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Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department Safety Alert: LIquified CO2

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Mon, 26 Sep 2011|

The Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department issues a safety alert to warn firefighters about a new hazard of the job: Liquified CO2 systems being used in convenience stories, restaurants, and other structures.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

[MUSIC]. >> Fire department, what's the location of the emergency? >> It's on 24th Street and Osborn. Okay, in the McDonald's there ma'am? >> It's inside McDonald's. One of our employees fall down and she's pregnant. >> Okay, okay is she complaining of any pain anywhere? >> I'm sorry. >> Is she complaining of any pain? >> Yeah she's crying. She can't stand up. >> Okay, I'm gonna get some help on the way out there. Where is she having pain. >> Is she having, she's pregnant. >> Okay, how far along is she? I don't know. >> Do you know how many months? >> Four months. >> Four months? Okay. Did she hit her head or pass out at all? >> I'm sorry? >> Did she hit her head or pass out at all? >> No she fell down I think her bottom. >> And she wasn't up on the ladder or anything, she just fell from standing? >> No, she just slipped on the floor. >> Okay. Alright, just keep her comfortable, don't move her. They'll be there in just a few minutes to help her out. Okay? >> Okay. Thank you. >> Thank you, ma'am. >> Yeah, May 31st at about 2100 hours engine 61 was dispatched to a fall injury at 3323 North 24th Street at McDonald's. We get in the truck. PTI is a 24 year old pregnant female. Tripped and fell. That's the only information we got. Roll up on scene and we were met by the manager immediately outside. She confirmed that there was somebody who tripped and fell. When we went in we actually were led back to the kitchen which was still in full operation. Patients were making their orders, burgers were getting cooked, fries were getting fried. Go back to the back of the kitchen and there was a female at the top of the stairs laying down. The only information we continued to get from the manager was that she tripped and fell. [CROSSTALK] >> We're gonna try and figure out what's going on, okay? We're gonna put a blood pressure cup on you. >> Do you know her name? Anything? >> She was, she wasn't really talking to us at all. She, she seemed like she was either injured, or upset, crying. Slightly hysterical with the way she was, wasn't answering any of our questions. >> Nobody there was really helping us with the. Any informations. Like nobody what was going on. >> If, if you need to try to control your breathing. Your breathing too fast. You're gonna hyperventilate. You're gonna see, your fingers are gonna start to tingle. You're gonna have cramping. So we, can you try to work with me here? >> Are, are, does your stomach hurt? >> At some point one of the other workers told us she fell as she was coming up the stairs. So, my self and the engineer decided we'd go down and see if there was something slippery or, or what might have happened. >> We're gonna just check it out. >> Does anybody know what [CROSSTALK] >> Do you smell anything? [INAUDIBLE] >> Does anybody know her name? >> You're gonna hide it. >> Does anyone know what happened? >> We got to the bottom of the stairs and he was ahead of me. And, and then we were just, you know, using our nose, trying to sniffing around, see if she slipped on something, if it was wet down there. We didn't know. >> Didn't really smell anything. I didn't really smell anything, but, you know, my engineer said that he could smell something. As I was taking some deep breaths, I knew that, or, or I, I felt like a little burning in my throat, and a little burning in my lungs. But, and when we looked around we're, we're really in the basement for maybe 15 seconds. But there were paint cans down there. There were chemicals down there. Supplies that they would normally keep in, in a basement or in a shed. I said something doesn't seem right, you know, I said let's get out of here. Something's going on, I don't feel right, I smell something really weird, you know, and he sa, he agreed. We decided to go ahead and head back up the stairs, and about, I was about halfway up when I looked up and saw behind my engineer, fall into the wall. [COUGH] As we're walking back up the stairs, right as I got to the top, I started getting light-headed and dizzy and right when I got to the top of the stairs, I, I just like collapsed and I fell and it, and it, you know, just kinda uncontrollable, I, I couldn't and, couldn't control myself, I just wasn't sure what was going on. >> And I didn't really understand what was going on. He didn't seem like he was that disoriented while we were going up, but just as, about the same distance, that I was from him, as I cleared that distance I got really lightheaded myself. The breaths that I was taking started to cause me to cough. And, as soon as I got to the top of the stairs I told my Captain I don't know what's down there but something is down there that's not making me feel right. That's not making me, you know, breathe right. >> What's going on? [COUGH] >> There's something down there. [COUGH] >> Let's go. Everybody out, everybody out. Let's go. Grab her. Let's get out of here. Out of here. Everybody out of here. [COUGH]. When I looked at them I knew something was wrong. And they said that they almost passed out, and, I knew they weren't joking around. So, immediately, called for a three in one hazardous. An additional ambulance and rescue for the patient. Luckily there was a Phoenix police officer on scene who kinda saw us rolling hot and it was nice having a uniformed officer there to help us evacuate the restaurant. There was still people in the drive-through making their order, people sitting down and eating. We got the restaurant, evacuated immediately. The response was on its way, and, we