Be The Glow Worm – HazMat for EMS

I am not a glow worm.

Full disclosure – This is a repost from 09/2009 – It deserved a bump-up and to fix the video. Make sure to watch the vid!

Hazardous Materials, or “HazMat” as it is commonly known, is scary stuff. At least for me that is. In public safety circles, they’re mainly the concern of firefighters and I’ve never received training on them outside of the realm of the fire department. My EMS only agencies have always told me that we remain in the “cold zone” and wait for patients to be brought to us after decontamination.

And that’s just fine with me. Ckemtp is NOT a glow worm; did I mention that?

But, since I’m also a firefighter I finally broke down one weekend and gave in to the pressure I was under to get my HazMat Operations certification. 40 hours of class, lots of homework, and some very dry PowerPoint slide shows. After the first weekend of the class there’s some things that I’ve learned and figured out.

1. HazMat’s still scary.

2. Ck’s still not a glow worm.

3. EMS agencies really need to train more on HazMat.

“We know hazmat” you say. And I know that you’re saying it because that’s what I would have said before those last 20 boring hours spent learning that I knew nothing about hazmat. HazMat is something that we take for granted in that we think that it won’t happen in our jurisdiction, or that it won’t affect us on our day to day. I happen to hope that it won’t hit during my duty days.

This video is from Seward, IL. A small town in the middle of a lot of corn that found itself one day having a big problem. The video is from a surveillance camera on the side of a grade school in the middle of town. The vid starts slow, but has a definite “HOLY CRAP!” moment about halfway through. You’ll see what I mean, all hell breaks loose.

See? Holy hell on crutches! That’s anhydrous ammonia, a common chemical used in farming (and in methamphetamine production). A tanker truck full of the stuff sprung a leak and flooded the town with a toxic cloud. Thankfully, nobody was killed. There were a few firefighters sent to the hospital, and some very scary moments, but it all turned out to be ok. This one’s from the same school. It’s just as scary.

Remember this, a HazMat incident doesn’t have to be the once in a while overturned tanker truck full of MethylEthylBadJuJu. Any every day response can turn quickly into a hazardous materials incident.

Not too long ago, an EMS only agency that I may or may not work for received a call for an “eye injury” in one of our really rural response areas. This call generated a single ALS ambulance only response out to the farm where the injury happened.

The medic and the EMT responded out to the scene, which was about a 15minute emergent response. Arriving at the farm, they were directed to the dairy barn to find their patient.

Their patient was in a lot of pain.

Apparently, he worked for a dairy services company and was delivering product to the farm when he was injured. If you don’t know much about dairies, milk processing leaves a byproduct called “Milk Stone” which is the dissolved minerals in milk solidifying on dairy equipment. Think of hard-water stains. Dairies use products containing phosphoric acid to clean it out. It’s like Lime Away on steroids. This stuff is pretty nasty. Dairies use it in a diluted form, but the supply companies carry the concentrated stuff. This patient was filling a container with the high-powered stuff to dilute it into the customer’s container when the concentrate fell. He reflexively looked right down at the falling container and got a face full of the stuff when it splashed back up at him.

Do you remember that chemical burn stuff you were trained on? He had them. Do you remember the decontamination training you had? What about proper personal protective equipment, do you have it? Do you know when to put it on? Do you know how? What do you know about the chemical?

While treating the patient, one of the paramedics noticed that his EMS gloves was turning white. It was the acid eating through it. A lot of water was used to irrigate the patient, and the providers, before transporting the patient to the hospital.

This was an everyday incident that actually happened. Think about how you’d handle it, because tomorrow it could happen to you.

And once again, Ck is not a glow worm.

  • medicblog999

    Scary stuff CK!!!

    I would happily be running the other way if I saw that coming tomwards me.

    In the UK,our ambulance services have taken a new step towards HAZMAT incidents, The Ambulance HART (Hazardous area response teams)project. In our service this is a full time unit made up of 35 parmaedics and 7 Team leaders who are trained in CBRN (chemical, biological, chemical and nuclear) techniques, skills, USAR (urban,search and rescue) and responding in fire situations. The website for HART can be found at http://www.ambulancehart.org.uk/.

    I thought of applying, but get a bit scared thinking of going into tight enclosed spaces, so it probably wasnt best for me!!

  • 911 and the Randomness..

    Great post, I wonder if my medics have the proper training also.. Those vids are creepy!
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Ckemtp

    That elementary school is over a mile (1232134 Kilometres for you Brits) from the leak. Yes, I would have been a bit concerned had I seen that wall of death coming towards me. Luckily, school was out of session for the day when the incident occured.

    I've done similar training as to what you speak of with the HART team. We call it technical rescue over here, although the federal teams use the USAR designation. My fire department specializes in Trench (underground) and confined space rescue although we are qualified for high angle rescue as well.

