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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don't forget about those yellow striped brown or blue canaries... : )
just for the record, I wear a red helmet as a Fire Captain, I doubt that I will ever see a white one...

This was a significant point to consider... Was a rescue indicated?

Here's my thoughts on that and they do differ from yours. Not to be a pain in the ass here but I really think that the public pays us some pretty good bucks to make some very difficult decisions. When looking at the hazards associated with a material that is off-gasing, I have a lot of confidence in my turnouts and SCBA, assuming that we are all covering every square inch of skin to prevent dermal exposure.

Approaching this type of incident from an upwind location protects the firefighters from excessive exposure and facilitates a quick rescue. Remember, we are dealing with a toxic smoke situation, and in many ways when you are doing structure firefighting, the gases that you are exposed to are much worse than the materials included in this drill. Are you going to wait and have a fully encapsulated suit for interior attack? I think not.

This is the key point, A QUICK rescue. Get in, get the victim(s) and then get the hell out of there... Remember the Houston FD Tennis Shoes...

It is easy to attend a training drill and say that you would do this or that but the bottom line here is that we are in the business of saving lives, and sometimes this includes taking calculated risks to accomplish life saving actions.

Pat Johnson from the Shreevport LA. Fire Department was burned over 90% of his body with 3rd degree burns. What he did ended up being a bad decision but in his case it was entering a fixed facility where things went really bad.

This scenario was designed to make you think about this decision... Go or no go... Feeling the burn? Feeling the challenge? You bet. I promise you that if you pull up on scene and there is a viable patient that you have a chance to rescue using the resources shown, you will make the rescue and do so taking as many safety precautions as possible.

Lessons learned from radiological response can be used here. Remember time, distance and shielding? Just add uphill and upwind and you start turning the odds in your favor. I'm working on another drill... Might as well keep the momentum going.

Stay safe everyone, Mike Schlags
Care if we use it mike ??
First, I would get a real helmet....joke,just a joke. Second, not to knock anyone, Chemtrec will be a waste of time if you are waiting to make a rescue. Third, if we are rolling up to a call with colored smoke, the SCBA had better be on before we get out of the truck. Wind shifts all the time and being in a plume is no fun. Snatch and grab. The engine could even drop us off and back up farther to protect the driver and officer. If an ambulance is there, using the cot will greatly speed your extraction of the patients. We carry an old one on the hazmat truck for this. Great scenario though.

Excellent scenario, great drill, awesome post.

I disagree with one of your points, though. Why would you put a N-95 or other filter respirator on a patient...ever? If you stop to put one one in the hazard zone, it's going to delay the rescue. If the patient can't get a seal, then the respirator is a waste of time. The patient isn't fit tested to the respirator, probably doesn't know how to wear one, even if conscious, and the respirator may not stay in place while you move them or drag them to the decon area. Once again, a waste of time.

Most importantly, it takes respiratory effort to move air through a filter respirator. If the patient has ANY respiratory compromise, putting a filter respirator on him/her will make the respiratory problem worse.

Just put the "snatchus grabus" on the patient, get them out of the contaminated air ASAP, and get them to decon and treatment would be my recommendation. Once you get them into clean air, put a non-rebreather mask on with high-flow long as the pesticide isn't paraquat or diquat.

My rationale here is the same reason that we don't put SCBA on patients in confined spaces - it's not the best way to get clean air into the patient's lungs.

I'm interested in hearing more about your reasons for recommending the N-95.
One point i would like to make Mike. The ERG can, and should be used for fix facilities incidents. Until the IC can locate a facility rep, and get his hands on the MSDS (which, in reality, should be contained in the PRE-PLAN!!!! Hint, Hint everyone.) the ERG can give the first responder someplace to start. Product is Product, regardless of were its located. Fixed Facilities usually have greater quantities, and a wider variety of product, but the ERG can definetly help you start the response. Understand everyone, the ERG is a GUIDE, a starting point, NOT the BIBLE of HAZMAT RESPONSE.
As a Hazmat Instructor, allow me to re-enforce some points that Mike brings up and the differences in "mind set" between HAzmat Response and Structural Firefighting.
First the mind set............Firefighting....get there quick (and safe), size up, establish water supply, ppv/ppa, attack (knock it down quickly and safely). In short, everything is fast paced, and in most cases needs to be to save lives and property.
Hazmat is 180 degrees in the other direction. It is slow, deliberate, and extremely, extremely safe. We do not get in a hurry at a Hazmat scene. We take our time to size up the incident, research the product(s) involved, determine courses of action, write and brief a Safety Plan and IAP, before anyone takes a step into the Hot Zone. Decon MUST BE FULLY operation before any one goes down range. ALWAYS, NO EXCEPTIONS, EVER!!!!!!
As for rescue situations as Mike has described, here are some of the things that you, the IC, must take into account prior to entering the Hotzone to effect rescue:

1) Will my FF PPE protect me against the product? If you don't know what the product is, then the answer is automatically NO. If your dealing with an ID'd Liquid, the answer is probably yes. You may end up buying new turnouts, but that's the price you pay. If you have a vapor/gas environment, then you had better BE SURE its NOT a ACID GAS or TOXIC GAS that can be absorbed through the skin. Vapor/Gas environments call for Level A suits, not FF PPE.

2) Can I afford to lose my personnel? Once you commit you people to rescue in the Hot ZOne, they're "done for the day", you have lost them as an asset. They will remain in the Hot Zone until they can be run through a full Technical DEcon Line and then they will be Medically eval'd for signs and symptoms. I hope you have the Cavalry coming, because you just lost your Engine Crew and now its just you standing there....alone.......doing Emergency Decon on your own men!!!!!

3) Stop, look, and listen. Gather as much info as you can before you commit resources. In Mike's scenario something should have caused you to stop and get more info.........look at the placard.........Class 2 & 3 carry Red Flammable symbols........the placard says it's a Class 4. Are the colors and symbols correct? Do you have a Flammable solid (Class 4), if so, the color scheme is that the only thing labeled incorrectly???? 55 gals Drums may lead you to think,.........LIQUID...........which leads you back to Class 3's. UN 1714, takes you to Response Guide 139.....the Title of which is...........Substance-Water Reactive (Emitting Flammable and Toxic Gases). Are you going to send people in? If i can't use water, then what?

When dealing with a Hazmat Incident, just remember.....slow down, gather as much info as you can, stay up wind/up hill (which meanns your first radio call is for the WEATHER CONDITIONS), start notifications early, evacuate when and if needed. Acting quickly, which we, as firefighters like to do, and are trained to do, is not always the best thing.
Bill, I disagree with some of your points. Water-reactive chemicals are pretty rare hazmat incidents in most places. If it's not water reactive, then you have some other options. Other than reactive solids that off-gas toxic or corrosive vapors, highly toxic gases are rarely transported in 55-gallon drums. And, in Mike's scenario, simply extinguishing the fire with ABC dry chem and the wind take care of the vapor problem, then the engine company can make the rescue in relative safety. Remember, before the fire, you had Farmer Bill in his Carharts transporting the rodenticide.

Industry has known for a long time that there are things you can do to reduce hazard levels besides wearing all of the protection. The first of these is Engineering Controls. Engineering controls include things like applying foam to suppress vapors, vapor dispersal with water fog or high-volume fans, etc. If the chemical companies who deal with the stuff all the time are smart enough to use engineering controls, then maybe we should be that smart, too.

Combine those tactics with an upwind, uphill approach that keeps the firefighters out of the vapors, full turnout gear and SCBA, and avoiding puddles of any liquid that may be present, and you have the opportunity to make a rescue. You don't need a full decon line, either. OSHA and the EPA have stated over and over that you don't need technical decon for emergency decon. Technical decon is designed to clean hazmat suits and equipment. Emergency decon is designed to clean PEOPLE. I'll trade a couple of sets of contaminated turnouts for a live patient in a blink.