were able to, my guys were still functional enough where we were able to stretch, hand jack a line across 24th Street, stretch a handline and, wait for HAZMAT teams to, to roll up. Phoenix McDonald's had to be evacuated after fumes caused a pregnant employee to pass out. This happened last night near 24th Street and Osborn. Police got the call that a pregnant employee had fainted in the stairway. Workers say she had been feeling light-headed and dizzy. And authorities found carbon dioxide leaking from the soda machines in the basement. They say it was a dangerous situation. And it was lucky that no one was hurt. The woman is going to be okay, by the way. >> You know, restaurants historically, and Circle K's and everything else have historically used CO2 to carbonate their beverages. But they've always been just pressurized tanks. In the last, and I don't know when it's happened, but we're seeing it more and more often where they're starting to use liquid CO2 doers and because they can fill that one CO2 tank, the owner told me, once a month. Where the other tanks, they were filling em every couple days. Really what had happened down there is, with that liquid CO2, Leaking, it filled that basement completely up. It was basically a swimming pool full of CO2. So, you have a huge CO2 liquid tank, below grade, and a fairly significant leak at a 3000:1 expansion ratio, it pushed a significant amount of oxygen out of the air and filled the whole basement up with CO2. We assembled an entry team in full PPE, with breathing air, we also brought down our series meter, which is an air monitoring meter, also our gas ranger, our natural gas meters. Upon going down the stairs into the basement of the McDonald's. I immediately got an alarm on my series meter, indicating that there was a decreased amount of oxygen in the atmosphere, which was concerning to us. Because you know, obviously there's something in there that's displacing that oxygen, that means something's going on down there. so we proceeded down the stairs. At the base of the stairs, almost immediately all of the alarms started going off on all of the meters. Including the natural gas meter which was a little bit concerning to us, cuz we really weren't expecting that. We brought that down just to be safe, but that meter was indicating almost 100% gas in the atmosphere. Which kinda changed the, the, the perspective of the whole incident, because it really wasn't something we were expecting. So at that point we sorta decided that, you know, this was more than we bargained for. This was definitely something that was extremely hazardous, and we elected at that point to, withdraw out of the space, go back outside, secure the utilities to the building and then kinda talk about what we had found in a, in a safe location so we can come up with maybe a better game plan to handle. One of the things that I did notice when we were making our entry when these meters were going off. Is that I did view this CO2 tank and I noticed that there was a device next to it that was, these, marked that it was a CO2 detener CO2 detector and it indicated that it had power to it. It had a ready light. It was also not alarming at the time. So that was one of the things that was kind of a curve ball to it in this incident. is that we had every reason in the world to believe this was a CO2 leak. He had, it had a detector right next to the container itself, that was not indicating that there was a problem at the time. Later I believe it was discovered that tape had been put over that. Detection device while they were filling in or working on it, for whatever reason, and they neglected to remove the tape, rendli, rendering the detection useless. Normally things that are that hazardous or have those types of, of chemicals involved are always very clearly labeled as to emergency procedures to shut down. Etcetera. This really didn't have any of that. There was really no clear markings as to how to shut the container down. So we were kind of starting from scratch in terms of the learning curve of how to secure this. We were able to locate some very small thumb valves on several of the different ports at the top of the container, which we assumed could only be valves to shut the product off. There really wasn't a main valve, a big thing, anything painted red or something that you would discern as in emergency situations that you would secure that. So we turned off all the valves, we didn't hear any active leaking at the time, it showed that the container, I believe, was half full, which if it was filled that day, that lead us to believe that there was possibly something involved with that where half that product may have escaped out. So we did secure all of that. We also checked the hot water heater and some of the other, gas appliances down there, and they appeared to be functioning normally. At that time, when we were down int he basement, we were getting oxygen reading of 17 and a half percent on our [UNKNOWN] meter. Normally it would be 20.8, 21% something in that area. So several percent of the ambient oxygen was being eaten up by something that was. Down in that basement, so we definitely had something pretty serious going on. We did secure the CO2. We also had the gas secured so at that time it was made, the decision was made we were gonna go ahead and back out and we were gonna attempt to ventilate the space and see if that was gonna if that would change the atmosphere. Since we had the squad truck with us, we already carry confined space fans with us, which was a valuable tool in doing this because with the confined space fan,you can put the bellows down into a subterranean space and vent it from the bottom. And since CO2 is heavier than air, it sinks to the bottom and that's where all of it's going to be and this fan device will actually suck air from the bottom and expel it out of the building. So it was actually a very effective tool that we used to get this space cleared. So we did set up a confined