    I don't like tight spaces, but the regular firefighter stuff gets me squoze into them quite a bit anyway. Ask Happy to put you in some turnouts and put you through some drills in the tower.

    Yea, they should film THAT. I should be there to watch.

    999 ATR – Freaky stuff, right? I just pray that that doesn't happen to me on my shift. Or when I'm volunteering. That happened in a town of about 1100 people with an all-volunteer department. I'm a firm believer that all EMS people should be trained to at least the HazMat Awareness level.

  • Fink

    Great post but oh my god scary! I dread the day my HAZMAT training is actually needed. I'm quite happy to just run away instead. I'm sure I won't be the only one :)

  • http://davidkonig.com Dave Konig

    I completely agree that EMS agencies need to do more training on Hazmat. This is something usually totally overlooked and the current training can be summarized with “If I'm upwind and can cover the scene with my thumb, then I'm good.” While EMS may be expected to work in the “cold” zone, it isn't as if these zones are always clearly marked with signage… especially if an EMS unit happens to stumble upon a Hazmat condition without even knowing it.

  • PGSIlva

    We've had a neighboring FD have an interesting training exercise result: the 1st due engine pulled up and got off the truck without proper PPE. Instructors told them to lay on the ground “dead”. The 1st EMS unit pulled righ up to them and got out…yup “You're dead, lay down”. Second EMS unit…same thing. Third unit finally decided to stop a ways back and try and reach the units on the ground by radio. When that failed, they just rolled up to the scene and got out…

    Personally I prefer the “blue canary method”: Find a person with a badge and gun and say words to the effect of “Hey Sgt, you should go check that out. Looks kinda like a crime scene doesn't it? No, no I don't mind holding the coffee and donut for you. Thanks, we're operating on fireground. You know, channel 2…thanks!”
    (so going to pay for this)

  • http://davidkonig.com Dave Konig

    I completely agree that EMS agencies need to do more training on Hazmat. This is something usually totally overlooked and the current training can be summarized with “If I'm upwind and can cover the scene with my thumb, then I'm good.” While EMS may be expected to work in the “cold” zone, it isn't as if these zones are always clearly marked with signage… especially if an EMS unit happens to stumble upon a Hazmat condition without even knowing it.

  • PGSIlva

    We've had a neighboring FD have an interesting training exercise result: the 1st due engine pulled up and got off the truck without proper PPE. Instructors told them to lay on the ground “dead”. The 1st EMS unit pulled righ up to them and got out…yup “You're dead, lay down”. Second EMS unit…same thing. Third unit finally decided to stop a ways back and try and reach the units on the ground by radio. When that failed, they just rolled up to the scene and got out…

    Personally I prefer the “blue canary method”: Find a person with a badge and gun and say words to the effect of “Hey Sgt, you should go check that out. Looks kinda like a crime scene doesn't it? No, no I don't mind holding the coffee and donut for you. Thanks, we're operating on fireground. You know, channel 2…thanks!”
    (so going to pay for this)

  • http://www.security-wire.com/ Remove Spyware

    Definately agree with Dave Konig. EMS agencies need to do more training on Hazmat.

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Chris Kaiser aka "Ckemtp"

I am a paramedic trying to advance the idea that the Emergency Medical Services can be made into the profession that we all want it, need it, and know it deserves to be.

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  • Comments
    Ckemtp
    I Got Attacked – A Paramedic Speaks About Public Trust
    I somewhat agree, though I assure you I didn't set out to waste your time. I probably should have broken this down into two separate points as the second point was the one I most wanted to emphasize. My bad on this one, I'll do better next time. Thanks for the feedback. If you'd like,…
    2014-12-16 20:25:00
    hawk4080
    I Got Attacked – A Paramedic Speaks About Public Trust
    Wow. That was a total waste to read.
    2014-12-16 19:20:00
    retired ems medic
    I Got Attacked – A Paramedic Speaks About Public Trust
    The radios should have had a trouble button to eliminate the need to key the Mike and talk. Maybe the dispatchers need to be rotated out to the streets to get out of the mode of just getting the calls out and only half listening to the radio.
    2014-12-16 14:50:00
    HybridMedic
    I Got Attacked – A Paramedic Speaks About Public Trust
    We use "Signal C" as a code to relay a crew in distress. Takes a second for the dispatchers to confirm it, but it sends the nearest engine, battalion chief, fire investigator (who are sworn LEO's) and makes an officer in distress call to Memphis Police. The arrival of all those resources is quite... Dramatic.
    2014-12-15 14:29:00
    exmedic
    Welcome to the Club
    Not me anymore
    2014-12-15 09:17:00

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