This drill was done this year by all the members of my department as well as inviting mutual aid departments to participate. I wrote the drill based on something that really happened to another agency. Even though the below photos were taken on the drill, this incident actually occurred and had some interesting outcomes that I don't want to give away yet but will after we get enough comments as to how would you mitigate this incident. Here goes...

You've been dispatched on a reported vehicle accident involving a stake side truck verses a passenger car. The driver of the passenger car was not injured and had walked away from the scene because of a fire that had started in the back of the stake side truck. When you arrive on scene, this is what you see...

You grab a pair of binoculars to get a close up view of the placards on the truck. Here's what you see:

A bystander that had witnessed the accident walks up to you and hands you this empty bag that had fallen out of the truck during the accident.

Weather: 5-10 mph West Wind blowing the smoke toward a trailer park of senior citizens, many non-ambulatory if they have to get out in a hurry.

Resources: Your on your own for the first 15 minutes of the call when your second in arrives.

Law Enforcement: Enroute and wants to know if you want to shut down any of the roads or evacuate.

And now, the rest of the story...

What is critical about this particular call was the fact that the 55 gallon drums contained zinc phosphide. By itself, no problemo... add water and you get a synergistic effect and an off gassing of product that is highly toxic and corrosive. Zinc phosphide is common around grain silos and other places where rats and mice need to be controlled to protect food stuff. Keep in mind how this stuff works when used commercially. Kind of like a gas chamber for rats... Here's the other problem with the stuff, seems that when you add water, you get an exothermic reaction (1+1=uh oh...) and there is flame production as a result coupled with the generation of toxic gases.

So if you were thinking about putting a hose line on the burning 55 gallon drums, think again. Here's the rule about using water. Don't. I'm not saying that there are not any situations where you may have to use water but it should not be your first line of defense. A little used piece of equipment that every fire engine carries is your dry chemical extinguisher. Using the dry chemical extinguisher as the first line of defense minimizes unnecessary cleanup and extension of the hazards involved.

The first priority is life safety for any incident. For this particular one, you have to have confidence in your turnout gear to safely get you to the victim, perform a rescue and then get out, and fast. Generalized decon procedures using a booster line will ensure that you can get out of your turnouts quickly enough, and post decon showering will ensure that you have minimized potential exposure but the most important factor here is that you got the victims out of the toxic cloud, and gave them a chance to survive the chemical insult.

So lets get back to the step by step, how to run a hazmat call pictorial narrative...

You have the first arriving engine company show up on scene, spotting the apparatus uphill, upwind, upstream, up, up, up... don't forget about local weather conditions. Here in Santa Barbara around 17:00 PM the winds switch from an on shore to an off shore wind which means that the wind changes direction 180˚. Tell me that this wouldn't ruin your day. Remote weather monitoring is a must, specially when you are staging equipment and resources that are difficult to move quickly.

I share this photo to enforce the need for people to talk and communicate clearly what the tactics and strategies are for resolving the incident. This is also important because one of your crew members might have seen something that you didn't. Communications are imperative for survival.

The use of monitors is important sometimes but can cause major delays when it comes to performing a rescue. The longer the victim is exposed to hazardous materials, the less likely the person is going to survive. What needs to happen quickly is to make the decision whether or not to perform a rescue. It's your call but as mentioned above, you can save several lives adhering to basic radiological response tactics that include time, distance and shielding. Do all three and you limit your exposure potential.

Sending a team into both recon and do a quick grab and run for this particular incident was the right thing to do. The hazards involved were primarily exposure to toxic gases and smoke. Your PPE and SCBA protect you from this with one key exception... dermal exposure.

When something burns, you get what is called products of decompostition which contains aldehydes, ketones and organic vapors and mists. Remember the routes of exposure from Toxicology 101... you can inhale it, have it absorb through your skin, you can ingest it and in some cases where there is a puncture injury you can have it injected into your body. These firefighters and victim require immediate decon, post-gross decon soap and tepid water showers (too cold = hypothermia / too hot = opening up pores and increasing exposure potential).

Firefighters can be seen here performing a quick rescue, and note the fire extinguisher sitting next to the vehicle. The crews were given extra points remembering to take a dry chem to deal with the fire. We didn't actually make them use the extinguisher but verbally, they reported that they had knocked down the fire and were performing a victim rescue.

Once the victims have been taken to a safe staging area, immediate EMS can start to occur. Remember that ABC's are really important and finding a way to reduce exposure quickly is imperative. You can accomplish this with at least carrying and providing for patients NIOSH-Approved N95 Disposable Particulate Respirators. Every engine company should carry a couple of boxes of these for the public as well for themselves. Click here for a listing of approved NIOSH manufacturers.

