By Cindy Kerschner
The Times News, © 2003

May 31, 2003

Where there’s smoke, there’s firefighters It’s 3 am. The smoke alarm goes off and what do you do? Naturally, you call the fire department. But do you know what hidden dangers lurk in and around your home?

Firefighters need to know what they are facing to protect both you and themselves from possible danger. A firefighter’s priority when facing a hazardous situation is to isolate, evacuate and decontaminate an area.

Keith Lotier, the Emergency Management Coordinator (EMC) for Towamensing Township, reminds us, “I think the important thing is that people recognize the hazards that they have. I would sure like them to tell me if they have something in their shed that could cause a problem.”

Hazardous materials (HAZMAT) when ignited, can cause serious injury through inhalation. Other concerns are direct contact and skin absorption. Eric George, Fire Police Captain for Towamensing Township states, “Normal firefighter’s gear only gives about 15 minutes of protection.” Their protective clothing, called “turn out gear” consists of a hat, coat, boots and self-contained breathing apparatus. Other First Response Personnel such as police and ambulance workers also need protection. “Emergency Management is working towards that in Carbon County,” states Lotier.

Decontamination showers are on hand at the county level and protective suits are already in place in some municipalities, but local officials must request them. “The Office of Homeland Security is providing much of this funding.”

What is a hazardous substance? According to George, “Any substance or combination of substances that is potentially damaging to the health, well-being (of an individual) or the environment.”

Where in the home are these hazardous substances? Most people think of sheds and garages, but according to George, there is a more common location. “The number one place in the home you find hazardous waste is under the kitchen sink.”

These can include antifreeze, car care products, paint, fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, batteries, medicines, mothballs, nail polish and remover, pet products, rodent poisons, photographic and pool chemicals, car batteries, scouring powders, ammonia and bleach-based cleaners, oven cleaners, drain openers and toilet bowl cleaners, solvents for cleaning firearms and engines, glues, degreasers, gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, motor oil, transmission fluid, paint strippers, varnish, turpentine, air fresheners, hair spray, and coin, floor, furniture and shoe polish.

If a HAZMAT status is determined, the local coordinator must notify the county Emergency Management Office and they will call out the HAZMAT team. Presently a HAZMAT team must come from Old Forge to treat a possibly dangerous situation.

Remember when buying household products to read the directions and warnings.

Also, buy only what you need to cut down on storing chemicals. Always use original containers and check them regularly for wear and tear. Put the original container into a larger, clearly marker vessel if leakage occurs.

Avoid mixing chemical products and cleaners. Store materials in a cool dry place and separate incompatible products.

Combinations like diesel fuel and ammonia can explode when ignited.

The Groundwater Guardians support safe use, storage and disposal of hazardous waste. Recycle what you can and consider donating unused supplies to charitable organizations.