Haztrek Emergency Response Training and Consulting LLC

Recognition of hazardous materials incidents part 1 - The Seven Clues of Recognition

When it comes to the topic of Hazardous Materials incidents, no one wants to respond to them. Most responders say, “That’s not my job.” Or, “That’s the Hazmat Team’s job.” Or better yet. “I can handle these incidents with the “Rule of Thumb” technique.” (Stay far enough away so that I can’t see the scene around my thumb I have stuck up between the incident and myself.) In the next several months I would like to bring to you the information that can be used when responding to Hazardous Materials incidents. The purpose of these articles is to take the first responder through a Hazardous Materials incident. Hopefully, I can share a logical sequence or mind-set that will give you as responders the tools that are necessary to make informed and educated decisions on scene. As with anything, there has to be a starting point. The first part of any emergency response process is recognizing that you might be dealing with Hazardous Materials at the incident. There are “Seven Clues” that Emergency Responders have relied upon for decades. Each and every clue indicates the possible presence of Hazardous Materials. Below are those clues.

Seven Clues for Recognition of Hazardous Materials

  1. Location of Occupancy or Type of Occupancy
  2. Container Shapes
  3. Markings and Colors
  4. Placards and Labels​
  5. Shipping Papers, Facility Documents, Safety Data Sheets
  6. Monitoring and Detection Equipment
  7. Human Senses

The first clue is “Location of Occupancy” or “Type of Occupancy”. If an emergency situation is reported at a bulk fuel storage facility, gas station, rail or cargo tank distribution center, pipeline, along a railroad or major interstate, there is a good chance it may be a Hazardous Materials incident. I could probably give you an address anywhere in your first-in district and most of you would be able to draw from that “hard drive” that you call a brain and as I say, “recollect” what part of town that is. “Isn’t that a residential area, or it’s an industrial area, or that’s downtown, or by the rail yard, or isn’t that off the highway?” etc., etc., etc. Another clue that I have always said and you can write it down, “If the name of the company ends in the word “Chemical”, most likely there are Hazardous Materials on site. With that ​said, the probability that this incident will involve a hazardous material is extremely high. Unfortunately, in recent years, there has been a shift to removing the word “Chemical” from the names of these occupancies. But still, Emergency Responders, with a little thought, can come up with the clues that are needed for the identification of Hazardous Materials sites. Several different types of businesses come to mind when thinking of Hazardous Materials sites. Of course some of them we are so used to seeing we might not see the hazards, for instance places like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowes. Places with wind socks, especially when you know it isn’t an airport. (Cops call that a clue.) Also, as with the next clue, different types of containers. The next clue is “Container Shapes”. With the aid of the Emergency Response Guidebook, responders can look at the silhouette of cargo tank trucks, rail tank cars, and intermodals. And obviously with a little practice, things like large fixed storage tanks, drums, totes and cylinders will fall into place. By identifying and understanding the container shape, Emergency Responders can start honing in on what Hazard Class they are facing. Just the fact of identifying whether a material is a solid, liquid or gas pays huge dividends for isolation or evacuation distances even if the material is still unknown. Guide page 111 of the Emergency Response Guidebook offers a lot of information as we progress through the incident. If you were to flip through the Guide Pages and start looking at the different “Solids”, “Liquids” and “Gases”, you might start noticing something. For example, for known solids the isolation distance is 75 feet. For liquids the isolation distance is 150 feet. And for gases, the isolation distance is 330 feet. “Markings and Colors” is the next clue. If the facility or truck says “Mobil”, “Shell”, “Chevron”, “Air Liquide” or “Air Gas” on it, there’s a good chance the emergency may involve some kind of Hazardous Material. Cargo tank trucks and rail tank cars are usually labeled with what they contain. Signal words such as “Caution”, “Warning”, “Danger” or “Inhalation Hazard” may be an indication of a Hazardous Material. “No Smoking” signs also may be an indication of the presence of flammable liquids or flammable gases on transportation containers or fixed ​facilities. “Placards and Labels” provide a lot of clues. The diamond or square on point placard shape is always an indicator of Hazardous Materials. All placards can have text in the center of the placard showing the hazard, the product name, or the UN number. The bottom of the placard will have the Hazard Class. Colors of the placards get the responder even closer to the answers they are looking for. For instance, the color red indicates something that will burn. It may have the words “Flammable” in the center with the Hazard Classes 2.1 and “Flammable” or “Combustible” for Hazard Class 3. The color orange represents Explosives. The placard may have the word “Explosive” on it with a Hazard Class of 1.1 to 1.6. Yellow means Oxidizer. Don’t take these lightly. As my old friend Vernon Phillips of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Bomb Squad use to tell me, “Son, that yellow placard is just a faded out orange one. Respect it.” They may have the words “Oxidizer” or “Organic Peroxide” in the center with the Hazard Classes 5.1 or 5.2 on the bottom. Blue means “Water Reactive”. Green is a “Non-flammable Gas”. White with “Skull and Crossbones” obviously means toxic or poison. Multiple colors may indicate more than one hazard such as the red/white placard for Spontaneously Combustible, a fancy way to say air reactive. The NFPA 704 M system is a system that is used at fixed facilities to identify Hazardous Materials that are on site. Though, this system does not identify the specific Hazardous Material, it does give an indication of severity through a number system. For example, flammable liquids and flammable gases, this number system would be noted in the Flammability section of the marking which is located at the top of the 704 marking in Red. The system uses the numbers 0 through 4. “0” indicates no flammability hazard and “4” indicates a severe flammability hazard. This is used on fixed facilities only. FYI, when you see a “4” in the Flammability Section of the 704, be on the lookout for flammable gases. A “3” might lead you to flammable liquids. “Shipping papers, Safety Data Sheets (SDS), Facility Documents and other Product Information” are excellent clues. Shipping papers will tell you exactly what the material is, proper shipping name, quantity, Hazard Class, UN number, and a 24 hour emergency contact number. Shipping papers on a tank truck are called a “Bill of Lading”. They will be found in the cab of the truck within reach of the driver. This may be in a holder in the driver’s door or on the adjacent seat. The shipping papers on rail cars are called the “Waybill”. They are located with the engineer. Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are probably the best source of information for an individual chemical. Safety Data Sheets is what we use to call Material Safety Data Sheets. The new Globally Harmonized System (GHS) now recognizes them as Safety Data Sheets. Make sure that the version of the SDS that you are using is up to date. Try not to use SDS’s that are over 10 years old.