Patient care is easy to remember when it comes to dealing with a contaminated victim...

A - Airway
B - Breathing
C - Circulation / C-Spine Precautions
D - Decon
F - Forensics / Not everyone survives... think morgues...
G - Go To The
H - Hospital for more definitive care...

Don't forget that the DOT Emergency Response Guide is designed for highway incidents only... NOT fixed facility incidents. Look for some future discussions or on the Hazmat WMD Responder site for more definitive information on this in the future.

Conclusion: You might kind of get the hint that I am passionate about this topic. Without sharing the department or the name of the Captain that I spoke with, I wanted to share what really happened on this call...

The engine company that responded to reported 55 gallon drums smoking in the back of a semitrailer also happened to be the hazmat team. They responded to the incident in a typical Type I engine with four firefighters. Using the ERG... the engine company made the decision to extinguish the visible flames with a 1-1/2" hose line with a TFT nozzle. As soon as the water was applied to the burning material, a violent exothermic reaction occurred, driving the firefighters out of the semitrailer. The decision was made to make entry into the trailer again but with the goal of removing the wood pallet and the four drums sitting on top. Once the drums were removed, the hose line was again extended and water sprayed onto this material (zinc phosphide).

Eventually, the decision was reached to use dry chem, which immediately both extinguished the fire as well as provide a sealing layer of dry chemical powder that limited vapor production.

There wasn't anything remarkable that happened after the call but something did happen a day later...

One of the firefighters who was downwind of the smoke and flames that were generated with the application of water left for home the next morning, headed for the Colorado River with his family to enjoy each others company, vacationing and having fun. Instead, the firefighter 36-hours after the incident was coughing up bright red blood and was bleeding from a large cyst that had formed in his esophagus. This firefighter was exposed via dermal exposure and it didn't take much... The firefighter survived but it is unknown at this time whether the firefighter suffered any long term problems as a result of this exposure.

If you are not totally sure as to how to handle this call or calls like it, please visit the Hazmat WMD Responders page for more detailed information.

If I can be of assistance with your hazmat team, response, inspections or equipment, don't hesitate to drop me a line.

"It's all about being able to go home in the morning..."

Stay safe, Mike from Santa Barbara

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What an awesome reply Ed, now I feel fully educated in the science of fire helmets! gracias amigo! Your amigo de la Santa Barbara, Mike

We have both the Hazmat SKEDS and the Raven Litters. The HM SKEDS are much easier to use - you just slide, drag, or roll the patient on it, snap a couple of fastex buckles, and drag them away. The Raven litters are basically a mesh version of the old military pole litters with straps and wheels added. The wheels are pretty flimsy considering what they're used for. The SKEDs also work well for transition to the litter patient decon boards and roller systems if you have the TVI decon tents or something similar.
Hey Ben, Ok, so maybe I pushed the envelope a bit with the mask thing. My only thoughts here were that it would be a good idea to prevent any particulates from entering the respiratory system. Totally a speculative option of course but I thought that I'd put it out there to see if it was something viable. In regards to the determination of whether to do a rescue or not, I clearly remember one of our BC's having a very frank discussion with our engine companies. All 16 stations, three shifts as well as other mutual aid departments participated in this drill. One of the goals of this drill was to drive home the fact that you are not always going to have the hazmat team responding. Self reliance and making the choice to save a life, and do so with as many safeguards as possible was the lesson learned by everyone coupled with not always going for the fire hose but instead, not forgetting that your rig also carried dry chemical extinguishers.
I'm glad I posted this. It seems that we have had some very productive conversations and viewpoints expressed. And yes, even I learned a thing or two. Now to come up with new and exciting hazmat stuff... My next hazmat post is going to discuss one of the comments about whether to use the ERG or not for fixed facilities. To be continued... SSTC, Mike from Santa Barbara
Mike, I undestand your thinking here. I just think that moving quicklly is more important than a minimalist filter respirator. If the engine puts water on the fire, the primary respiratory hazard is phosgene generation. A filter respirator won't help the victim with phosgene, which will blow right through the filter media.

My rule of thumb for hazard zone rescues with an immediate lift threat is
"Rescue First, Then Medical". I started using this for swiftwater rescue years ago, but it applies to hazmat, structure fires, confined space rescue, or any similar situation where quick rescue is an option.

