Home Podcasts THMG165 – Refrigerants Incidents, Part II

THMG165 – Refrigerants Incidents, Part II

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In part two of a two-part series, Bob and Mike conclude their discussion of refrigerants and how we deal with them as first responders.

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Complete Show Notes

2:20 Addressing Catastrophic Refrigerant Leaks

  • We usually take our sniffing metal oxide gas meter (qualitative) and a meter designed to find very small leaks in very small systems (quantitative)
  • Also need your 5-gas meter, PID, and O2 meter – bring pH paper as well
  • Evaluate any machinery first – turn off the compressor and make sure the leak has stopped
  • You might have to crimp a pipe in a large system to stop a leak
  • Meter the entire area and ventilate with fans until O2 levels return to normal
  • Search for pockets of refrigerants in every area of the room – high and low

8:05 Slow Refrigerant Leaks

  • These happen all the time in most refrigeration systems, so we usually don’t get called for them
  • We’re often called if the system is in a small, un-vented room and the leak has been going on for some time – this pushes all the oxygen out of the room and causes a person to feel sick or pass out upon entry
  • Alternately, someone might hear or see a small leak, as they get wet and bubble a little bit

10:00 Arriving on the Scene of a Slow Leak

  • You should have bunker gear and SCBA on
  • At the very least, you should have an O2 sensor with you
  • Evaluate the machinery to determine your course of action
    • In some cases, it may be more cost-effective to ventilate the room and maintain safe levels while keeping the unit on
    • Shutting down an A/C unit could negatively impact certain sectors of the population, especially if it’s during the summer
    • Alternately, a supermarket might lose tens of thousands of dollars on food – also creates a food shortage in the neighborhood
    • Ultimately, it may be better to leave the system running if it can be maintained safely

17:00 Mitigating the Threat

  • You can try to lightly tighten the fitting
  • You might have to crimp a pipe in a large system depending on where the leak is located (especially if the system has to be shut down)
  • If you do crimp, keep in mind that you have to do it on each side – a large surplus might be left in pipes on either side
  • Meter the entire area and ventilate with fans until O2 levels return to normal
  • Search for pockets of refrigerants in every area of the room – high and low

19:30 Signs of Refrigerant Poisoning

  • Dizziness, headache, coughing, and eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Refrigerants are heavy and can stay deep in the lungs
  • Exposure to high concentrations can lead to vomiting, chemical burns, heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness
  • Get affected individuals to fresh air and O2 if possible – let the hospital figure out the rest

23:30 Refrigerant Fires

  • This is an area where these relatively benign chemicals can become very dangerous very quickly
  • In the presence of fire, the halogens combine with other chemicals (like hydrogen) to create an acidic atmosphere composed of hydrogen fluoride and hydrogen chloride
  • This produces a host of other nasty chemicals that have been proven to take out firefighters within a few breaths
  • There are numerous documented cases of firefighters dying from exposure to the byproducts of refrigerants

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