Let's just say that a first alarm assignment responded to... let's say a mobile home where there were reported things like, oh. just off the top of my head, and totally making this up of course, pesticides, and other chemicals (hazardous materials) consumed in a fire. For the sake of discussion, let's assume everyone around the incident both during initial response and during the actual firefight felt no ill effects. It was not until afterwards that any effects are typically felt in many cases.
It is important to note that exposure to chemicals could even produce a news statement that could read something like...
"Firefighters began experiencing burning eyes and light headedness after the blaze was extinguished."
Typically, we handle patient / victim rescue but there really are no true standards out there as far as when is clean clean... In this totally fictitious example of firefighters being inadvertently exposed to hazardous materials, the question that needs to be addressed by fire departments is how do they make the determination that a firefighters turnouts (PPE) are safe for continued reissue post incident.
I submit the following for discussion and I am not aware of any other means to make an absolute determination whether or not there was an exposure to a firefighter. I will provide two examples and methods to determine whether or not a firefighters PPE was contaminated. Like many things you can do it the VERY expensive, but thorough way, or... the quick and easy, get your answers and an immediate affirmation as to whether or not you need to go to threatcom alpha or not...
Assuming that whatever the methyl-ethyl-death is on the PPE, it is a given that the lighter ended hydrocarbons and aromatics are going to go bye-bye pretty quick, dependent upon ambient temperature, materials involved and concentration. I mention this because the sooner you test the PPE the better the chances are to get a positive result with documentable evidence, should it be necessary to protect the firefighter(s), which presumably is anyone reading this post.
Method 1: Requires Teflon® lined sealable evidence container. Why Teflon®? It's one of the few things that can hold a gas inside the container. The container is shipped to someplace like the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory where the Teflon® lined container with the sample is placed into a vacuum chamber that is pumped full of an inert gas such as nitrogen. It is then that the container is opened and the sample is then prepared for destructive testing. This is where the material sample is actually burned, with a gas chromograph illustrating the presence of a hazardous material or chemical.
There is a problem with this method... it's rather expensive and it requires a piece of the turnouts to be removed and sent to the lab for analysis. You also need to have a lot of tools to make this kind of evaluation.
If you are going to enlist this level of sophistication, which if it was my turnouts in question, would be money well spent, you better have pretty deep pockets or a good reason to suspect contamination. If you do, then you want specific information that can only be found through destructive testing.
Dependent upon the level(s) of contamination and what you are looking for, this is a very accurate way to assess the amount of contamination present in the sample(s). But it's not cheap and it certainly is not free. Plus, who has a Teflon® container lying around?
Method 2: Assuming that most agencies have minimal funds to cover testing EVERYONE involved with the incident and their PPE without justification and some sort of proof that their is a legitimate concern. Using Method 1 is not be any means an expedient way to determine the presence of hazardous materials. Nothing is fast when it comes to a laboratory testing anything and again it's not cheap.
So, would you believe me if I said that I found a way years ago to beat the system and be able to have some sort of definitive proof when I tell my Chief that we have a problem involving PPE and personnel contamination.
• Heavy duty clear poly bag, .04 mm thickness minimum, size large enough to fit one complete set of turnouts, including jacket, bunker pants, boot, helmet and gloves.
• (1) One roll of duct tape.
• Sunny day or artificial lighting that would generate enough heat inside the clear poly bag to produce an atmosphere, or... visible moisture on the walls of the bag.
• Colormetric tubes, e.g. Draeger or similar glass colormetric tubes specific for suspected products involved, such as cyanide, organic vapors and mists, etc.
There are several different colormetric tube options available.
How to Use The CBz Method for Determining PPE Contamination: Place all the firefighters PPE components, (jacket, bunker pants with suspenders and liners, boots, helmet, hood and gloves into a polybag with a minimal thickness of .04 mm to prevent accidental puncture. Anything less in thickness is not as durable and is much more likely to puncture the bag.
Note how the drum polybag liner has been inflated to illustrate how big it is. This is what your goal is with the PPE stored inside the bag. You want to enable enough free space to create an atmosphere inside the bag, which is visible by the presence of moisture droplets on the inner bag wall.
When you have allowed sufficient time for the bag to basically heat up, what you are waiting for is for whatever is inside the bag to "off gas", and hopefully, through the use of colormetric tubes, you can pinpoint your concerns based on the type of incident and the types of materials that are suspected, such as hydrocarbons, organic vapors, aromatics, cyanide, organophosphates, whatever... It give you more than an educated guess.
If you do confirm the presence of a hazardous material, have the ability to take digital photos, and consider having an assigned disposable camera that is only used to document the bagged turnouts as evidence, with photos of the colormetric readings validating your concerns.
You have also justified why you need to destroy some of the turnouts... The good news here is that this could save you from having to deal with the psychological panic from folks worrying that they were exposed to something when they weren't...
This proposed procedure can give you a peace of mind... I look forward to hearing if there are others methods available as simple as this one to validate whether or not your PPE are actually contaminated.
Stay safe and feel free to rip off this idea, it's such a simple thing to do and prepare for. The question is, are you prepared? Duct tape, .04 mm 35 gal minimum sized polybags and a callout for the hazmat team, your environmental health department or the EPA if you don't have resources available. Answering the question whether there was contamination or not is imperative, especially if post incident, firefighters start to experience any kind of symptoms.
Failure to prepare is preparing for failure. Be prepared...
Not familiar with the Draeger pump?
The accuro manual gas detector pump is used for spot measurements with Dräger tubes. Measurements must often be taken in extreme conditions, such as up ladders, in shafts, or where heavy breathing protection is required. The accuro gas detector pump can easily be operated with one hand, and allows reliable measurements in locations that are difficult to access. The Dräger accuro is a bellows pump, with which the air sample is drawn through the Dräger tube using strokes. The body of the pump consists of a bellows, which is completely pushed together for the measurement. When the bellows is released, the air is drawn automatically and the gas sample to be measured is sucked through the tube being used. The sampling process is completed when the body of the pump has opened completely. The end of a stroke is indicated by a pressure-controlled display on the body of the Dräger accuro pump.