Getting a handle on HAZMAT

Los Angeles, California

Firefighter Alvin Dawes, a Los Angeles HAZMAT
firefighter from Fire Station No. 4, told HSToday that the tried and
true APD-2000 is an indispensable part of his HAZMAT response toolkit.
The APD 2000, or Advanced Portable Detector 2000, was originally
developed by the Environmental Technologies Group, which was purchased
by London-based Smiths Detection.

Weighing only 6 pounds, the APD 2000 detects
both nerve and blister agents and provides a simple visual display and
audio alarm to identify those agents. The device also can detect gamma
radiation.

Dawes also recommends the use of the AP2C chemical detector, manufactured by Proengin Inc. in Saint Cyr L’Ecole, France.

“We also have the AP2C, which in my opinion
is much better than the APD, even though it lacks the ability to read
OC [oleoresin capsicum] spray,” Dawes said. “The APD-2000 will do that
for us, but we have had some problems with it because it was the first
one that came on the market. We purchased the first one that came out,
then the AP2C, which is similar to the military cam. It does its
function much better, but it only tests for nerve and blister agents.”

With the proper clothing, L.A. firefighters
can test materials on the ground using the AP2C, which burns a sample
of the suspect material and identifies it with a color-coded diagnosis,
Dawes said.

Seattle, Washington

Capt. Chris Cordova of the Seattle HAZMAT
Team, stationed at Fire Department Headquarters, told HSToday that his
team has a standardized response to HAZMAT scenarios. The firefighters
follow an established protocol, taking the same pieces of equipment to
check for radioactivity, toxicity, explosiveness and oxygen levels.

Cordova and the other HAZMAT specialists rely
upon the Draeger Analyzer, manufactured by Draeger Safety Inc. of
Pittsburgh, Pa.

“It’s a four-gas sensor,” Cordova said. “It’s
basically a photoionization detector. We will check for organics. There
are different types of sensors in it, but the ones that we have are set
up for hydrogen sulfide, oxygen levels, toxicity level, and then we
have one that is set up for ammonia.”

The four sensors on the analyzer are
customizable, enabling fire departments to set them to detect whatever
they are most likely to encounter.

“For us, a lot of what we have been going on
lately, it seems like, is ammonia,” Cordoza added. “It’s a lot of the
meth lab producers that are still using ammonia in fishing vessels and
things like that. It is causing us a bit of a headache. The systems are
different on a vessel.”

The equipment also came in handy during
white-powder responses that became an everyday experience after 9/11.
Cordoza and Dawes agree that HAZMAT firefighters have become experts at
quickly determining if a white powder represents a true threat, such as
anthrax.

Warren, Ohio

Don Walden, chief of the Trumball County
Hazardous Material Team in Warren, Ohio, told HSToday that the best
thing that he’s bought is a Vantage Pro weather station, manufactured
by Davis Instruments Inc., based in Hayward, Calif. Walden’s team
actually has two of them, one that mounts on a tower on their mobile
command unit and another that can be deployed as required in a separate
location.

The Vantage Pro weather stations contain an
integrated suite of sensors providing precise information on weather
conditions during a HAZMAT response. The solar-powered station
transmits the information to computer workstations through a wireless
relay. The Vantage Pro’s temperature and humidity sensors are placed
behind a radiation shield, boosting the accuracy of their readings,
according to the manufacturer.

“Basically, you need to know your
temperatures; you need to know your dew points; you need to know your
wind speed, which direction you are blowing at,” Walden said. “If you
need to evacuate, you need to know which way you are going to go. By
telling us the wind direction and the wind speed, the weather station
is a big help.”

Firefighters put the VantagePro weather
station on a tower that extends 60 feet above the HAZMAT mobile command
center, which acts as a command and control station in the event of an
emergency.

“The command center is on the scene with me;
all of my information is coming out of there, and the weather station
is giving me information,” Walden said. “At the same time, if I’m using
the team, my HAZMAT team would be in the trailer. I don’t have to do
anything. They can just automatically watch the information.

“If I’m within 500 feet of the main unit, I
only have to put one of these sensors up, and that would be the 60-foot
one. It’s wireless, so I can use two stations off of one unit.”

Kuparuk, Alaska

Should citizens or firefighters become
contaminated during the release of a chemical or biological agent,
HAZMAT teams must also assist in their decontamination. That becomes a
greater challenge than usual when the weather turns cold, said Scott
Dornan, assistant chief of the Kuparuk Fire Department in Alaska.

“Winter is a relative term,” Dornan said. “Winter in Louisiana is a warm spring day in Alaska.”

Cold weather impairs the ability of rescue
personnel to simply function, Dornan said, so it’s important for them
to prepare decontamination shelters. Dornan recommended that
firefighters have the materials available to quickly build inexpensive
yet stable shelters.

Dornan advises rescuers to use standard
scaffolding at a height of 7 feet, a width of 8 feet and a length of 14
feet. This should be covered with reinforced Visqueen, manufactured by
Visqueen Building Products of Witney, UK. Visqueen is a “multi-layer,
reinforced, low-density polyethylenemembrane with an aluminum core,”
according to the company.

The Visqueen material is disposable and is
attached to the scaffolding by wire ties. The material allows the
interior of a decon shelter to maintain 50 degrees Fahrenheit even when
the outside temperature falls as low as 35 degrees.

Jacksonville, Fla.

Lt. Rick Rochford, a HAZMAT firefighter from
the Jacksonville Fire Department in Florida, worries about collecting
hazardous samples and keeping them properly isolated in the Florida
heat. So he invented the Bio-Containment System, which was
commercialized by Safety Solutions Inc. of Boynton Beach, Fla.

“The Bio-Containment System provides a
systematic approach toward sample collection, for environmental samples
only,” according to Rochford. “Now it’s possible for a first responder
to go to the scene and collect, package, decontaminate and send for
testing a sample of a potential biological agent.”

The Bio-Containment System includes
documentation that outlines procedures for establishing the chain of
custody for samples collected at HAZMAT sites. The system uses clean
sample jars to hold samples and chemical classification reagent test
strips to classify it.

The system’s kit can collect samples that are
visible or invisible to normal vision, Rochford said. First responders
can safely collect visible samples and place them in the jar or they
can use a swab to collect invisible samples.

“It’s important to collect a true
representative sampling of a [chemical or biological agent] spill that
will not be cross-contaminated in the field,” Rochford said. “This
system does that.”

Toronto, Ontario

Ian Portigal of the Toronto, Ontario, Fire
Department has been focusing on finding a particular product solution
for detecting radiological hazards. Exploranium G.S. Ltd., based in
Ontario, Canada, manufactures the Identifier, the company’s GR-135
series of handheld radiation detection systems.

“Usually, owing to the low levels of natural
radiation and strict controls on the man-made uses of radiation,
radiation will not cause any biological damage under normal
circumstances,” according to Portigal. However, aggressive attacks or
critical accidents could injure or kill many victims very quickly or
very slowly.

The Identifier detects gamma and neutron
radiation, Portigal said. The device features one-button operation that
displays the danger of the dose of radiation present in an easy-to-read
graphic display. It provides a counts-per-second reading and identifies
and classifies the nuclides present.

“You want to minimize your exposure to
radiation,” Portigal told fellow firefighters. “Keep it as low as
reasonably achievable. A zero dose, above background radiation, is
always desirable, but if exposure is unavoidable, do anything you can
to minimize it. Employing any type of shielding will minimize the
dose.” HST

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