Home Podcasts THMG019 – Wives’ Tales of Haz Mat

THMG019 – Wives’ Tales of Haz Mat


In this episode, we discuss the stories and “facts” about our line of work and how they don’t always add up when put under the microscope.

Complete Show Notes

4:55 Let’s Dispel Some Old Wives’ Tales

  • We’re technicians, not chemists – to explain complex chemical events, we sometimes generalize, which can lead to misunderstandings or loss of truth
  • Some people lie – they make things up if they don’t know the answer, which is how old wives’ tales get started
  • If you don’t know something, admit it, find the answer, and get back to that person
  • This episode is all about some of the biggest old wives’ tales in the hazmat field

11:00 Fluorine Strips Don’t Measure High Acids

  • There are many kinds of paper “meters” that we use – one of them is F paper, or fluorine paper
  • Fluorine paper indicates the presence of fluorine ions in a sample with a color change
  • The majority of test strips on the market need a “wetting agent,” such as a strong acid solution – then, they measure visually
  • Manufacturer instructions generally seem to say that it measures pH, rather than molarity
  • The type of acid matters, because there are ones that can hurt or kill you

14:55 If Your Partner Goes Down, Turn and Run

  • We need to recognize the need to call mayday on our radios and learn hand signals
  • Statistically speaking, a member working in a suit downrange is more likely to have a cardiac event than to suffer the effects of a hazmat incident

19:45 SCBA Failure is Common

  • You’re more likely to be hit by lightning 7 times than to have a full SCBA failure
  • If the integrity of your suit is ever compromised, roll it up, clamp it with your hands, and head down to decon
  • Physical illnesses or injuries that can result from exposure – claustrophobia, nausea, heart attacks, diabetic incidents, and heat stress (most common)
  • Entrapment or immersion are possibilities – falling into water or chemicals, train cars, etc. – but Level A floats and will keep you upright
  • Even though they can take a lot, we still want to minimize contact with substances

26:50 You Should Avoid Crawling or Kneeling

  • You can crawl AND kneel in your suit – they’re abrasion tested
  • Use common sense, though – use padding and make sure you’re not kneeling in something that will compromise your suit

29:10 Level A Can Withstand Fire

  • Most Level A is not designed for fire impingement, although they’re expected to pass an “exposure test”
  • Flash suits aren’t meant for fire, either – they’re meant for abrasion protection, not flash

32:50 You Shouldn’t Drag Someone in SCBA

  • You should absolutely drag someone who goes down if they’re in SCBA
  • Don’t worry about scoring or damaging the suit when you’re dragging him
  • Rip them out of the suit, do an emergency decon, and call EMS

34:40 Nerve Gas Is a Gas

  • This is a common misnomer and is different from the actual nerve agent product
  • By nature, nerve agents are designed to stay around
  • Their vapor pressure is between .006 and 3 mm Hg – they’re actually an oily liquid

37:20 Taking Your Face Piece Off Buys You Extra Time

  • You’re operating in your Level A, lose track of time, and run out of air. Can you buy yourself a few extra minutes by taking off your face piece?
  • When you breathe in the normal air in your cylinder, it’s around 20.9% O2 with exhalation around 16%
  • Your entire suit is comprised of this exhalation, so you’re breathing 16% in the best case scenario
  • Humans won’t survive with levels at 6% or lower, so it’s essential to know your SCBA airtime and not take any chances

46:30 Burned Pots Clean Themselves If You Soak Them Overnight

  • Mike says yes and that the pot will even put itself away
  • Bobby isn’t convinced

47:30 Radiation Glows Green

  • Most radiation doesn’t glow, or at least in the spectrum that humans can see light
  • Many substances will emit visual light if “stimulated” by the ionizing radiation from radioactive material – known as “fluors” or “scintillators”
  • This kind of material is used in the faces of clocks, watches, and instruments on ships and airplanes to make them visible in the dark
  • It’s also possible to “trick” radioactive material into creating visible light – called Cherenkov radiation
  • In Cherenkov radiation, radiation from radioactive material goes into a material (like glass or water) – it’s traveling faster than light can travel in the material, so it gives off light as it slows down
  • To see this glow, though, the substance has to be very radioactive

49:30 Cars Explode

  • The explosive range of gasoline is around 1.6% to 7.6%
  • However, you need a mixture of 93.4% to 98.4% of air for gasoline to ignite
  • However, fires can sometimes occur due to damage to a fuel line or engine problems, so we always need to be prepared

52:45 You Have to Use Level A for Hydrogen Cyanide

  • Very little (if any) HCN is absorbed through the skin
  • But, HCN can cause death up to 24 hours after exposure due to the liver metabolizing HCN compounds into the bloodstream

53:35 It’s Bad to Absorb Alpha and Beta Particles

  • We don’t want to get the sources of alpha and beta particles in is
  • However, once alpha and beta particles are released, they interact with matter and are no longer harmful
  • Getting the source in you can produce a stream of particles that will cause internal damage
  • As long as the source isn’t airborne, we don’t need to wear respiratory protection

56:00 “Chief, We Can Smell the Substance, But We Can’t Find It – It Must Not Be There”

  • There’s always something there regardless of what your meter says
  • It’s a substance with no flammability that isn’t being picked up on any of your 5 gasses and isn’t displacing O2
  • Use the clues you have to rule out certain substances – this helps you focus in on what it actually is

1:00:15 Oxygen Explodes

  • Oxygen is an oxidizer – it isn’t flammable
  • It enhances combustion, but you won’t explode if you’re on O2 and smoking
  • O2 causes things to burn hotter and quicker – keep in mind that oxygen and hydrocarbons won’t mix well

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