By Steve De Lisi
Although there are several definitions for the term “terrorism,” one that is relevant to first responders can be found in U.S. Code Title 22, which states that, “terrorism means a premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.” The results from these acts of violence include a large number of casualties; fires; structural collapse; and possible exposure of victims and first responders to chemical, biological, or nuclear materials.
These life-and-death situations are further complicated with issues related to identifying chemicals that may be involved. Some members of hazardous material teams are way too comfortable with their ability to wait for a material safety data sheet (MSDS) or to call CHEMTREC® for assistance. But although an MSDS may be available for a chemical release involving an overturned cargo tank, this will not be the case with terrorist events or acts of sabotage. And even during an accidental transportation incident, there may not be time to wait for the MSDS if contaminated victims are dying from chemical exposure right before your eyes. When these situations occur, first responders will need to provide immediate field decontamination followed by prehospital care based on consultation with physicians regarding the signs and symptoms exhibited by victims all the while taking precautions to avoid becoming victims themselves.
There are no simple solutions for mass-casualty incidents that involve fires, explosions, chemical exposure, and structural collapse. Yet believing that these situations would result only from an act of terrorism and confident that your locale is immune based on its lack of political targets only ignores the reality of accidents and sabotage and sets first responders up for disastrous results should an incident occur.
Next month’s column will discuss steps to develop and execute an exercise for these types of events.
Questions or comments on this or any other monthly Hazardous Materials Survival Tip may be directed to Steven De Lisi at HazMatSurvivalTip@comcast.net.
Steven M. De Lisi recently retired from the fire service following a 27-year career that included serving as the deputy chief for the Virginia Air Guard Fire Rescue and a division chief for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs (VDFP). De Lisi is a hazardous materials specialist and as an adjunct instructor for VDFP, he continues to conduct hazardous materials Awareness and Operations-level training for fire suppression and EMS personnel. De Lisi began his career in hazardous materials response in 1982 as a member of the hazmat team with the Newport News (VA) Fire Department. Since then he has also served as a hazardous materials officer for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management; in that capacity, he provided on-scene assistance to first responders dealing with hazardous materials incidents in a region that included more than 20 local jurisdictions. De Lisi holds a master’s degree in public safety leadership and is the author of the textbook entitled Hazardous Material Incidents: Surviving the Initial Response, published by PennWell.
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Subjects: Hazardous materials response, firefighter hazmat training
Click here for more info on Steven De Lisi’s book, Hazardous Materials Incidents: Surviving the Initial Response.