Chemical Exposure in Firefighting: The Enemy Within

Issue 2 and Volume 140.

Chemical Exposure in Firefighting: The Enemy Within FEATURES HEALTH The call came in at approximately 3 A M on March 16, 1981. When the engine company and hazardous materials squad arrived at the scene, they found a 2,000gallon chemical spill on Interstate 5 covering the parking lot of a local truckstop. Whatever it was* had eaten its way through the bottom of an aluminum tanker truck. Wearing self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), the firefighters erected barricades and quickly evacuated pedestrians. The crew spent hours containing the chemical while constantly monitoring the spill with an explosimeter. The vapors were dense and bathed the firefighters and police officers (who were not wearing SCBA). After being relieved from duty, Firefighter David Werner returned to the “safe zone” and removed his protective gear. In 1981, there were no rules or procedures about decontamination to follow. So Werner, like many others, still wearing his vapor-coated turnout…

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