Rescue.
Hazmat incidents are low-frequency, high-risk calls. In other words, they don’t happen often, but the consequences could be dire. The best way to be good at something you may only handle once or twice in a career is to follow a system that uses cheat sheets.
The HazMatIQ FRO system consists of four steps, which are time-stamped and designed to follow a normal response sequence, from dispatch to hot zone. This system is completed in in approximately six minutes.
Step 1: Dispatchâ€”Size-up utilizing an SOP; completed in approximately 20 seconds.
Step 2: Respondingâ€”Verifying or tweaking initial size-up. This is accomplished by using the NIOSH Pocket Guide. Company officers are trained to quickly and efficiently go through 10â€“12 chemical and toxicological properties to determine the hazards of their chemical. (Note: Very few first-arriving companies are currently carrying the NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, but this must change.)
Step 3: Arrivalâ€”Responders look for additional clues, such as container shapes and sizes and placards, labels and markings. HazMatIQ has developed a set of charts that assists in hazard identification based on containers, placards and labels.
Step 4: Hot Zoneâ€”The responder, armed with the “SAFe Kit” and dressed in turnouts and wearing an SCBA, will determine if they are adequately protected to complete their assigned mission. This is accomplished utilizing the “Red Light, Green Light” concept.
If the chemical is not found in the NIOSH Pocket Guide or if the chemical is “unknown,” responders are trained to utilize the “SAFe Kit” to determine hazards. Known chemical hazards are found utilizing reference material. Once hazards are determined, responders can make go or no-go decisions that are based on the Red Light/Green Light meter readings.
The NFPA standard gave all responders the ability to enter the hot zone to make a rescue, and HazMatIQ developed the training and equipment needed to make it happen on the street. Responders can now be trained and equipped with the tools needed to help ensure their safety, and they can feel confident entering a hazmat incident to complete a rescue.
Back to Engine 427’s go or no-go decision: If they had been trained on the HazMatIQ FRO system, the crew would have made the rescue dressed in turnout gear, wearing SCBA and equipped with the SAFe Kit, and then called for the additional resources required to stop the leak and clean up the spill.