One clear day in Kearney Nebraska a retired Firefighter, who still listened to his department radio, heard a call go out for a vehicle fire at Brown Trucking Company on the east end of town. It seemed harmless enough at first until it was reported the dropped trailer that was burning was placarded with a "haz-mat" <3266> sign on the trailer.
After the crews had arrived, begun to deploy at the scene and the incident commander ordered an interior attack team to enter the trailer, it was reported by the team leader that there were two fifty gallon plastic barrels inside. One of the barrels that had the haz-mat label was intact. The other was mostly burned away allowing the contents to be released and mix with the water being used to extinguish the flames.
Hearing all of this, the retired Firefighter began to worry about the safety of the Firemen both inside and outside of the trailer. He never heard any of the Kearney Chiefs or incident commander give the order to go to full hazmat protocol. This would be a normal first step after it was understood there were materials on board the trailer that required a <3266> or any other haz-mat sign.
Not knowing off hand the exact threat, the retired Fireman took out his pocket addition of the Emergency Response Guide to look up the code for the <3266> identifier placard. As he expected it was not good, so he began to worry about the Firefighters because he still felt a strong connection for the "Brotherhood" even though he was not then or ever before a member of their department. He was concerned enough to call the emergency dispatcher to report what he had found.
The dispatcher was not only dismissive of the information but was also condemning of the retired Fireman for making the report. He reported the chemicals were nothing more than just soap so there was no danger to be concerned with. He told the caller that it was not his concern and the Fire Marshal was on his way to the scene, as if that made everything okay.
So the good Samaritan hung up the phone and went back to listening to the progress of the Firefighters as the event unfolded. It was approximately twenty two minutes before the incident commander decided to order his crew to barricade the street sewer drain to stop any offending chemicals from going down into the drainage system where it could possibly cause a problem if the chemicals were a possible threat. It was over thirty minutes before the incident commander ordered a subordinate Firefighter to drive to station number 2, way across town to the west side, to look for any literature about the <3266> placard in their files.
As it turned out, the chemical that was set free of its plastic barrel, was an industrial detergent, that when mixed with water became a threat. It would now cause mild burns if it came into contact with bare skin and contact with certain metals would create toxic gas that could damage the respiratory system if inhaled. Additionally it could cause a possible explosion if confined in a small space such as a sewer drain system.
All of this information was clearly printed out in the 2008 edition of the Emergency Response Guide the retired Firefighter had in his possession which made him wonder why the officers of the Kearney Fire and Rescue Department did not have the same information themselves. They are a very well funded and equipped department whose officers have all the state and federal certifications imaginable, so why was this publication, that should be in the possession of every incident commander, not present?
Too often Firefighters after years of service become ill with cancer because they feel the calls they go out on do not require the use of the self contained breathing apparatus that is usually available to them. Nor do they feel the need to correctly identify threats at incidents so they can wear the proper protective clothing needed. The following paragraph is from a report in a NFPA publication that relates to the concerns of the good Samaritan that day.
" Too many of us have similar stories, of firefighters who have lasted only briefly into their retirement years. While many of us share an instinctive concern that a firefighter’s constant exposure to the fire ground environment is “not good,” clear scientific evidence on the topic is evolving, albeit slowly, but much of it still remains elusive. Nevertheless, in terms of exposure to harmful products of combustion, it can be easily argued that *every fire is effectively a haz-mat event, and every structure fire is effectively a confined-space entry event.* Today, the long-term health of firefighters is a clear research priority."
This excerpt from a publication that is sent to all Fire Chiefs who are members of the National Fire Protection Association, has been created by groups of professional Fire Service officers with decades of experience. It is therefor reasonable to follow the recommendations made by these professionals as the good Samaritan retired Fireman did on that day when he called to warn his "family" about the danger they were in, even though he was no longer an active duty Firefighter himself.
The Kearney Fire Department directors, Chiefs and some of its rank and file Firefighters all have felt contempt from that day to this for the good Samaritan who was just trying to show some love for people he was concerned about and respected. He has been cast out of the local Red Cross chapter he served, because the Director there is also a member of the Fire Department. And he is no longer welcomed to be an active member in the Kearney American Legion post 52 where he served as a color guard and speaker at the school talks given by the post to the local grade school children.
It has been said, "no good deed ever goes unpunished", and so it seems there is some truth there for a man who served in several capacities over four decades in many different communities in Fire Departments, who was just looking out for others.
To add insult to injury, the department was called back twice to deal with the trailer that became reignited. It seems with all the training, certifications and equipment, they were not able to completely extinguish one forty eight foot trailer completely.
You can see the full article about the concerns for the health of Firefighters here: CARE + MAINTENANCE
Below are pages from the 2008 edition of the ERG (emergency response guide) This clearly shows that there was a need for everyone to be properly protected. Note on the left page at top: "TOXIC; inhalation,ingestion or skin contact with material may cause severe injury or death"
It seems the retired Firefighter had good reason to be concerned and was justified in calling, after it was clear no one else on the scene had any idea of the possible threat. Not even the State Fire Marshal.