Interesting calls - January 2013

Exploding batteries        

A fire service station manager called NCEC for advice about a fire involving a number of lithium polymer batteries that were exploding and giving off noxious smoke.

Our Emergency Responder advised the caller that the primary hazard with this type of battery would be the reaction of metallic lithium with water. However, because there was unlikely to be very much lithium metal present (as they were lithium polymer batteries), water could still be used to extinguish the fire. In addition, as the batteries were already exploding and the use of water was unlikely to significantly increase any risk. The Emergency Responder advised of the likely products of the fire, and suggested that crews used breathing apparatus and that any run-off fire water be contained. The Emergency Responder also provided advice on cordon distances and the disposal of the batteries after the fire had been extinguished.

Immediate access to specialist knowledge means that incidents can be resolved safely and efficiently limiting damage to property, and protecting people and the environment.
Poisonous pumps

A fire officer called NCEC regarding an incident where firefighters had used pumps in a flooded pub cellar. Several hours after they had used the pumps, a firefighter had been overcome by fumes in the cellar. Subsequently, carbon monoxide levels were monitored and found to be high. The caller wanted to know if this would be due to exhaust gases remaining in the cellar 4 to 5 hours after the pumps had been switched off or if it was possible that carbon dioxide was leaking from a cylinder and was registering as carbon monoxide on the detection equipment.

Our Emergency Responder confirmed that carbon monoxide would have been present in the pump exhaust gases and could have remained in the cellar as it was quite small and not very well ventilated. The Emergency Responder advised that it was unlikely that the gas monitors would register carbon dioxide as carbon monoxide and suggested that the area should be ventilated and monitoring continued until the readings reached a safe level.

Immediate access to qualified chemists ensures that the most appropriate actions and suitable precautions are taken. Our Emergency Responders draw on their academic knowledge, industrial experience and specialist training at the NCEC to ensure the safety of emergency service personnel and members of the public.

Spill in school laboratory

NCEC was contacted following an incident in a school laboratory where a pupil had been splashed in the face while pouring a solution generated from an experiment involving nitric acid into an organic waste container. The pupil had been decontaminated and sent to hospital. However, a laboratory technician and three other pupils had received superficial splashes and were thought to have inhaled the vapours.

Our Emergency Responder advised that nitric acid is an oxidising agent and would react with organic chemicals. Advice was provided on first aid and decontamination of the technician and pupils, and on methods of decontaminating the laboratory and disposal of the resulting waste.

Immediate access to expert advice means that hazards can be accurately identified, allowing incidents to be resolved quickly without compromising safety.