A Report from Tabitha Petchey, NCEC Emergency Responder
The fifth annual Hazmat Event, held on 6th and 7th March 2012 at the Crowne Plaza hotel near the NEC in Birmingham, was another array of intriguing topics that informed the audience on the most up-to-date knowledge in the field of hazardous materials response. The conference included two days of presentations from experienced professionals in industry and in the Emergency Services, intervened by an evening meal where the delegates and speakers were able to share anecdotes and contact details. An exhibition of sponsors relevant to the subject matter could be perused during the intervals.
The event was chaired, as always, by Bill Atkinson, Knowledge Leader at NCEC, whose unique wit was tolerated by all. A welcome was provided by key-note speaker Dave Walton the Acting Assistant Chief Fire Officer of West Midlands Fire Service (now Hazmat lead for the UK Chief Fire Officers' Association, CFOA), who opened with a plea for the publication of the new operational guidance manual on Hazmats, that has been delayed so far by DCLG, rather than see it “ageing on the shelf”. He went on to highlight a number of challenges facing the fire services, such as countering illicit activities, planning for the Olympics and highlighting a recent incident to show how the handling of fire run-off remains an issue. On a more positive note, he outlined how communications had helped in responding to a request received from Australia in dealing with a large spillage from a ruptured pipeline.
In the first of the main presentations, Peter Gustafson of London Fire Brigade gave some insight into the planning for the London Olympics this year and in particular the Olympic park. He explained how the scale of the Olympic village was like a new town being built in east London, added to which is the challenge of the Fire Brigade having to respond under the glare of the publicity of the competition, trying to minimise disruption and avoid unnecessary alarm to the spectators and athletes.
Providing the first of two lots of overseas perspective, Geert Titulaer of Brandweer Zeeland described a novel approach to responding to Hazmat incidents being tested by firefighters in the Netherlands in order to provide a more rapid response. He illustrated this with photographs of the set of vehicles currently being used, including smaller vans for Hazmat responders, who don their protective equipment en route to the scene.
Speaker Geert Titulaer (Yara Sluiskil)
NCEC emergency responder Tabitha Petchey described several case studies from calls received on the Chemsafe emergency line (the national number that is free to Emergency Services for advice during Hazmat incidents). The aim was to convey the usefulness of the advice, the scope of this service and to encourage its use.
Nick Trafford of Nuvia spoke on the topic of radiation awareness and provided an overview of various types of radiation and their properties. He identified the necessity of protecting oneself from contamination of radioactive substances as even more important than protection from radiation itself due to the lasting impact of contamination (this can be summarised as time, distance and shielding). The presentation also covered the history of how radioactive substances were discovered and how various sources of radiation can be encountered in the modern world.
A discussion of the environmental impact of fire-fighting foam was led by Roger Harman, formerly of the Environment Agency and now an independent environmental advisor. He explained the various types of foam that may be used and for what purposes as well as highlighting cases where foam may have been used unnecessarily, improperly or as a default. He provided some advice as to the most efficient use of foams and the practical implications of using foam in training exercises and large scale incidents.
After tea, an update to Detection, Identification and Monitoring (DIM) equipment was given by Rob Mitchell (West Midlands Fire Service) including the updated version of HazMatID (HazMatID 360) and the new gas analyser being introduced to DIM teams. . He showed various examples of where DIM equipment has been used to good effect in CBRNe incidents as well as some of the limitations that the equipment has.
Next came a particularly standout talk for all the gadget lovers. Ken Pink from Qinetiq provided plenty of footage of Project GHOST in action. The project uses remote controlled equipment to support the UK Emergency Services in response to incidents where it may be particularly risky to send a human. Since cameras are attached to the robots in order for the operator to see what is occurring, the audience was able to enjoy several case studies from the robot’s perspective.
The first day was closed by the launch of a consultation exercise by NCEC on the Emergency Action Code system, led by Bill Atkinson. Views are being sought on the future of EACs and more details can be found at http://the-ncec.com/eac-consultation/. In the evening, the delegates enjoyed the three course gala meal and of course some time spent in the bar for further discussion.
Day 2’s proceedings immediately demanded the engagement of the audience’s grey matter at an early hour with an update on of legislation, specifically REACH, CLP and GHS, showing how these will soon affect the look and content of labels and safety data sheets (SDS).
This was happily followed by a presentation by NCEC toxicologist, Sarah Bull. Sarah presented a guide on the types of exposure guidelines that have been recorded for various chemicals and what they really mean, underlining the fluidity of the classification processes and emphasising the variations and complications therein.
Sarah Bull (NCEC toxicologist) presenting
Nick Bailey opened and closed the mid-morning break by providing a synopsis of the ethylene oxide mutual aid scheme and a case study on the container ship Rena, which ran aground in New Zealand in October last year. As Chemical Incident Response Manager at chemical spill responder Braemar Howells, he was able to show how the decisions have been made so far and the laborious response measures for such a large ship.
The Managing Director of the Hazchem Network, Ali Karim, detailed a case study of a double-decker lorry rollover in which multiple chemicals had been spilled onto a dual-carriageway. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but Ali described the teamwork of the Fire Service, the Hazchem Network, Braemar Howells, NCEC and other agencies in responding to this incident and the challenges faced in doing so.
Dr. Sc. Koen Desmet, a Lieutenant at Stad Antwerpen in Belgium, gave numerous examples (with photographs) of incidents in Antwerp area involving hazardous materials including fires, leaks and gas releases. Antwerp is a city of more than half a million residents and with a port containing 40 top-tier COMAH installations, so the ability to respond quickly to hazmat incidents is paramount.
Les Richings of LRT Ltd. provided some insight on developments within driver training and what courses are on offer to lorry drivers who carry dangerous goods. The discussion raised issues such as how much a driver should be expected to handle on their own regarding incidents and also how to cut the costs of training in these austere times without reducing the effectiveness. Les also opened up the talk to the floor for the input of the delegates.
Chief Inspector Patricia Foy of the National Police Improvement Agency began by detailing the history of CBRN incidents and some of the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents that have been used with criminal intent, from the use of toxic gas as a chemical warfare agent in the First World War to the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with polonium 210 in London in 2006. She went on to explain the UK’s CBRN response capability and the focus for preparation.
Tea was followed by an engrossing presentation on illicit drugs laboratories by Steve Mardon of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), which encompassed what to look out for in identifying drugs labs, examples of places where they have been found, the varying sizes of the operations, the many hazards associated with the chemical processes involved and the possibility of booby traps or armed criminals. He also called attention to the problem of unregulated waste products.
The conferenced was closed with a long and detailed presentation by Kevin Miller of Perseus Training highlighting many case studies of illicit drugs and other examples of chemicals used for illicit or ‘bad’ purposes.. Kevin even provided props to portray the types of unusual items that might be found in drugs or explosives labs. All in all a very educational experience, we hope to be back for Hazmat 2013 with many more topical discussions (suggestions welcome). The thanks of NCEC go to all who attended and to the speakers and sponsors of the event and we hope to see you again next year.