9-1-1 Operator: 9-1-1, how can I help you?
Caller: One of our workers just knocked over some toxic chemicals. We're going to need some help right away.
HAZMAT Team Member: Our information starts from the time we're dispatched. We look on the printout. We go into information-gathering phase. It's like doing a real quick report on something. We want to know what the product is, where it is, how much has spilled, where it spilled, what happened. We want to talk to everybody involved so we can determine what sort of protection we need.
HAZMAT Team Member: We make sure, first of all, that we're in a safe area. We don't want to be in an area where the wind is blowing any sort of product toward us or at our vehicles. Then we look and see what we have. We gather all of the information. We give it to our product identification person who is working the computer, getting all of the information on the chemical that we suspect it is. At a hazardous materials incident, there are a lot of things going on at once. You've got the decontamination team. They're getting ready. They're preparing their area, their decontamination corridor, because if their entry team needs to leave quickly, they have to be able to be decontaminated immediately. Our product identification team, along with the team leader and the team safety officer, are looking at the scenario, seeing what's going on, what needs to be done. They're gathering information. Then, once they figure out they need a certain suit, they're getting ready along with the backup team. We have two people on our entry team. Each person on the entry team has a valet who helps him get dressed. Each person will sit down. They'll make sure they have all of their equipment around them. They'll pull their suit on over their legs. We have a foot cover that's sealed so that no vapors can get inside. These boots are certified against all of the chemicals that we're going to be dealing with. Inside the suit, we wear our own air. We bring our own environment with us. If we're worried about inhalation, we're worried about the air that we breathe that's going to come in through our mouth and nose. So if we have our air supply with us and a mask on, we don't have an inhalation problem now because we're bringing our own environment. And also, that takes care of ingestion. We make sure that the levels of protection that we bring to a hazardous materials incident will protect against all the routes of exposures. They put on their pack and have their radio and all of the communications gear in place. They have inner gloves, and then we wait.
We don't want one person inside the suit breathing air and the other person still getting dressed because our air supply is limited. And, we walk to the edge of the hot zone. And we make sure that we understand everything that's going on and we know the equipment we're going to need to take. We know what we're going to do. Once we get to that point, then we're ready to go on air. So we click in our regulator on our mask, zip it up, and now we're inside that Level A environment. There's nothing inside that suit that is going to get to the outside, and nothing on the outside is going to get to the inside. When you're working inside the suit, you're working in your own environment. In the fire department, we try never to do anything that involves any sort of danger without a partner. They, basically, watch each other's back. They help each other. They're partners.
HAZMAT Team Member: Decon, that's short for decontamination. It's making sure that anything that was inside the hot zone, that's the area where there may potentially be products or chemicals, does not come out to the outside. We run people through a decontamination corridor. We use brushes, soap, water, bleach, depending on what the chemical is, and we make sure that they're completely clean. We try to be very thorough and very efficient. And sometimes it takes a long time, especially if they might have chemicals in hard to reach places. We start at the head, work all the way down, down to the feet, and just make sure that they're clean when they exit the decontamination corridor.
Being on the HAZMAT team is fun. I get to be a firefighter, and I get to do something extra. I get to work with a team of people, get advanced training. It's fun to be able to go into an unknown environment and figure out what's going on. I get to see some very interesting incidents and participate in things that normally I wouldn't participate in as a firefighter.