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Hazardous Materials Incidents During Summer

First responders dealing with hazardous material incidents during summer experience a great deal of challenges, mainly because of the high temperatures and elevated humidity. In the article ‘Beyond the Rule of Thumb Survival Tip 53’, Lisi (2010), illuminates some of the inherent dangers presented by the summer weather to first responders. He extensively discusses the potential risks to the personnel and the best possible ways of mitigating these risks. He further explores the potential hazards presented by the chemical agents and indeed their packaging. He goes further to highlight problems that the public portend to first responders by the sheer large number of people venturing outdoor during summer periods. Finally, Lisi (2010) explores the issues that are directly related to the change in weather condition, he looks at immediate risks due to the potential rainstorm during this period and the risk presented by overheating particularly in combustion chambers.

Summers are undoubtedly some of the riskiest period of the year particularly to first responders to a hazardous incident. Not only are there illnesses risks due to the high heat when one wears chemical protective clothing, but there is also a big danger of dehydration and the risk of suffocation. Incident management team should be adequately prepared; issues of time management, adequate personnel and equipment including protective clothing should be handles prior to an occurrence of an incident (Molino, 2006). Keeping in mind the high temperatures, Lisa (2010), proposes that a team handling an incident should be housed in a cool, if possible, air conditioned room before their engagement in an incident scene. Ambulances or command post vehicles would also serve well.

It is common knowledge that high temperatures affect most chemicals. Incident responders must be keen to watch for volatility of chemicals, melting and boiling points, and even vapor pressures. When dealing with chemicals, the temperature of the surface in which the chemicals are lying should equally be put into account. It is important to note that surface temperatures sometimes are significantly higher than the surrounding temperatures, and hence can affect chemicals further. The container in which the chemicals are packaged should also be of interest to first responders. The integrity of most containers are affected both by the increase pressure due to the changes cause by increased temperature on the chemical contents and the high temperatures the containers are exposed to. Lisa (2010) warns of over reliance on safety valves on chemical containers and proposes that to overcome the problem of dealing with overheated chemical containers, responders should shift operations time to night hours when the temperatures significantly drop.

Large numbers of people who venture outdoors during summer period present a “unique challenge” to first responders (Lisa 2010). It is inherently difficult to secure a place that has witnessed an incident. The potential of large numbers of people being affected, say for example, by an exposure to a hazardous material vapor is indeed real. The other problem the public present during the summer period is their preference to open ventilation through open windows as opposed to central air conditioning. The open windows present a higher risk from airborne chemicals particularly at night when people are asleep. The challenge of first responders is identifying susceptible individuals with open windows in an affected area. Political interference also present bottlenecks in securing an area, which may have experienced a hazardous incident.

First responders should take cognizance of direct weather related concerns. Overheating of combustion chambers in summer is a common occurrence. Particular attention should be paid to the use of coolants.

Another direct weather related concern is the propensity to have thunderstorms during summer. Thunderstorms have the risk of lightning strikes. It also portends a risk of a boom in chemical containments causing overflows. In an incident situation, Lisa (2010), advices that the responders should pay a closer attention to weather forecast to enable them to be aware and stay alert on potential danger.

The change in weather patterns during the summer is critical to first responders to hazardous material incidents. Even though majority of them already endure high temperatures especially while handling fires, the heat and humidity experienced in summer present a completely different and unique challenges. The weather has a negative impact on not only the personnel but also on equipment. The aggregate response of chemicals and containers to external and internal stimuli is also of great concern.

Amongst safety engineers there is a general agreement that there are four parts in an hazardous incident scenario; the intrinsic factors that contribute to the incident, the immediate cause of the incident, the incident itself and the potential harmful effects of the incident (Cashman 1995). Lisa (2010) asserts that, there can never be a routine hazardous material incident; therefore, it is highly likely that one can accurately predict what incident is going to happen in any one given summer period. However, the contributing factors and the immediate cause of an incident can be identified without any problem. This would thus enable first responders to predict the likely hood of a similar even happening and to prepare adequately.

Lisa (2010) concludes that, in as much as very little can be done to absolutely protect personnel and equipment during summer, common sense should prevail when handling incidents in the high heat and humidity. Every incident is unique and extra care must be put in place to ensure safety and security.


Cashman, J. R. (1995). Hazardous materials emergencies: Professional response team. Lancaster, Pa.: Technomic Pub. Co.

Lisi, S. D. (2010) Beyond the Rule of Thumb Survival Tip 53. Hazmat Survival Tips: Summertime Hazardous Materials Incidents. Web.

Molino, L. N. (2006). Emergency incident management systems: Fundamentals and applications. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


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