Get the rescue done if there's an immediate life threat, then worry about the medical care.

Good topic, good discussion.
That's funny, this "traffic" that you speak of looks like concrete to me.
"For this particular one, you have to have confidence in your turnout gear to safely get you to the victim, perform a rescue and then get out, and fast. Generalized decon procedures using a booster line will ensure that you can get out of your turnouts quickly enough, and post decon showering will ensure that you have minimized potential exposure but the most important factor here is that you got the victims out of the toxic cloud, and gave them a chance to survive the chemical insult."

WTF??? I just finished taking my hazmat ops course and I have to disagree with the idea our turnout gear provides any protection in a vapor cloud environment. That's why they created level A vapor suits. Also the most important factor here is us, the firefighters. We didn't create the problem and as such don't have to risk our lives foolishly.

Just my thoughts
Dave, Imagine if you will that you are on an engine company. You respond to this incident, see a rescue situation, and note that the wind is blowing the smoke away from the vehicle. Do you let the victims die or live? You can make a difference here...

I in no way want to give the impression here that I am championing making entry into a toxic vapor cloud with turnouts. But in this scenario, one could safely make a quick rescue, minimizing exposure to the firefighters. In and out.

Waiting on scene for hazmat to arrive, get setup, do medical monitoring all the while having what was viable victims here... not a good thing. This incident is outside. The vapor concentrations are nothing like an indoor incident. You can take advantage of the wind diffusing the vapors where as the photographs depict, blow any "vapors" away from the scene. Of course you don't want to walk around in the vapors or hang around if you don't need to be there. In and out... This is what we get paid to do... Save lives and yes, take educated risks.

This is a survivable incident. It's not black and white. It's got lot's of gray areas and certainly, this subject is not gone into much detail at any of the courses taught nationally. Making a blanket statement that for toxic vapors you can only use Level A is great for new students in a classroom. But when you pull up on scene, don't have Level A PPE available, are you really going to let victims dye, calling out for help with the public watching in horror? I know the rationale about the fact that we didn't cause the problem so why put ourselves in risk... I also know that by taking some educated personal risks, many lives can be saved.

When you take the facts from this scenario and put them together, it should be obvious that staying out of the smoke, doing a quick snatch and grab to get medical care for the victim accomplished saving lives. If you had the presence of mind to grab a dry chem, then the incident vapor / smoke production stops and the incident is no longer dynamic but remains static and two peoples lives were saved. We are not always going to have a hazmat team to respond and help us with their resources. This drill was written to reinforce self-reliance by engine companies and to generate a healthy discussion about when and when not to do a hazmat rescue.
Mike, I agree completely. The primary hazard at this incident is the fire. If the fire goes out, the primary hazard goes away. No sense letting two viable victims burn to death when an ABC extinguisher and a few seconds can save their lives.

Once again, folks, traditional hazmat training and standards are oriented to stopping a release and long-term entry when no life is at stake. If you're not going to be working right in the release trying to stop it and/or when lives are at stake, the equation changes dramatically.

No one is a bigger fan of firefighter safety than I. In this case, Mike's solution is elegant, effective, efficient, and safe - as long as you do it the way he shows us. A short-term exposure to phosgene isn't going to kill you if your properly using your SCBA. I'll trade an engine company worth of turnout gear and SCBAs for in order to save two victims every time on this one.
Fair enough and I hope you realize these questions come out of classroom learning, not practical experience. How do you know that the dry chem extinguisher will not react adversely with the products if you use it before identifying the products involved?
Dave, that's an excellent and well-thought-out question.

In this case, you have a way to quickly ID the product, given a placard and the rodenticide container. A quick look in the DOT ERG will tell you to avoid water use. A water-reactive chemical that will also react with dry chemical is a rare chemical indeed.

Water-reactive chemicals react in one of three ways.

1) they react with the hydrogen in the water
2) they react with the oxygen in the water
3) they react with moisture

Dry chemical has a very different chemical formula than water, and they are not wet, so it isn't likely to react with the same products as does water.
The point of this drill is to make the ID quickly, rather than blindly running in.

The point I made is that you don't have to fight the fire to make the rescue.
Mike's point is that you can fight the fire if you're smart about the choice of extinguishing agent. Either way you still save the victims from the fire.
I have been to Anniston and most of the other places that are part of the ODP as well. The HazSkeds are meant for speed, not comfort. I thought that the Anniston program was too concerned about cross contamination and such, instead of rapid movement of as many patients as possible.

What are you referring to about the twin sun visors? Bourkes? Or something else?

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