I'm not advocating blindly wading into hazmats with unknown chemicals here. I am telling you that the traditional "hurry up and wait' style of hazmat response is oriented to incident stabilization and environmental preservation. That mindset has blinded firefighters and hazmat techs to the fact that occasionally you'll have a viable patient, and that patient didn't get to wear Level A to the wreck. If the patient is alive and viable after 15 or 20 minutes of unprotected exposure in the middle of the Hot Zone, then an quick grab-and-drag rescue in turnouts and PPE, from upwind may be a reasonable course of action.
Authors Note: Just to make sure I'm clear with everyone about the drills that I post on FFN... You have my full permission to reproduce and distribute any of these materials for the purposes of official fire department training and not for personal profit. If you do use my materials, all I ask is that you give credit where credit is due, maybe send me an email and let me know how the drill went and promise that if I ever stop by your fire station that you will buy me a cup of coffee and maybe send me a hazmat team patch...

Michael Schlags, Fire Captain
Santa Barbara, CA

You sound like one of those leather helmet wearers... Damn, you got me, I've got helmet envy. Any of you that get issued the leather helmets are lucky to be able to continue such a cool tradition. Plastic is not fantastic...

Your right on the money as far as calling Chemtrek. Great for those derailed railcars or some other incident where you have taken a defensive position and you formulating a plan. Not rescue situations... I'm assuming you read my response above that discussed whether to do a rescue or not. This was clearly a rescue situation that was staged to take advantage of the predicted wind direction. Access to the patients was made from an upwind direction, minimizing exposure to the rescuers. This action is totally doable, and was intended to stress and teach that you can make a quick rescue that is followed by an emergency decontamination process.

Use of an ambulance gurney for transporting the victim is an exceptional idea. This is definitely one of the problems that is difficult to contend with and few teams have addressed unless they received WMD funding and the associated equipment from the MMST (Metropolitan Medical Strike Teams). Remember that this drill was designed for engine companies and not hazmat teams. Participants being briefed were told that the hazmat team was tied up on another call and that they were on their own.

And... I'm looking forward to receiving my leather helmet in the mail J. Brooks... thank you in advance so much! You are such a giver! SSTC, Mike
Ben, I respect the hell out of you chief, but I just do not agree with you here. These chemical companies that use "Engineering Controls" to safely work around these chemicals are also "Chemical Engineers" and Scientists with years of education and specialty training in the field. My instructor from the academy that taught my last Technician class just so happened to be a Laid Off Chemical Engineer from Corning Plant in Elmira. He explained how he received his degree in Chemical Engineering and worked with the chemicals at the Corning Plant for 12 years before being laid off. He took the test for State Fire Haz-Mat Bureau and got hired. But their level of training and ours is drastically different and therefore we should not be comparing our tactics with theirs. Foam blankets dont always work with every chemical, is just one example. These engineers know this and can apply it where it can be used.
Safety is the best way to go. ID your chemical, research it, it doesnt take long with all the reference manuals and computer software available to us. Even my farely new, small county Haz-Mat team has all the latest software on our laptop, and most of the manuals like NIOSH, CHRIS, and the Chem-Bio book, and we have CAMEO which is now a free download.
We do not need to be taking un-necessary risks to kill firefighters with very little haz-mat training. It may not injure or kill them outright, but it could cause major issues for them long term, like cancer, or lung problems, heart problems etc. I know the first reaction when arriving on scene of an accident with someone laying there is to "Rush right in and help them"...But is it worth it? Have they already ingested too much of the poison? Are they already gone? Is it worth the lives of 2-3 firefighters to make one body recovery? Just some food for thought for us all to think about and discuss. I agree with Bill and Mike, Haz-Mat is totally opposite of firefighting, its not hurry up and get er done...Its slow, methodical and safe approach to an already deadly scene, and we as Haz-Mat Techs are there to make sure it does not spread any farther and jeopardize any one else's life. We have to face the facts that the victims may very well be gone already and there is nothing we can do...but we need to think about the 1000 other people in the community that are in the danger zone that need to be evacuated or protected in place, and plugging the leak to prevent it from doing any more damage. Like Bill mentioned, when you send in the firefighters to make a "Rescue" attempt, you loose them for the duration. What if they were the techs? We now have to wait for additional Technicians to arrive, get briefed and don their PPE, than make than it could be too late for an entire community, not just 1-2 people.
Excellent discussion going here, glad to be a part of it.

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