Search Past Articles
Explore Past Articles
Haz Mat "Specialist Course"
« Dangerous Solids | Main | Re-useable Drums »

  Foam Firefighting and WMD

     The question of an actual WMD {Weapon of Mass Destruction} response is a sobering concept to any Hazardous Materials Responder. The multitude of facets involved in a scene of this gravity are overwhelming on the firehouse chalk board, let alone applying these tactics in your home town streets. Multiple response times, unknown hazard identification, multiple victims, uncontrollable confinement and spread of WMD agents are among the gravest of concerns. This is one area of Haz-Mat response where looking at the bigger picture from the beginning may give you an edge. You will see two key elements, 1] contamination and victim spread, 2] confinement to a localized area. To understand how to make these decisions you must understand the nature of the contaminants involved.

     WMD agents are either 1] disease infectious agents or 2] CNS {Central Nervous System} “de-railers”. By “de-railing” your CNS, it in effect shuts down your body’s ability to survive. When we look at the “big picture” we know some will fall, as these weaponized agents are effective. We know too, exposed victims will panic and carry the agent{s} to the hospital, spreading it along their path. We also know, unless we take action, the contaminated area will continue to expand. This will cause a larger area of contamination, crippling our infrastructure. Our problem becomes the length of time for identification and confinement of these products prevents delivering medical care to its victims. Using procedural Haz-Mat Team Tactics, this time can be excessive. The “rate of speed” design of these weaponized agents was originally for military use, not Hazardous Materials response. This new threat has many challenges for Hazardous Materials Teams.

     In this modern time, we are extremely understaffed, so response availability becomes longer whenever large scale incidents such as these present themselves. The arrival, strategic decision making, and use of various hazardous material tactics is designed for environmental responses, not public attack. We can however, minimize these problems and maximize our affect by employing a “singleness of purpose” type thinking for this type of response.

     If you control the scene, the scene cannot control you”. It is here where we find this purpose. First responding haz-mat firefighters need a tool to control the scene “immediately”. Here, the tool becomes “Confinement”. Remember that confinement is defined as, "the sacrifice of a geographical area to eliminate the spread of the contaminant over an unlimited area". Regardless of how large the area is, it is still smaller than an uncontrolled “everywhere”.  

     Firefighting Foam is generally considered the ultimate in temporary vapor suppression. While it does not have the abilities of WMD decontamination foams, it does confine the vapors in the same manner. By decreasing vapor exposure or production, you can “confine” the incident preventing it from increasing.

     Once the scene has been determined to be a suspected WMD attack, Foam operations can begin using one Engine crew. For any scenario, imagine how quickly you can do this.

1] Isolate existing victims {do not treat; just have them move to an area isolated from the source}.

2] Engage Engine pump, stretch attack hand-line, to the suspected release site.

3] Apply firefighting Foam, covering release site.

     Always utilize a mid-expansion air-aspirating nozzle for the application. Any Engine Company of two men should be able to do this in the initial minutes. Since the release epicenter is likely to be small, one 5-gallon bucket of Foam may suffice. If this tactic overwhelms your worker-force, one firefighter with a Foam extinguisher and air-aspirating nozzle should be able to accomplish this task with the same results. Effectually, this will stop generation of contaminant vapors and minimize the number of future victims while “confining” the material to a localized area. While this may alter the evidence for law enforcement authorities, it will protect your citizens. More importantly, after you choose patient decontamination, EMS attendants may begin their work within moments of their arrival.


                                                                                                                 Haz Mat Mike



PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend