Anyone who has been in the fire service for any length of time knows how dynamic our chosen trade really is. We make the most of our tools to ensure the public's wellbeing and enhance firefighter safety and efficiency. And while ladder company support functions on fires are pretty defined, in this article I examine how a ladder company can enhance a common hazmat team operation.
Putting the Aerial to Use
Millions of gallons of fuel cross American highways in fuel tankers (MC306/DOT406 for the hazmat gurus) every day, and they are sometimes involved in MVAs that require a pretty common hazmat team procedure: fuel tanker off-loading. This evolution often requires stabilizing the tanker, laying down a foam blanket to keep flammable vapors down, climbing to the top of the tanker via a ground ladder, drilling holes in the tanker while straddling it like a pommel horse, and then running a "stinger" into a truck to off-load the fuel into a nurse tanker.
Although many safety measures are in place, it can be a hazardous operation, as firefighters are often disrupting the foam blanket, operating on a potentially unstable surface and performing a labor-intensive task while in full structural turnouts.
We wanted to see if the safety and efficiency of this operation could be improved. So while working with other hazmat technicians and a ladder crew, we put our aerial to use on a tanker off-loading operation. The hazmat technicians had experience in off-loading a tanker using ground ladders and while straddling the tank, which is currently common practice.
Spotting an apparatus at a hazmat incident is very important as far as safety and preventing the truck from becoming part of the hazard. Because a tanker rollover often leads to product on the ground, apparatus should be positioned uphill and upwind from the direction of the spill. Most aerials can be spotted a substantial distance from the spill, but the area should still be metered/monitored prior to placing the apparatus to ensure that it is far enough away from anything flammable.
A blanket of Class B foam should be on the ground to assist in vapor suppression, and the tanker and apparatus should be properly grounded and bonded. It's also important to spot the apparatus so that its bucket can reach the entire length of the tanker in case multiple holes need to be drilled.
Bucket Personnel & Placement
A hazmat operation of this nature usually requires two technicians to operate on the tanker. We found it best to load both hazmat technicians into the bucket along with someone who is normally assigned to the truck to operate the bucket. Even with the added weight of the drilling set-up and gear, we didn't have any issues with weight inside the bucket.
Placing the bucket in the operation area can be very simple, especially when the bucket operator is familiar with their apparatus and with a spotter on the ground who can ensure that the bucket remains a safe distance from the tanker. Further, we found that it's best to leave the bucket high enough above the tanker so that the technician drilling the hole has enough room to put some leverage on top of the drill.
The actual drilling operation was a breeze. The technicians worked in a seated position while tethered to the bucket using a safety belt and pick-off strap. This allowed the technician drilling the tank to be secured to the bucket, prevented them falling in case the tanker shifted or lost stability. Operating from the bucket also allowed for a good working angle that could easily be moved to a different location of the tanker in case additional holes needed to be drilled. It's also good practice for the bucket operator to be prepared to move the bucket up and away from the tanker in case an emergency arose.
One of the awkward jobs during this operation can be running a "stinger" into the drilled holes to off-load the product. This operation often results in already fatigued firefighters maneuvering the stinger while still on top of the tanker. We found that when running the stinger from the bucket, the technician easily positioned it over the hole and could make adjustments as necessary while being safely positioned inside of the bucket. Instead of the firefighter doing all the work to maneuver the stinger, we let the aerial do the work.
Although this evolution went seamlessly, we discussed tactics of extended operation that could require additional air for the tools or switching out personnel. As with many aerials today, the truck we used had lines that could transfill firefighter SCBA bottles as well as the tanks running the drills. If your truck doesn't have this feature, it's a good idea to bring spare bottles in case you need additional air. If personnel need to be switched out, the bucket can either be lowered outside of the hot zone or firefighters can use the aerial as a bridge, if it can be done in a safe manner with the presence of handrails.
After this drill was all said and done, everyone involved felt that it was much safer and more efficient to off-load from the bucket than doing so from the ground. Some concerns of not operating from a bucket: firefighters disrupting the foam blanket that was suppressing the flammable vapors to access the tank; using a ground ladder to access the top of the tank; and performing a labor-intensive operation, in full turnouts, while balancing on top of a tanker.
The use of the aerial kept everyone out of the product and eliminated the risk of falling off the top of the tanker. Firefighters could be safely secured to the bucket to avoid the chance of falling, especially when fatigued, and avoided the necessity of moving across the tanker. During longer incidents, resources and personnel could easily be redeployed without putting firefighters back through the product.
As in any operation, this technique needs to be trained on, and command should be aware of the procedure prior to utilizing it on a call. Resources differ for each jurisdiction, so you'll need to implement techniques tailored to your equipment.