Managing hazmat incidents involves several steps to mitigate the situation. Hazardous materials exist in all aspects of our day-to-day lives. You can find them in the general industry, usually in larger quantities. They are also on our roads and planes, transported worldwide.
Our households even include them in the form of gasoline for our equipment, cleaners, and even our pest control materials. So, what happens when these materials are unintentionally released from a storage tank in an industrial site, a trailer on our roads, or a container in our garage?
Using the incident command system (ICS)
Most fire departments have a hazmat response team and an incident command system. During an incident, the person in charge is the incident commander (IC). This person goes through the National Incident Management System (NIMS) training for incident command.
Mitigating a hazmat incident takes more time than mitigating a fire incident because there are more aspects to consider. The size of the response usually depends on the amount released.
We base this command system on a risk-based response process called APIE – Analyze, Plan, Implement, Evaluate. Here’s the 8-step process to manage a hazmat incident.
The 8-step process for hazmat incidents
- Site management and control
- Identifying the problem
- Hazard and risk evaluation
- Protective clothing and equipment (PPE)
- Information M\management and resource coordination
- Implementing response objectives
- Decontamination of people and equipment
- Terminating the incident
(a) Incident critique
(b) Incident debrief
(c) Post-incident analysis
(d) Reporting and documentation
PPE in hazmat incidents
Next, we need to identify which level of PPE is required. There are 4 levels of PPE in a hazmat incident.
Encapsulated chemical and vapor protective suit with a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)
Hooded chemical-resistant clothing with an SCBA.
A full-face air-purifying respirator, inner and outer chemical-resistant gloves, an escape mask, and chemical-resistant boots
A face shield, chemical-resistant boots, coveralls, safety glasses, and chemical-resistant gloves.
Zones in hazmat incidents
In all hazmat incidents, there are three zones to be considered by the IC.
The hot zone
The immediate area where the incident occurred is the hot zone. The hazardous material is present and the greatest risk of exposure exists. It typically extends about 100 to 200 feet in all directions. In this case, only trained and equipped personnel should enter this area, and wear appropriate PPE to avoid exposure to hazardous material.
The warm zone
The surface surrounding the hot zone where decontamination takes place is the warm zone. It is located 100 to 200 feet from where the incident occurred and serves as a buffer between the hot and cold zone. Responders may be required to wear PPE, but the level of protection needed is generally lower than in the hot zone.
Finally, the cold zone is the area farthest away from the incident where support functions take place. It is located more than 200 feet from the hot zone, and it is where command centers, medical treatment areas, and equipment staging areas are located. The personnel in this area do not need to wear PPE, but they may be required to wear protective clothing, such as reflective vests.
All in all, the most important part of incident mitigation is to correctly identify what material you are dealing with. Once you know what the material is then use any technical references available to develop a mitigation plan. Next, you should decide what class/level of PPE is needed to mitigate the situation and to ensure that the entry team and the backup/rescue team have at least that level.
The decontamination team will then have no more than one level of PPE below the entry team. The IC has an important job to ensure that they not only mitigate the situation but that their response teams are safely protected against any exposure.