Chapter 28: Hazardous Materials: Overview

Fundamentals of Fire Fighter Skills, Third Edition
Chapter 28: Hazardous Materials: Overview
Chief Concepts
A hazardous material is a material that poses an unreasonable risk to the health and safety
of operating emergency personnel, the public, and/or the environment if it is not properly
controlled during handling, storage, manufacture, processing, packaging, use and
disposal, or transportation.
All fire fighters must be able to recognize the presence of hazardous materials, analyze
information, and take appropriate action.
The ability to recognize a potential hazardous material incident is critical to ensuring
your own safety.
To avoid entering a dangerous area, you must be alert to the possibility that hazardous
materials are present at the scene.
At a hazardous materials incident, you must attempt to identify and isolate the released
material, and then prevent and address any injuries or exposures encountered. After any
life-safety hazards are addressed, you must decide which level of action and protection is
required to alleviate or resolve the incident.
Hazardous materials can be found anywhere. At sites ranging from hospitals to
petrochemical plants, pure chemicals and chemical mixtures are used to create millions of
consumer products. In addition, manufacturing processes sometimes generate hazardous
Regulations are issued and enforced by governmental bodies such as OSHA and the EPA.
HAZWOPER is a set of OSHA regulations that cover hazardous materials response
training and hazardous waste site operations.
Standards are issued by nongovernmental entities, such as the NFPA, and are generally
consensus based. The NFPA has two current standards that pertain to hazardous materials
incidents: NFPA 472 and NFPA 473.
Training or competencies levels of proficiency for responders to a hazardous materials
incident are found in HAZWOPER and outlined by the NFPA: awareness, operations,
operations mission–specialist technician, and incident commander.
Any person who comes upon a hazardous materials incident and has been trained to
recognize it, identify it, and notify the appropriate agencies is considered to be operating
at the awareness level.
Operations-level responders respond to hazardous materials and WMD incidents for the
purpose of protecting nearby persons, the environment, or property from the effects of the
Technician-level personnel are trained to enter heavily contaminated areas using the
highest levels of personal protection.
Specialist-level personnel have a similar level of training as technician-level personnel,
but have additional training related to specific chemicals, container types, or
transportation modes.
Hazardous materials officers are trained to assume command of a hazardous materials
incident beyond the operations level.
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Hazardous materials safety officers are responsible for ensuring the safety of hazardous
materials personnel and the use of appropriate hazardous materials and WMD practices.
LEPCs gather and disseminate to the public information about hazardous materials.
These committees include members from industry, transportation, media, fire and police
agencies, and the public at large. LEPCs ensure that local resources are adequate to
respond to a chemical-related event in the community. LEPCs collect MSDSs, which
serve as an important informational resource for fire fighters.
Hazardous materials incidents cannot be approached in the same manner as a structural
fire. These incidents are more complex and structural firefighting gear does not provide
adequate protection from hazardous materials.
The actions taken at hazardous materials incidents are dictated largely by the chemicals
involved and the resources available.
A hazardous materials response begins with preincident planning.
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