Sechelt firefighters had to use their hazardous material (hazmat) response training to decontaminate a person reportedly overcome by chemical fumes at about 3:30 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 4.
“The report we got was that there was a person overcome with chlorine and other poisonous gases and the ambulance wouldn’t transport the person, of course, until he was decontaminated,” said Sechelt Fire Chief Bill Higgs. “What will happen is they will contaminate the ambulance and then they’ll contaminate the hospital if a person comes in with chemicals on them or any sort of foreign material, so you have to proceed with caution.”
Although Sechelt firefighters are trained regularly on how to do hazmat response, they rarely use the skills.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a hazmat call. They’re very rare events. It’s usually something to do with maybe a grow op or a meth lab or a chemical spill, or maybe a rolled over transport truck with mixed cargo,” Higgs said.
This time the incident involved a person found at a Sechelt business lying unconscious amidst mixed chemicals.
The business does not wish to be named, Higgs said.
After arriving on scene and assessing the situation, firefighters set up pools of water, donned protective suits and approached from upwind.
“The challenge always for the fire department is that you don’t know what you’re dealing with, so it’s one of these hurry up and wait situations where you’ve got to set up and proceed with an abundance of caution from upwind and consider the big picture as opposed to rushing in and getting involved in the situation and making it worse,” Higgs said.
The victim was retrieved and scrubbed clean before being loaded in an ambulance and taken to St. Mary’s Hospital for further medical attention.
Higgs said hospital staff determined a health issue caused the incident, not coming into contact with hazardous materials.
Despite the diagnosis Higgs said his department treated the incident seriously and in the proper fashion.
“It was from a local business, it was not from a person’s home, and the person was found unconscious with chemicals all around, so it was considered very much a hazardous materials incident until we could prove it otherwise,” he said.