As part of the Fire Department's effort to prevent, prepare for, and respond to
emergencies of all types, the Emergency Response program gathers and distributes facility inventory and information describing the properties and hazards of chemicals.
The following sources of facility information are used for emergency response and planning:
1) California Accidental Release Prevention (CalARP) Program ‐ In addition to developing accident prevention programs at specific facilities, this CUPA program generates accident scenarios and other information that can be useful in planning for releases of hazardous materials.
2) Business Emergency/Contingency Plan ‐ This CUPA program is designed to gather the information regarding the hazardous materials stored at a facility for purposes of planning and preparing for emergencies at fixed facilities in the County.
Hazardous materials response is a discipline that is mastered through information management. The initial actions at an incident must be taken quickly but with careful consideration of how the chemical will behave under the release conditions which occur at the scene. Hazmat emergencies can involve a virtually infinite number of chemicals and chemical combinations, and occur under a wide variety of circumstances, from industrial facilities, to highway or railroad incidents, to illegal activities such as clandestine drug laboratories or illegal dumping. This assessment requires accurate identification, appropriate classification, an adequate understanding of physical and chemical properties of the chemical, and methods for containment or other mitigation. It also requires some prediction of how these properties will manifest themselves in a real world, uncontrolled situation. This is not a laboratory; it is a complex and dynamic system, filled with uncertainties.
While we cannot eliminate it, we reduce the level of uncertainty through the collective knowledge and skill of the emergency response team. Safe and effective response is a team effort in the broadest sense. The team includes the first responder, the entry team, the information support personnel, and the industry which applies its collective expertise to a successful incident outcome. The various disciplines, duties, and functions are coordinated into a single effective response through the Incident Command System.
There are several ways to identify a hazardous material:
The placard, a four-sided, diamond-shaped sign, will be displayed on the trucks, railroad cars and large containers that are carrying hazardous materials. Many placards are red or orange, while a few are white or green. The placard may contain a four-digit identification number as well as a class or division number that indicates whether the material is flammable, radioactive, explosive or poisonous.
Shipping papers will have the name of the substance, the classification (such as flammable or explosive), and the four-digit identification number. With very few exceptions, the shipping papers identifying hazardous materials are required to be in the cab of a motor vehicle within the reach of the driver, in the possession of a train crew member in the engine or the caboose, in a holder on the bridge of a vessel or in the aircraft pilot's possession.
Labels can be found on containers and packages containing hazardous materials. These may name the substance, the classification and the four-digit identification number.
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are required to be developed by manufacturers for those products which contain hazardous substances. The MSDSs describe the hazardous components and the physical and chemical properties in a substance or mixture. These are important sources of data for emergency response to mixtures.
On-Scene Hazard Categorization
Physical and chemical properties give clues to the emergency responders about the identity and hazards of the material of concern. Such properties as specific gravity, solubility, vapor density, chemical structure indicate whether a material is likely to sink or float in air or water, whether it will dissolve, and how it will behave where it was spilled. Testing for flashpoint, pH, and the presence of certain compounds indicates what hazards the material may pose to responders and the public. Each situation is different in terms of what kind of information is necessary to properly contain, transport, and dispose of a hazardous waste. Some of this information can be acquired through the use of field monitoring equipment, sampling, and field testing. In some cases critical information about the identity and hazards of the substance must be obtained through laboratory analysis.