Home Podcasts THMG166 – Near-Fatal Chlorine Incident Review

THMG166 – Near-Fatal Chlorine Incident Review


In this episode, Bob and Mike discuss a near-fatal chlorine incident and explore the situation from a variety of perspectives.

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Complete Show Notes

5:40 Summary

  • A chlorine release is a high-risk, low-frequency event that can have grave results. Fortunately, Utah Valley University (UVU) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) just released the final Jack Rabbit Project report for catastrophic chlorine releases and the impacts on first responders. The following incident is an example of a chlorine near miss.

6:45 Event Description

  • A local company called the fire department to report a chemical leak. The fire chief sent two awareness-trained firefighters to investigate. They responded alone and found a leaking chlorine tank. One firefighter reported the chlorine leak to the chief, who was not on scene, via cell phone.
  • A company representative then joined the firefighters on scene and found a leaking quarter-inch line, which could be shut down by turning the valve off on the tank. The chief directed the two firefighters to go on air and shut off the leaking valve. The firefighters entered the area and completed the task, then returned to the station.
  • Days later, the firefighters were training in the station when other firefighters noticed a strong odor of chlorine on their gear. The gear was removed and bagged. The SCBAs used had visible corrosive signs on metal snaps and buckles. The firefighters admitted to rashes on their skin and sore throats after the event, but the symptoms by this time had self-corrected.
  • The Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) became involved and reported the spill to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There was a failure to notify local government agencies on the part of both the company and the chief. The fire department and the company are now both under investigation by OSHA and EPA. The career/paid city fire chief tendered his resignation.

8:50 Takeaways

  • The two firefighters who responded and mitigated this incident were trained to the hazmat-awareness level. Trained at this level, firefighters are responsible for:
    • Recognizing a hazardous material is present
    • Protecting themselves
    • Communicating to the proper authority
    • Establishing scene control
  • It is never appropriate for an officer to assume command of an incident when he or she is not on scene. Furthermore, offensively mitigating a chlorine release exceeds the training of awareness-level firefighters. In some instances an operations-level firefighter may be directed to turn off a remote valve; however, it is done outside the hot zone and with a backup team in place.
  • Hazmat incidents almost always require a unified command; decision makers may include:
    • The spiller
    • The responsible party
    • The fire department
    • The hazmat responders
    • The clean-up contractors
    • Law enforcement
    • State agencies
    • Federal agencies
  • The two firefighters, untrained and wearing the wrong PPE, were lucky. They are fortunate that they only suffered skin irritation, a cough and equipment damage.

16:40 Discussion

  • Are your responders trained to hazmat awareness, operations or technician level? Think about their level of proficiency; do they have the knowledge to effectively use a risk-based decision-making process during a chlorine incident?
  • Structural firefighting gear and SCBA are not appropriate for offensive hazmat tactics, but it is enough protection to rescue a savable life. Most will argue that saving a life in exchange for throwing out a set of bunker gear is a justified risk. Discuss your approaches with your crew and decide if this is true for most hazardous materials.
  • How frequently does your crew train on high-risk, low-frequency events like chlorine and anhydrous ammonia?
  • Do you train with your local hazmat team or with industry? What outside resources can you include at your next drill?

Leading Practices

  • Ensure that your crew members are current on their continuing education and certifications. Review case studies and discuss how you would respond today. Reach out to local industries and ask for a tour and schedule annual training. You can learn a lot from each other.
  • UVU and DHS published the final report on the Jack Rabbit Project.
  • The 2016 Emergency Response Guidebook’s Initial Isolation and Public Protective Action distances are consistent with the Jack Rabbit data in both the upwind and downwind environment.
  • Sheltering in place is the most survivable option as a primary means of public protection during such emergencies if evacuation is not possible. It is better to be inside a structure or vehicle than outside until the outside chlorine concentration drops and the danger has passed. Gas concentrations will be affected by multiple factors, primarily wind and terrain.
  • Vehicles continued to be operational even when exposed to ultra-high concentrations of chlorine. Escaping a chlorine plume lateral to the wind in a vehicle is the best course of action if the public or emergency responders find themselves in that position.
  • Photo ionization detectors (PID) with 11.7eV bulbs detected chlorine with reasonable accuracy and repeatability over broad chlorine-concentration ranges.
  • The primary strength of predictive plume models is in their use as planning guidance and forecasting tools rather than as emergency-response tools due to the real-time uncertainty of some essential source data. First responders need to understand the application, limitations and capabilities of the plume model they use, including the widely used ALOHA model.
  • Common urban surfaces and materials were not significantly affected, even by direct liquid exposure to chlorine. Heavy hydrocarbons dissolved and metal surfaces were immediately corroded. Electronics continued to operate after exposure; however, long-term operability was erratic. No residual chlorine contamination was noted.

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