Dianna’s back for her monthly blog post. Today, she focuses on HazMat Decon (otherwise known as cleaning gross stuff off of you that could kill you). I particularly love the photos she included to help aid the writer with those accurate descriptive details. Don’t forget, leave a comment this month and be eligible for Brandilyn Collin’s book Over the Edge. Winner announced June 1, 2011.
This is amazing fodder for any author to add conflict and tension to a disaster situation. Decon can also be used on a very small scale as Dianna mentions. Possibly only one patient. Imagine a patient drenched in gasoline. Not only can the gas be caustic to the patient’s skin, but if that patient is brought into the ED, the fumes will permeate the department. This can pose a risk to other patients, particularly those with respiratory complaints.
Welcome back, Dianna!
OSHA definition of decon: The removal of hazardous substances from employees and their equipment to the extent necessary to preclude foreseeable health effects.
NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) definition: The physical and/or chemical process of reducing or preventing the spread of contamination from person and equipment.
Inclusive definition: The systematic process of removing or chemically changing a contaminant at the scene to prevent the spread of that contaminant from the scene and eliminate possible exposure to others.
Contaminants are any chemical or biological compounds or agents capable of causing harm to people, property, or the environment and includes:
1) Bloodborne pathogens
2) Common chemicals
3) Warfare agents
4) Etiological agents
Decon is located in the warm zone of an emergency incident, which is in between the cold zone and the hot zone. Once rescue personnel exit the hot zone, we must enter the warm zone and decon before entering the cold zone. Haz-mat trained and credentialed EMTs wear head-to-toe biohazard suits and enter haz-mat areas/situations to assess patients, give them medical care, and extricate them out of the hazardous hot zone to the decon area. There are five decon stations.
1) Initial entry: I drop my loose (not attached to me) instruments and tools in buckets.
2) Gross Rinse: While I’m still fully clothed in my bulky biohazard suit, another person thoroughly rinses me off (and everything on me) with a wand (think: high-powered spray hose). Rinsing off includes the bottom of my boots, my hooded head, my SCBA tank (self-contained breathing apparatus) etc. That person basically sprays me with water while I lift each foot one at a time, turn around, lift my arms, etc.
3) Wash and Rinse: I’m still in my suit when yet another person first thoroughly scrubs me with a brush wand filled with soapy water, then uses another wand containing water only.
4) I remove my biohazard suit and SCBA tank, place both in large buckets.
5) I remove my haz-mat gloves then my inner gloves (medical exam gloves) and place all in buckets.
Each station is separated by wooden squares about the size of a washer/dryer unit and stands no higher than ten inches from the ground. Each square is lined with heavy polyethylene plastic (the wood is underneath the plastic), so the poly sheeting contains the run-off successfully.
Set-up crews arrange the five stations by first laying down thick polyethylene sheeting flat on the ground, then constructing the wooden dividers into position over the poly, then spreading a second poly sheet over all the dividers, then firmly stepping on every inch of the poly inside each square, form-fitting it into the square. Finally, heavy orange cones secure the poly in place. The stations are literally next to each other, so during the decon process all we do is simply step over the wooden divider and into the next station to be deconed.
The five stations – as well as the entry and exit of decon – are in open space; meaning, there’s no roof or ceiling above the decon area. All hazardous materials either successfully collect into the polyethylene sheeting (then both the poly and haz-mats are later properly disposed of), or they disintegrate harmlessly into the air, or a combination of the two.
This decon system works well for any size situation from one emergency crew to large crowds of haz-mat exposed civilians (non-rescue personnel). In an Emergency MCD (Mass Casualty Decon) time is critical for several different reasons: health risks, scene control, perseverance of crime scene evidence, etc. so a structured decon is not possible. In those emergency situations, exposed emergency personnel and civilians are deconed as shown in the two photos.
Thank you in advance for reading and for your participation and comments. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask. All the photos are courtesy of Brandon Gayle.
After majoring in communications and enjoying a successful career as a travel agent, Dianna Torscher Benson left the travel industry to write novels and earn her EMS degree. An EMT and Haz-Mat Operative in Wake County, NC, Dianna loves the adrenaline rush of responding to medical emergencies and helping people in need, often in their darkest time in life. Her suspense novels about characters who are ordinary people thrown into tremendous circumstances, provide readers with a similar kind of rush. Married to her best friend, Leo, she met her husband when they walked down the aisle as a bridesmaid and groomsmen at a wedding when she was eleven and he was thirteen. They live in North Carolina with their three children. Visit her website at http://www.diannatbenson.com/
One thought on “Haz-Mat Decontamination”
The way you described the decontamination process was really interesting, especially the part where you’re rinsed off in your biohazard suit by a spray hose. You also mentioned that common chemicals are considered contaminants. I’d imagine that if contaminants weren’t removed, they could cause people to die or be seriously injured. Maybe companies that handle a lot of chemicals should employ decontaminating services and have them on hand just in case something goes wrong.