Blog by Michael de Guzman
Captain, San Diego Fire-Rescue

If you come up on a hazmat incident, you need to know what to do or better yet, you need to know what not to do. What I tell people is to keep things basic and know your limits.

In the fire service, acronyms are often used to help first responders remember response actions. For Hazmat incidents remember S.I.N.

S
Safety
I
Isolate
N
Notify

Lets break each item of SIN during Hazmat Incidents:

Safety: Your first thought in everything you do should always be safety. To ensure a safe response, its good to assume the worst. Remember to take account of all information given on the dispatch. Make sure you consider all of the environmental factors on your approach to the scene and protect yourself with PPE (personal protective equipment).

Responding upwind, uphill and upstream with the windows up and HVAC shut off on the apparatus
will assure no exposure to responding units. Additionally, using SCBA (self contained breathing apparatus) will assure firefighter safety. Inhalation is the No. 1 cause of exposure so be sure to take these precautions.

Isolate: Its critical to restrict the entry inside the perimeter of the release, known as the Hot Zone. Perimeters are determined using the Emergency Response Guidebook. Isolate any contaminated victims within the perimeter until they may be decontaminated by properly protected personnel.

Firefighters in PPE and SCBA should have a hose line outside the Hot Zone and be ready to decontaminate victims or personnel as needed. Firefighters should avoid any contact with product and decontaminate themselves if necessary by using ample amounts of water.

Removing clothing eliminates 90 percent of the contamination from victims. But preventing the spread of a product can be very challenging since victims tend to flee the scene to seek emergency care or proceed home. Contamination beyond the incident of origin may compromise an ambulance and hospital. Obviously, it can harm people if infected. A useful tool is the Public Address (PA) system on the apparatus. Use it to give victims instructions from a distance while staying protected inside your rig.

Notification: Notify the proper resources to respond to the incident. Typically, its the Hazardous Materials Team that is the priority notification. Notifying the Hazmat Team will get the resources needed for these responses.

First Responder Operational (FRO) firefighters are not trained to the level of hazmat mitigation. The response requires equipment and expertise that only the hazmat team can deliver. First responders usually do not have proper training, capabilities and equipment, so its important that they don’t jeopardize themselves by trying to do too much.

Remembering S.I.N. during initial response will help ensure hazmat incidents are properly handled.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on TargetSolutions’ Command Post website on Oct. 28, 2010.

About the Author
Michael de Guzman has worked with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department for the majority of his 20-plus years in the fire service. He is a Hazmat instructor with a degree in economics from the University of California San Diego.