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Westport 10/17

Firefighter 1 continued on Tuesday and Wednesday in Keeseville with the final two Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) classes, and they were no less fascinating than the previous two, which I wrote about in last week's column. I said then that one reason I was paying such close attention (and one reason I'm sharing it with you in a little detail) was that many of these dangerous goods travel through Westport either by rail or on the Northway.

Earlier, we learned how to identify potential hazards, how to use the Emergency Response Guidebook to respond to spills, and all about the various kinds of personal protective equipment (PPE) available to responders. This time we covered various ways of dealing with hazardous spills in more detail.

From the public's standpoint, the two basic strategies for surviving something like, say, a deadly cloud of chlorine gas from a ruptured tanker are either evacuation or sheltering in place. In other words, head for the hills or hunker down and let it blow over. Literally-you want to get uphill and upwind if possible, and when sheltering in place you want to close windows and put towels under doors until the danger is past.

Evacuation is for when there's enough notice to get everyone out safely. Sheltering is for when there's no other option. As it says in the textbook, the decision to shelter in place usually has "political ramifications" even when it's absolutely necessary. No wonder. Still, in most cases it's safer than evacuation, which is a lot harder than it sounds (imagine actually trying to get everyone out of town quickly).

Watch out for Walmart trucks in particular. The threshold for placarding a lot of these materials is 1,001 pounds. Walmart makes a practice of shipping pallets of exactly 1,000 pounds in order to avoid having to put the scary placards on their trucks. It might clash with the smiley face. Many times, the chemicals are shipped alongside other chemicals that react and become even nastier if they mix. If you come up on a smoldering Walmart truck, close your windows and vents and drive on.

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