September 11,2001, has changed the fire service profoundly, not only in the United States but also around the world. New words (or words that were seldom used before), procedures, tools, and policies have been developed and implemented. Ten years ago, how many departments had a policy in place that gave assignments and implemented activities and activations if we went to a “threat level red”? I’m not sure the fire service knew what “threat level red’ was 10 years ago.
Question: Do you practice mass decon only within your department, or do you practice with hospitals and transport units? Do you believe mass decon is worth the effort?
Cincinnati (OH) Fire Department
Jason Hoevelmann, deputy chief,
Northport (NY) Fire Department
Response: At this time, we do not practice mass decon or technical decon. There is no provision to isolate those patients/victims that are contaminated or contagious, which puts our first responder fire and EMS personnel at risk. We rely on the county or other hazmat teams to provide the decon services. If we transport any patient who cannot be deconned in the field, we will lose the ambulance involved and possibly the first responders. How long do we wait for technical decon, which is required for patients subject to life-threatening trauma? Do we triage and load and go, or what? We are not protecting our assets very well. I would appreciate hearing what other fire departments or EMS organizations are doing in these situations.
Response: In the past, we have conducted mass decon drills as a multicompany operation within our department, and we also have practiced with our local hospitals and ambulance transport units as part of WMD exercises. During the past four years, our area hospitals have received decon equipment for use on-site at their facilities. This decon equipment is standardized for our five-county region: the Erie Bureau of Fire, the county (Erie County) hazmat team, and each hospital has the same style and brand of tent. These hospitals schedule training on the use of the equipment on a regular basis as well as schedule drills at least once a year. There are many training situations where decon is incorporated into the Erie Bureau of Fire curriculum– to list a few, new firefighter recruit training, hazmat operations 472 and hazmat operations refresher 472 training, WMD gross decon, clandestine meth lab awareness, urban search and rescue (US&R) FEMA WMD enhanced operations, US&R technical search and structural collapse technician, confined space rescue, and structural burn sessions. Removal of contaminants is the goal for training sessions as well as actual incidents.
Our response to a mass-decon incident would include a minimum of two engine companies, one tower/truck company, a platoon deputy chief, and a deputy chief aide. The first-arriving engine company would secure a water supply (upwind, upstream, and uphill of the incident) and then deploy a minimum of one 1¾-inch hoseline staffed by at least one firefighter in full PPE (including SCBA). The company officer would direct the affected people (by amplified voice and hand signals) to walk through the wide fog stream from the hoseline. As the second engine company and tower/truck company arrive, a mass-decon corridor may be constructed using side-by-side placement of the engine companies and the overhead deployment of the tower/truck company’s master stream. If this operation is deemed too time consuming, staffing from the second engine company may position additional 1¾-inch hoselines with the first handline, and the tower/truck may set up its master stream to assist with mass decon The platoon deputy chief and aide would be charged with incident management, accountability, and safety. Additional resources will be dispatched to the scene or predesignated areas at the request of the incident commander.