SDS will also provide a tremendous amount of information:

  1. Chemical product and company identification.
  2. Composition and information on ingredients.
  3. Hazards identification.
  4. First aid measures.
  5. Firefighting procedures.
  6. Accidental release procedures.
  7. Handling and storage.
  8. Exposure controls and personal protection measures.
  9. Physical and chemical properties.
  10. Stability and reactivity.
  11. Toxicological information.
  12. Ecological information.
  13. Disposal procedures.
  14. Transportation information.
  15. Regulatory information.
  16. Other information.

“Monitoring and Detection Equipment” is another way of recognizing a Hazardous Material. There are numerous types of monitoring and detection devices available to the Emergency Responder. For a Hazardous Material that is a flammable liquid ​or flammable gas, the responder can use devices such as a Multigas monitor or a Photoionization Detector (PID). If it is a toxic material again the PID is a good choice as long as the ionization potential is lower than the lamp size of the monitor. For corrosives, responders are more than likely going to use some type of pH paper. When it comes to Monitoring and Detection Equipment, there is no single best device. Most all these devices that you will find on some first-in engine companies, rescue squads and of course hazmat units, tend to complement each other. They fill the gaps. Pick up where the other one leaves off. The responders should remember to use monitoring strategy and bring those monitors that will most likely represent the anticipated material that is downrange. One thing that most responders learn quickly when trying to identify an unknown is how often the monitoring and detection equipment will more times than not tell them what they don’t have rather than what they have. For example, say a Multigas monitor has a lower explosive limit sensor, carbon monoxide sensor, hydrogen sulfide sensor and an oxygen sensor. When the responder goes downrange they get the following readings, lower explosive limit sensor, 0%, carbon monoxide sensor, 0 ppm, hydrogen sulfide sensor, 0 ppm, oxygen sensor, 20.9%. Most would say they are getting ​nothing. But in fact, we know that the area that the responder is monitoring does not have a flammable there, no carbon monoxide, no hydrogen sulfide and the oxygen content indicates that there is no need for a SCBA. The least desirable clue is the “Human Senses”. If you can feel or smell a Hazardous Material, you may be much too involved in the situation. I’ll always try to remind students in class “Don’t lick the hazardous material!” Other clues may be information from a responsible party, such as the tank truck driver. It may be information from witnesses or 911 callers. An outward warning sign may be a huge fire, with bright orange flames, and dark black smoke, dead or dying plants and animals, clouds, or clouds of color. An escaping visible white cloud is bad, one that is of a different color is a lot worse. When using these clues, one of the important observations that should be made to the responder, be aware that as you go down this list of clues, you have to get closer to the actual spilled product. So this is the beginning. Recognition. Next month, we’ll break down the Nine Hazard Classes and show how through those classes and the physical state of the material come into play.​

What's your plan?

