Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dangerous Goods/Haz Mat Transportation Incidents

You've seen the numbers on the placards on trucks.  What do they mean?  If one of these trucks gets into an accident are you safe?  How far away do you need to get?  Is that distance downwind or upwind?  There is a small book out that is worth keeping in your vehicle.  Leaving it home in your library won't do you much good.  It's an Emergency Response Guidebook: A Guidebook for First Responders During the Initial Phase of a Dangerous Goods/Hazardous Materials Transportation Incident.  This book provides an index of all the codes.  It also gives you the safety recommendations and emergency response information to protect yourself and the public.  There is a table of placards and codes to provide a quick response.

Sometimes vehicles will have placards with pictures or numbers.  They may also be different colors.  You may have a placard that says 2.1.  That's flammable gases.  Others may just be numbered.  Let take 33/1203 or even 1203.  Most people recognize 1203 by the type of truck it's in.  This is listed as  gasoline/ petrol/ motor spirit.  33 is a European and South American code, but trucks in the US sometimes carry it as well.  3 is flammability of liquids (vapors) or gases or self-heating liquid. The number 33 means double the problem.  If it was just a 3 then a 0 would be put after it, 30. 

Substance 1203 lists code 128 as the proper response.  Listed are the potential hazards including explosion, vapors, runoff, etc.  It also lists potential health hazards.  Next is public safety.  How far away should people be evacuated.  Even if you aren't on scene to help, at least you will quickly know how far away to get yourself and your family! 

Next comes the emergency response.  If there is a fire the book tells you what to use to put it out.  Remember some substances will get worse if you put water on them.  Fortunately, for gasoline, this is not the case.  For a small fire you can use dry chemical CO2, water spray, or foam.  If there is a spill or leak the first thing you do is eliminate all ignition sources.  Ground any equipment you are using.  Don't walk through the leak.  Try to plug it if possible.  Don't let it run into creeks, sewers, or other water sources.  There is also a section on first aid.  You need to get this right because what's good to aid for one chemical may be deadly for another.  In this case, move the person upwind to fresh air.  Remove and isolate any contaminated clothing and shoes. 

All this sounds like common sense, but gasoline is something that we are around a lot and know about.  Start looking at the trucks that go by, or at the placards near buildings.  Do you recognize those?  Learn what they are and what the safety measures are.  If you are in the city and something goes wrong, this may be another tool in your tool kit for where it's safe and where it isn't.


  1. Good post and something to add, years ago when I was going for my firefighter 1 cert one of the classes you had to take was a Hazmat that lasted 2 weeks. During the class one of our instructors asked what we thought was the most dangerous tractor trailer going down the road. We as a class threw out every dangerous chemical we could and low and behold we were all wrong as we concentrated on the worst single chemicals we could think of. Finally we were told what it was and we were all a little shocked at the answer, it was the everyday walmart truck. Now here is why, we all know you can get everything from walmart right, that includes a lot of chemicals that in themselves are somewhat stable but if mixed they can be very dangerous. Now if you ever look at a walmart truck you will very rarely see it placarded as a hazard materials carrier. There is an exemption that gets them around this, it has to do with weight and volume, in simple terms if you carry under a certain amount of these single chemicals then you do not have to carry the UN number on the truck or placard it. This means that you con have a truck loaded with chemicals and you would not know it without looking at the bill of lading. The big problem with this is that when they crash or catch on fire you get a mix of chemicals that you may or may not get to put water on or you fall into a ILDH situation, it is the unknown of the load that makes it dangerous plus the shear number of these trucks on the road. The instructors joked that there are really 10 classes in the hazard classification system with walmart being Class 10 all by itself.

  2. Thanks Scott. That's very true about non-placarded trucks. We just need to make sure we are heads up when on the road.