Hazardous Materials Response
David Pease, Advanced Rescue Technology Magazine
We all learned during our basic EMT class that we should always park upwind from the accident scene in case there are hazardous materials involved. Now lets be honest, how many of us even think about parking upwind, or for that matter even know which way the wind is blowing when we leave the station? When responding to most accidents, we think very little about the hazardous material side of the equation. If the dispatcher tells us it is a hazardous materials incident or there are trucks involved carrying hazardous materials then we think about the situation a little different. We are dispatched to a motor vehicle accident involving a car and a truck. When we approach the scene we see a tanker overturned with a car underneath and a liquid substance spilling all around the immediate area. Now the fun begins.
First, we need to take a quick look at our hazardous materials awareness response we learned back during our rookie year. There are several levels of training in hazardous materials response. Most EMS technicians are trained at the awareness level. Fire and Rescue personnel are usually trained at the hazmat operations level. Hazardous material response teams are trained at technician level and specialist levels. Each level plays a different role in response to accidents involving hazardous materials. Depending on what your training and experience may be, your role may vary considerably.
As a hazmat responder at the awareness level your job may be to secure the scene and identify the hazards at hand. As you approach the accident scene, you notice the vehicles involved may be carrying hazardous materials. You stop a safe distance back and try and determine what the materials may be. By using the DOT hazmat guidebook you are able to figure out what the tanker is transporting. The placards tell you that the tanker is hauling JP4 jet fuel. There is obvious fuel all around the vehicles and leaking from the tanker. Your job is to secure the scene as best you can and call for additional response. You would also report your findings to dispatch so the information can be relayed to the other responding agencies. You also notice that the driver of the car appears to be pinned. Now the real problems begin.
Securing the scene could prove to be your biggest challenge of all. If the accident occurs on a major highway or thoroughfare you will have a tremendous amount of bystanders and do-gooders wanting to help, but have little knowledge of what is at hand and the dangers that lurk within. Law enforcement will play a major role in helping to secure the scene and control the crowds. The average person will not understand why you are waiting, instead of approaching, to extricate and treat the patients involved. Depending on your incident command program, you may be treating patients after they are brought to you from the hot zone. You may also be assisting with decontamination procedures as well as medical monitoring of hazmat personnel from the hot zone. The important thing to remember is that without the proper training and equipment, you do not want to endanger your life or the lives of others.