Monday, September 26, 2005

Haz-Mat Course Book, CDF

Title: Haz-Mat Course Book
Author: CDF
Rating: Neutral

This was the next in an ongoing series of assembled course materials that I have to read as a volunteer fire fighter. It was, frankly, dry as dust. The main things I need to know as a fire fighter coming onto any event scene are:
  • Be aware that apparently non-hazardous materials events might actually be (or become) haz-mat events
  • If a haz-mat situation is discovered, I get to:
    • worry about everyone's safety, including my own
    • setup a perimeter around the haz-mat, maybe rescue people (depending on a risk/benefit analysis), and deny entry to anyone wanting in
    • call in the big guns who know how to deal with haz-mat situations better than I do
That's it. Really. An entire, thick, three ring binder of stuff that can be digested down to those few bullet points. Probably 250 pages of text.

Accompanying that tome was three days of in-class training to be told about this stuff.

To be honest, I am happy I took the training and read the book. My eyes are opened a bit wider to the real issues around haz-mat events. In reality, though, most of that eye opening experience comes from the real-life stories that the instructors told us about haz-mat situations they've been involved in. Some nasty things happen to fire fighters.

The volunteer company I am in responds to accidents on something like seven miles of the main highway between San Jose and Santa Cruz, CA. A huge amount of cargo is hauled over that road each day, some of it hazardous, and nearly all of it unmarked. The things that could happen there are a bit scary. Never-the-less, I will continue my studies and make myself available to respond to calls as soon as my training allows. This course - and the book - are a state mandated part of the training that lets me do this. I can live with that.

In a followup post to the original review, I added this:

In the interest of sharing lots of possibly useless information...

There are 2 major ways that hazardous materials are identified, that I know of, so far:
  • On trucks there are department of transportation (DOT) mandated placards for some loads and contents.
  • On buildings, tanks, and other stationary things, there is an "NFPA 704" placard.
DOT Placards

These are diamond shaped placards, generally containing a magic number, and often a symbol of some sort, or at least some unique color scheme. They are defined in a book called the "Emergency Response Guidebook". You can find and download a mid sized PDF version of that book online here:, and if you google "Emergency Response Guidebook" you'll find a few places that sell hard copies for a reasonable fee.

This book contains ways to identify some of the hazardous materials that are hauled around in trucks. There are several sections of the book:
  • White Section: general information on placards, placarding requirements, etc.
  • Yellow Section: look up a number to determine material (or class of material) and proper initial response data.
  • Blue Section: look up a material by name.
  • Orange Section: guide pages to describe how to handle the spill initially.
  • Green Section: isolation and protective action (evacuate or shelter in place, depending on many things) distances for the really bad stuff, which is highlighted in the yellow and blue sections. (This is the "methyl-ethyl-die-for-sure-inol" section, as my instructors called it.)
Why would you want this book? Well, I may actually need one for real at some point, but in actuality, I am a nerd, and it amuses me to know what is in the vehicles around me:
Me, driving the car: "Hey, what's in that truck? Placard number 2810."
My wife, thumbing through the book: "VX nerve gas."
Me: "I think I'll back off."
Yes, VX really is listed in here. Along with 5 forms of uranium hexafluoride, the nastiest of which (I think) is called "Uranium hexafluoride, fissile containing more than 1% Uranium-235." If you see a truck placarded 2977, I'd keep my distance. Then again, the military is not required to placard any of their trucks, regardless of what they are carrying. Not good.

NFPA 704 Placards

The NFPA is the National Fire Protection Association. They created the standard (number 704) that defines the 4 color (blue, red, yellow, white) diamond placards you have seen on tanks, buildings, etc. You can find a short but reasonable description of that standard here: Alternately, you can buy the entire description of the standard from here: A brief description, though, is as follows:

The 3 colored diamonds each contains a number ranging from 0 to 4. 0 means no hazard. 4 means a very high hazard. The 4th (white) diamond has other information in it. The colors each have a specific meaning, starting from the left and working clockwise:
  • Blue: health hazards
  • Red: flammability hazard
  • Yellow: reactivity hazard
  • White: symbols indicating unusual or specific hazards.
So, for example, an NFPA 704 reading "421" with a "W" with a line through it means:
  • a severe health hazard
  • a moderate flammability hazard
  • a low reaction hazard
  • whatever it is reacts badly to water
Given all that, you might not want to go into that building, depending on the circumstances.

I hope all of this information is interesting to someone other than me.