What’s Your Plan? Before I ever thought of being a firefighter some 27 years ago, I had a plan. The plan was to become a school teacher. My true love that I soon found was not to be a school teacher but being a coach. Being a Coach, as several of you that know me, is a true passion of mine. When I had the opportunity to enter the fire service I thought that part of my life would never come to be. I was wrong. As soon as I completed my rookie rotations I was assigned to the Hazardous Materials Station with the Oklahoma City Fire Department. With the encouragement of my Station Officer, David Oliver, Driver, Mike Shannon and Firefighters Tony Tompkins and Mark Mollman I found that opportunity still existed. They all made everything quite simple and to the point, “If you’re going to be good at this job, you got to be able to teach it. That is the only way you’ll know it well enough. You can’t just do this job 9-10 days a month and expect to be proficient at it.” They were right. Knowing it well enough to teach and never forgetting that you are always a student of it have been the keys for me. I sat down to write this article not to brow-beat guys into getting into the books or going to a lot of classes. I guess the real jest of this article is to bring to light the many Oklahoma Fire Service Instructors that are out there. Some get a paycheck, some do not. Some are just in it for the guys and the service. Others take it very personal for the guys’ benefit. “No one gets hurt or dies on my watch.” I have been fortunate in my career to work with and be a student of some of the best in the country. I have noticed as of late in myself rejuvenation, re-motivation, revitalization and a renewed interest in the job. Take your pick on which one works best for you. They all seem to fit well for me. I’ve sought out those instructors. As I said, I SOUGHT THEM OUT. They are there. Sometimes you just have to put some effort into it and find them. Put aside the egos and move forward. These folks are at the State and Regional Fire Schools. They’re at the Technology Centers. They are at your fire department, and yes, a huge number at OSU Fire Service Training. There are so many out there. More than I could mention in one article. And for that I am sorry, because I feel they should all be recognized. It takes more than just guts to stand in front of a bunch of firefighters and emergency responders and try to keep, what very well could be and most likely is a very dry subject, interesting. If you don’t believe me, try teaching a hazmat course sometime. These are the guys that I have come across the last year or so really put themselves into training Oklahoma’s “Bravest”. This is but a small number, but a great representation of the whole when it comes to describing Fire Service Instructors in Oklahoma. They go the extra mile and won’t settle for minimum standards. Guys like Chuck French, Stacy Belk, Lee Horst and Jon Steiner from Tulsa Fire. Have you caught their new class? Advanced Fire Behavior Simulator? If you haven’t, you should. It changed my thought process on structure fires. I have a new found game plan when it comes to devising strategic goals and tactical objectives on these fires. Danny Caldwell and John Marlar retired Tulsa Fire, Calling the Mayday and Answering the Mayday. These classes will save your life. They did mine. Ryan Marlar from Moore Fire, check out the Hazmat Tech Refresher that he developed this year, Responding to Clandestine Labs. Ryan has taken a very technical subject matter and made it understandable with the help of Scott Lance of Moore Fire and John Carpenter of Chickasha Fire. Seek out the Technology Centers, for example, the Eastern Oklahoma County Technology Center. Mike Walker from Oklahoma City Fire has a high-rise course that hits the spot. You want a good Engine Company Operations course; try Oklahoma City Fire’s Brian Arnold’s class that he, Richard Lawrence, Midwest City Fire and James Hester, Tinker Fire, and their partners have developed. Names like Bob Billen, Edmond Fire (Retired), Jerry Glasgow, Edmond Fire (Retired), Matt Phippen, Tulsa Fire, Mark Murdock, Moore Fire and Steve Dunham, Tulsa Fire (Retired) come to mind. They have taken different courses such as Hazmat Ops and Firefighter I, Firefighter II and brought them back to the basics. They are instilling a strong foundation that young firefighters need to build their careers upon. Mike Etchyson, Stillwater Fire and Jared Williams, Lawton Fire has brought back the spark to the classroom with the Flammable Gas courses around the state. Shane Campbell and Don Mariano of Midwest City Fire, take Auto-extrication to the next level for even the seasoned veterans. These are guys from different departments that have collaborated together to improve the training out there. They don’t do this for a pat on the back. And for sure it is not for a paycheck. If they did, no one could afford them. Their time for preparing for these courses is not counted on as hours worked. The time they put into the subject matter is an ongoing process, a live document that is always and forever changing. Training is not an area where we can skimp on knowledge or keeping up with current standards. These gentlemen exceed in these areas by devoting themselves to the subject matter not only as an instructor but also as a student. All of these gentlemen, my Brothers, I feel privileged to have worked with. As a student, I realize what instructors are up against. I always remind myself, “Give them a chance.” I can’t expect to have the whole course catered to me. “I do not already have all the answers!” That is why am here. Right? The “Learning Process” is give and take. It cannot be a one-sided conversation. A one-side conversation is a person talking to a wall. Believe me the wall won’t be any better when the class is over either. I remember a conversation I had with Steve George at OSU-FST. The topic was the changing student/firefighters today and are the instructors keeping up with that change? We discussed at length how different they were now than they were 10 to 15 years ago. Is this a problem? Definitively not for the students! But, what does this do for the instructors? Coming up with fresh ideas to keep the student interested is a full-time job as an instructor. That instant gratification is now what everyone is hooked on from almost every aspect of life. Look at our modern conveniences. Heck, just look at the information highway. So death by PowerPoint isn’t the way to go. Reading the crowd in every class and adapting the curriculum to their needs on the fly takes work and experience. I know at times that I find as an instructor I have to be part coach, part game show host and part used car salesman to get my point across. Every once in a while a little song and dance doesn’t hurt. It all comes down to this. The ball is in your court. Do with it that you think is best. The best piece of equipment that you can have on an emergency scene is not that bright shiny truck, the top of the line PPE or even the cutting edge tools and equipment. It’s that grey matter between your ears. And exercising it is what will save lives. Yours, your partners and everyone else. Stay Safe.