space fan. This particular one [INAUDIBLE] has the basement with an exterior stairwell that went to the outside. We simply ran the bellows down the stairs and put the confined space fan on the top and then cleared the area so that that didn't affect anybody else when it expelled that gas outside. The two curve balls we really had in this situation were A, the, the malfunctioning CO2 detector that was right next to the tank itself and the other curve ball that we had was the fact that we had gotten a high indication of natural gas present when we were making this entry on our natural gas meter. After further research and speaking with the manufacturers of the device, of the Gas-Ranger, it was discovered that in actuality, CO2, the physical properties, the chemical properties of CO2, will mimic a natural gas in that detection device and actually provides you with a false positive. So we had a false positive, an indication of large amounts of natural gas, yet in actuality there really wasn't any. That was the first time for us to know that, I've never heard of that in the hazmat world and I think a lot of people learned that that night as well. So there were several curveballs in this incident that we kind of had to overcome but all in all fortunately no one got hurt, no one died and we learned a very good lesson and hopefully in the future we'll be able to handle these situations. With much more efficiency. >> More and more restaurants, and Circle Ks, and everything else are switching over to this liquid CO2 system, because of that expansion ratio. But for us, what it means, all these things that we found at least, are all come with plastic line. And freeze and thaw, the lines have the potential to break, and cause the situation we have. The significance of this incident to us is we had two potential civilian victims, and possibly more. A lot of times in these situations the potential rescuers end up being more of the problem than the initial person that was down. And then, of course, the close call for our firefighters. We had two firefighters go down into that basement. Into an oxygen deficient atmosphere and were aware enough to get out of there before before they went down. So it, it's a pretty significant incer, incident for us, it really opened our eyes to the fact that are these systems all over the city and and they're all plot the same way. There's the potential danger at every one of them. Carbon Dioxide gas has a very long history in the world of causing death. And this interestingly enough, can even occur in open air because carbon dioxide is heavier than air in general, and can settle in low-lying areas. So even carbon dioxide, for example. Coming out of the opening of minds or whatever, to the surface, can settle in low lying areas so that persons walking through those areas can actually pass out and die cuz of the elevated CO2 concentrations. The, toxicity of carbon dioxide is due to two major factors. The first is that it's what's termed the simplest fix in that it can displace air. And since air is about 20.8 or 21% oxygen, when you displace that oxygen, you're removing the oxygen that we need to breathe. So you're entering a low oxygen environment. but, unlike other simplest fixatives such as nitrogen gas or argon gas, for example, or even helium, which is a common gas used for suicide unlike those other gases, carbon dioxide in high concentrations, also, can directly. Affect the brain to produce coma and respiratory depression. And we call this carbon dioxide narcosis or CO2 narcosis. >> The big issue with it is that it's an oxygen displacer. But in high concentrations like we had there at McDonald's, they said the potential was about 25% CO2 in that air in the basement. At that high of a concentration, you tend to get a, a bitter taste in your mouth because the saliva in your mouth breaks that CO2 down into carbonic acid. So, you will typically get some sort of a bitter taste, and we had a couple guys on scene reporting a bitter taste. The person may start breathing rapidly feeling as though they can't get their breath. As their brain begins to fail from lack of oxygen they may become light-headed, their visual fields may begin to constrict and their heart rate will increase. They may or may not detect that. And then they will simply go to sleep. And pass out, from lack of oxygen and from the, the narcotic effect of very high concentrations of carbon dioxide as well. >> You know, this incident will definitely, change my approach to, to those scenarios forever. That basement is a confined space. There are those large CO2 tanks down there and when I, you know, when I reflect back about the incident as to how we operated you know, we operated within our, our, our operating procedures. And I think the scariest part about this is, is that this could have, potentially, been a life threatening incident and it was solely based on the actions of others. And, you know, those tanks being in there. The large tanks being in there. Us getting no information. Very little information. Having to guess, having to investigate ourselves. Do all those things that we do on a normal ba, err day to day basis. >> All of the information that I've. Heard about that incident that it, it could have been a lot worse than it was, I guess. You know, we go on all kinds of different calls on a regular basis and often times don't give them a second thought as long as we make it back to the station. But, I guess, the, the margin of error on this call was a lot less than it normally is. I guess we could have very easily taken one breath and passed out down there. The two of us being down there, kind of investigating, who knows how long it would've been that we'd have been laying down there before somebody else came down and the same thing happened to them. Now you've got three, four fire fighters laying in your basement unconscious and. How long before they're discovered? [BLANK_AUDIO]

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