Trish And Traci Podcast Hero 63d9747959f03

Podcast: Tactics To Help First Responders During Process Safety Incidents

Feb. 6, 2023
Insight into rescue challenges and solutions at chemical facilities.


Welcome to Process Safety with Trish and Traci. The podcast that aims to share insights from past incidents to help avoid future events. This podcast and its transcript can be found at I'm Traci Purdum, editor-in-chief of Chemical Processing. And as always, I'm joined by Trish Kerin, the director of the IChemE Safety Centre. Happy New Year, Trish.

Trish: Happy New Year to you too, Traci. Wonderful to be back for 2023.

Traci: Absolutely. And our first episode of the year here, we're kicking it off with a guest. Patrick Jessee is the commander paramedic for the Bureau of Operations of the Chicago Fire Department. In his 20-plus years with the department, he has contributed to public safety in a variety of leadership and operation-level roles, including EMS, fire suppression and rescue, and special operations. Patrick also serves as the hazardous materials training program manager for the Northeastern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy. He holds graduate degrees in public policy and administration, threat and response management, as well as undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry. And Patrick, it seems like you were made for this podcast series with your credentials here. So thanks for joining us today.

Patrick: Thank you, Traci and Trish, for having me on. It's a pleasure to be here. I will say that my experience with the Chicago Fire Department has been an interesting combination of my academic pursuits as well as my interest in public safety and helping those in need. And I'm glad to talk to you as we proceed down this podcast. I would like to start by saying that these are my perspectives and opinions as we go through this and not reflective of the Chicago Fire Department or the position, but just my experience as a responder.

Traci: All right, great. And that's what we're looking for, your experience, so I appreciate that. And I actually found you in an article you wrote for Chemical Processing sister publication Firehouse. That article was titled Hazmat Rescue Challenges and Solutions. You talk about planning for rescue scenarios from the first responders' perspective, and I thought it would be beneficial for our audience to hear that and then have Trish comment from the chemical industry perspective.

Well, Patrick, you talk about location considerations and I wanted you to give us some insight on that and what you mean by, first off, what is a location consideration, and then talk a little bit about what you folks do as first responders with that.

Patrick: Yeah, Traci, I'm going to start from the first responder perspective and then I will boil it down into more of the hazardous materials team perspective in regard to more of your chemical processing or your fixed facilities or other considerations there. So from a firefighter and/or paramedic kind of perspective for public safety, as we go throughout our day, we are looking at the things that are around us, wherever our firehouse is, what is the roadways like, is there a construction, is there going to be faster or slower ways to get to a certain area, as well as we look around of what is our population, what is in our, what we call our response area, general firehouse areas do I have just single-family homes, do I have multi-family homes, are there nursing homes, are there hospitals, is there industry, is there waterways that block our access to certain areas of our space that we need to protect and cover?

So we look at that and collectively get an idea of, "Hey, what might our day bring?" We don't live in a world of the worst case is going to happen, but we do spend a fair amount of time firehouse talking, "Hey, if you had that type of building or that type of facility, what are some things that you would consider?" And it could be from how would we get somebody out that has a medical emergency. Those could be people just in offices that, "Okay, well, if the elevator doesn't work, how do we use the stairs," to construction workers at elevated spaces that we need to remove them from a higher level back down to the ground. Or on more of your hazardous materials perspective, looking at what are the chemicals present, what processes are happening, and what are the safety plans that are in place with those facilities? Or if it's a transport facility, what is being shipped in and out? That could be by road, that could be by rail, that could be by pipeline even, and even a few waterways.

So we kind of look at those things and just kind of chalk talk, which for your younger viewers or listeners that may be more of an understanding of we used to use chalk on blackboards as compared to dry erase and PowerPoint. Just kind of spend time, just kind of on that and what that allows us as a first responder to start thinking about processes and thinking about solutions. Because when we respond to something, we don't have the option of saying, "Yeah, I don't know how to fix this, so we're just done." So we have to come up with a solution.

Traci: Trish, some of the things he was talking about, you and I have talked about in past episodes in terms of location considerations, having to think about the neighborhood around you or if there were any things that would stop first responders getting into the facility. Do you want to expound on that and give us some thoughts?

Trish: Yeah. So there are certainly a lot of different aspects from the facility perspective that you need to be very prepared for so that your first responders can respond in the way that you need them to. And so that means you need to really understand what your hazards are and how they could eventuate into the consequences that you're trying to prevent, and what are the incident pathways you have, what are the response capabilities you have internally in terms of your equipment. And what I mean by that is the ability to isolate, to divert flow, to divert activities away from the incident site so that the first responders can safely and adequately respond to what's going on. Understanding that one of the first things that is going to get cut potentially is your electricity supply for the safety of the responders. How are you managing motor-operated valves in that instance? What is their fail-safe position? How is that going to impact the incident that's unfolding?

And so that's why we really do need to have detailed risk assessments of the different scenarios that could develop. Bowtie methodology is a fantastic way to lay out the visual of what that looks like. It's also a really effective way to then communicate it. If you're having the conversation with your emergency responders and you can walk them through the bowtie of what's actually going on and what controls you have and what controls have failed, that I think would be quite helpful to them. And Patrick, I'd be interested in your perspective on that. But it's really useful communication technique and training technique for people as well. Seeing it visually laid out can really help people grasp the issues they need to manage.

Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that we also do is we frequently go and do fixed facility walkthroughs and we'll find a building manager or a contact there to talk to these stakeholders in our communities in order to say, "Hey, what do you have on site? What are some considerations that you have? What are your policies and procedures? Do you have rally points set up in regard to evacuation procedures? Do you have audible alerts and internal fixed facility alarms that are monitored, either passively or actively, on your site that we can come in and work with you and come up with solutions to be ready for that?" So those are some critical things. And visually, a lot of people are visual learners, so any opportunity to put eyes on things and see that laid out kind of starts making things... Things make sense then for those responders to start saying, "Oh, okay, so things from there move over to here and so we need to stop it so we don't just keep having it." Be a release, for example.

So those are definitely some of those things that work out for us. So obviously there are engineering controls that we can help with you guys activating, as well as us on a planning side. Over here in the United States, obviously we have a lot of stakeholders associated with chemical processes and we have local emergency planning committees that gather information about what chemicals are on site, the Tier 2 reports that collect information about extremely hazardous substances and reportable quantities, and things of that nature that we can gather from a hazardous materials response perspective and even just public safety perspective of what is in play and what are some things that we need to be worried about before getting into the crazy chemistry of what's interacting with what and how's that going to react in regard to firefighting and rescue scenarios and respiratory protection, things of that nature. But just that first, getting our arms wrapped around the scenario and understanding what is your facility actually, what are the hazards present within that footprint?

Traci: And you bring up a good point there, preparing for the chemical considerations. And you're a little bit of a unicorn with a chemistry background, but what are some of the considerations that you take into account with everything around you in terms of entering a facility that has chemicals or hazardous materials?

Patrick: From a fire department perspective, most people are afraid of chemistry and math. Let's just be honest about that. It's frightening. It's a weird language. It's nerdy. It's geeky. Most people just don’t embrace it. Obviously people listening to this podcast, I don't think that you agree with me on that, but I'm just talking about my group of people. So from the fire department perspective, the UN classification system that exists within the emergency response guidebooks that we had over here in the US and in Canada, and down in Mexico too, those are very useful and they nicely categorize those chemicals and other hazards, because there's radiation in there as well, into simple classifications. And those classifications can quickly give us an idea of what type of hazard may be present from that who are looking at respiratory protection hazard or flammable hazards. The chemical classification hazards are really prevalent there.

And one of the things that I think about in regard to the chemical industry and our responses to hazardous materials events is a lot of these are... Most things are done in pure substances. You're not having a lot of chemical reactions being shipped per se. So what we are generally dealing with is a particular single commodity or a few commodities that are being shipped on rail or road or pipeline. And so you're only really dealing with one chemical. Now, it's how does that chemical react with the environment, whether it be pressure or heat. Or is it released in the atmosphere and you've got a humid day and you're having a water-reactive chemical interaction going on. There are other considerations there that come into play.

But from a fire response, we're generally looking at what is the initial hazard for this and how can I protect myself and protect the public from ill impacts of those chemicals into the environment or under the person. So it's a quick grab for us. And from there then our special response teams can get further information and we have a lot of different ways of getting information that can get down into more particular materials. I'm sorry, more particular information about those materials. For example, within the SDS, CAMEO software, ERDSS software, things of that nature. So the emergency response guidebook example of those DOT transport classifications gives us a really good idea of, "Hey, with nothing else going on associated with this chemical that you're giving me information about, this is our main concern associated with this." So that gives us a lot of information about our initial posture as we respond to that incident. That's kind of the fire perspective from the 10,000-foot view.

Me as coming from a chemistry background, honestly, I remember Mr. Gebhardt in high school chemistry, Granite City, Illinois, where I'm from outside of St. Louis. Mr. Gebhardt introduced us day one, "Look, I have sugar, I have sulfuric acid, I have potassium permanganate, I have a column of fire." And me as a 14-year-old young man looked at that and went, "Wow, that's pretty cool." So that's what pulled me into the chemistry world.

From my perspective, I walk through, whenever I do a lot of the teaching, one of the things that I kind of focus on is I look at, for lack of better terms, the laziness of chemicals. Is it a solid, liquid or gas? Does it want to be a solid, liquid or gas? If it doesn't want to be a solid, liquid or gas, what does it want to become? And most solids don't go straight to gas, most have to go through liquid phase. So how much does it want to become a vapor? How much does it want to aerosolize?

So I look at the energy going into that and be like, "Hey, it's a liquid. It's got a low vapor pressure, it's happy there, it's going to stay there for a long time. We can manage that." Whereas it's got a high vapor pressure, it doesn't want to be a liquid, it wants to become a gaseous phase. So now I have to think about our response tactics in regard to this is going to come up into the atmosphere, so we need to be more concerned about respiratory protection, where is it going to flow, where is it going to go? And especially if we're looking at large scale release, how is that going to impact the community outside of the footprint of the plant or of the incident, and what do we have downwind from that? And then you can get down into the weeds in regard to a lot more of your, how much of this to become immediately dangerous for life and health, [inaudible 00:14:50] environment, things of that nature. And get down into the weeds of some of that more specific information about toxicity, hazards of the individual chemicals.

Traci: Great information there and I'm curious to hear Trish's response to that. First off, in defending the honor of chemical engineers. And then secondly, what can plant personnel do to assist first responders in the same realm that Patrick was just talking about?

Trish: Okay. So I think it's a realistic statement that a lot of the population does not like math and chemistry and they don't understand it. It does scare them. That's why we need the special people that we are as engineers to be involved in these areas so that we can effectively manage it and translate it for the rest of the community as well. So I think that's an important part to reference there.

In terms of how plants could assist in this, I think it's really important to reference. So the fire brigades have enormous resources available to them in terms of understanding the chemistry of what's going on. But what they don't have when they come to respond is an intimate knowledge of your plant and what's going on in your plant and how some of the chemicals may be changing within your facility depending on what stage of reaction they might be in or where they are present in the facility. You've got to remember the facility itself has enormous information available to them as well. You need to make that information available to the appropriate people that are responding for you, the fire brigade and the appropriate science officers within the fire brigade, so that they can understand what your particular risks are.

You will have someone in your facility that's a technical expert around the chemistry of what you've got happening. You need to make that person available in the command center to deal with the fire brigade so that you can effectively communicate. And you have to be transparent and you have to be thorough in this communication. There's no point for hiding information from anybody, especially the responders that are there to help you. They need to know everything that's going on and you need to be open and transparent with them and telling them what you've got, where it is, how much, what can happen to it, what state it's in.

And I loved Patrick's explanation of the lazy chemistry of it. Precisely. What state is it in and what state does it want to be in and what are you going to do to prevent it getting into the state if it's a problem for you? You've got a lot of that information in your facilities, you've got to share that with them. They can't help you if they don't know what's going on adequately. And if they don't have the full understanding, the full picture of what's going on, they may well get hurt as well. And that's not an acceptable outcome for you.

Traci: We've seen so many incidents where first responders are many of the victims in some of these catastrophic incidents, so definitely good points there.

Patrick: I'd like to add a little something just kind of to reiterate and support Trish's comments on that. One of the things that I look at is that we are visitors into your facility. Well, you are asking us in because you need our expertise. But we understand that you and your workers, you have a whole other level of expertise and understanding of the chemicals that you work with, the facility, its limitations, its risks, its hazards. You are in there 40 hours a week. We're in there for 15 minutes to two hours. So we're in for a very short period of time. And so I honestly always am looking to grab somebody that is very knowledgeable of safety systems, of information, of what do you have, what do we need to deal with? I'm absolutely always looking for somebody that has that expertise and that will work with us to help resolve this problem for whatever reason we're there.

And on that side of things, I think it's very important for that building manager, that plant manager, that safety health environment supervisor, whomever it is that has been tasked to help us. I think it's very important for them to be honest and upfront in regard to, "This is what we have, this is how it can go really bad," so that we can start thinking and preparing those contingencies. And I think it's also important to understand that fire brigades, fire departments generally has a lot of alpha personalities and can be overbearing and pushing and you understand that your workers need to be an advocate for your facility and for your chemicals and your processes. I'm not saying that we're going to back down and say, "Nope, we're not doing that," but it's like, "Hey, this is really important because we deal with this on a daily basis." I think that's important for your workers to be an advocate on behalf of the organization. And we try to minimize damage, but sometimes that's not going to happen.

Traci: Excellent point there. And I do want to move on to talking about radiation incidents and what happens there.

Patrick: Within the hazards that we do have to plan for radiation exists as a contingency, that we do have to be prepared for. That exists on a variety of different levels. So obviously we have the terrorism nexus, we have the homeland security, the intentional release of radiation, whether that be through nuclear explosion or somebody obtaining some radiation and applying it into the atmosphere and combining it with a bomb, for example, to increase the impact on that. So I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about that because we know that's out there. We know that's a big thing. So I really don't want to spend a lot of time talking about that. I'd rather spend time talking about radiation within the scope of you have radiation within your facility and the monitoring and the activities associated with that should an unintentional release occur.

So with that being said, the public safety definitely, and even law enforcement does have sensors to passively monitor or actively search for radiation sources should unintentional release comes out. Obviously you've got chemical processes, you've got universities, you've got medical facilities, you've got research labs, industry in regard to density detectors, things of that nature. There's a variety of sources for radiation that's out there and it's being used properly and it is being used for the betterment of mankind. So it definitely has its place in there. That being said, the impacts of radiation can be extremely harmful. So it's important that we do maintain a posture to be able to check and to look for that.

And I believe there's radiation exists as a... And rightfully so, in some cases a very fearful thing. A lot of people don't understand that we do have a natural exposure to radiation from the environment. It's just part of life and that our bodies can work through that. It's the problem whenever we get high doses in short amount of time or those long-term doses over a long period of time and the impacts are going to have on the body.

So for the radiation perspective, for the search side of it, we have the passive monitoring that like, "Hey, we're getting energy from somewhere radioactive or radiation energy from something. Where is that from?" You go further down into the specifications. There are other ways to actively search for sources. And we also have abilities to identify the actual materials that are emitting that radiation so that we can get a better understanding of our tactics to handle that. If something has a half-life, the time it takes for a certain amount of material to decompose to half of its original quantity, the half life, if it is something very short, we may take more of a passive position in regard to, "Hey, let's just let it run its time and click out and just run down and kind of die off on its own." Whereas if you have something that has a very long half life, it's something that's like, "Yeah, we definitely need to work with cleanup crews in order to mitigate this because this area is going to be uninhabitable, unusable in regard to that length of time there."

From a protective standpoint, we focus on the time, distance and shielding to minimize the exposure of radiation that we get. You minimize the time that you're around that material. You maximize your distance. As you double the distance, you quarter your exposure. Or using shielding as much as possible because this energy is traveling through straight lines, so you use corners, don't stand straight in lines and look at something. They're like, "Oh, well look, radiation there." So we've got a variety of behaviors there, as well as personal protective equipment that we can add on to enhance that, to help increase that shielding and protect us from inhaling or ingesting source material, that type of exposure.

Traci: Thank you for that insight there. And I guess Trish, from the other perspective, what does responding to a radiation incident look like inside the plant?

Trish: So first of all, it's about clearly understanding, again, what are the hazards, where do you have radioactive material in your facility, and how are you maintaining the integrity around its enclosure? So I've worked in facilities where we had radiation used in level gauging, so we needed to make sure that we understood precisely where that radiation source was, what the containment system was around it, how it was isolated if we needed to go anywhere near it. So keeping in mind that those sorts of gauges do have isolation shutters on them so that you can shield it when you need to go and do activities in and around it. So when you've got an unfolding event in your facility, remembering to do all the isolations you need to to assist with the response as well. So can you assist in providing the shielding, and how do you make sure that from your maintenance perspective that the integrity of your shielding systems is actually intact as well?

So there's obviously very strict requirements around the management of having radiation sources for very good reason as Patrick's laid out the impacts that they can have. You need to make sure that you're keeping up to date with all of that, that you've got the appropriate maintenance and integrity systems on your radiation enclosures, and that you truly understand where all your sources are. Again, realizing that in some instances, radiation is normally occurring in particular substances. So there is a background level of radiation that we're exposed to every day around the world, no matter where you are, but understanding where there may be increased levels of radiation because of something that's occurring in your facility and how you're managing that normally occurring radioactive material as well, the norm that you do have around your facilities too. So again, it's about understanding the hazards and putting in place the appropriate barriers or controls to manage them, and they can then be used in the response activities as well.

Traci: Talk a little bit about decontamination. An incident happens. Then, Patrick, what happens from the first responders' standpoint? How does that go?

Patrick: There's a variety of considerations that go into a decontamination process for us in regard to public safety. So one side of that is decontaminating people exposed, civilians that are exposed, as well as the discussion of decontamination of the responders that are working in that space. The individual, civilian or worker, not fire department personnel. We're looking at mainly getting information from them in regard to where is it contaminated on you, and can we remove that from you first? Do you have considerations as well as modesty concerns associated with that? But if you can generally get those outer layers of clothing on when a exposure occurs, you're getting approximately 80% of the contaminants removed from them before it's causing further harm. So that's really important.

Once again, like radiation time, distance and shielding associated with even chemical releases. If I can minimize my contact time with those chemicals or radiation, if I can remove that off of me, that shielding, get that stuff off of me where it's soaked into the fabric, soaked into the protective garment that I'm wearing when I'm working with the chemicals, if I can get those things off of the person that is exposed to it, I'm minimizing the harm, the exposure that they're getting of that chemical. So hopefully by doing that, we're getting that continuation of that chemical burn or that radiation exposure removed from them.

If we have a lot of people, we may have to do things not as clean, and it may be a little bit more frantic because we are setting up basically giant sprinklers for people to work through. And there's a variety of different ways that this can be done. There are formalized ones. There are ways to use fire hydrants on the fireside. There's a variety of different ways that that can be done. But it's like if it's one or two workers, then we're going to be more focused on it. If it is 40, 50 people, then that's going to have to change our tactics a little bit.

On the individual responder side, after we've gone in and we've done the work, once again, we're getting information about where was most of that contamination. One of the main things that I teach to any of the hazardous materials technicians that I teach is we can affect our behavior in a lot of ways and be smart about it, we can minimize our exposure to those chemicals. So for example, if we are following good hygiene and not eating or touching our face if we're working around something without respiratory protection or facial protection, then we're minimizing that contact to our face. If we are wearing the right gloves, the right chemical protective equipment in regard to working with the chemical, then that helps.

So if you're having something more fabric or a leather type material on your glove and you're handling liquid chemicals, that's obviously going to soak in there. There is going to be a permeation component that happens and you're most likely going to ruin the gloves and use of that protective equipment. Conversely, if you don't have good information about the chemical and you use the wrong type of glove, it can completely dissolve the glove. I think back when I was a kid doing model airplanes, "Oh, well, I'm going to use my paint thinner and get the paint off the brush. And well, I don't have a glass jar, so I'm just going to use this Styrofoam cup to pour paint thinner in." Yeah, that didn't work out too well. It just kind of dissolved it. So having the right information about chemical compatibility is extremely important on that side of things.

Now, in regard to more of a formal technical decon of we have hazardous materials, chemicals released, we have people in chemical protective clothing that are going in and spending time working and closing valves or capping things or plugging things or anything of that nature. And there's a couple of different considerations that happen in there. Somebody that is having a hard time, we want to get them out of there first. Maybe they're older, maybe they're not in as good a shape, we want to get them out, and so we move them to the front of the decon line. There's also a discussion of, "Well, you have the most contamination on you, so I want to get it off of you first." So there's another consideration.

Or conversely, well, I want to get as many people through and that's going to take longer to decontaminate the person that has more chemicals on them, so we're going to move them to the end. Of course, that is also tied into the respiratory protection in regard to, do I have a enough air if I'm using a bottle? Or are my cartridges saturated if I'm using just a facepiece with APR filters on it? So those are all separate considerations that we're doing. So there's a variety of different things.

In regard to radiation, one of the things that I do really like about radiation is if I have the right meters to check for radiation, it's a very clear, yes, it's there or it's gone. So I can get a very high confidence that I have decontaminated you enough in regard to... because of my meters. You don't have that luxury with [inaudible 00:32:08] or with a lot of chemicals. But radiation, it's like I'm running this meter over you and your equipment and nothing's coming off, you are not carrying any contamination with you. Because we want to keep this footprint as small as possible and not spread it and have people unintentionally exposed to it later.

Traci: And Trish, I know you have some personal experience with this and I wanted to get your take on that. And then maybe let's talk a little bit about local communities that may be impacted and what needs to happen there.

Trish: It's really important to understand if you are contaminated or if you are the first responder as part of the company effort and something is going wrong, knowing precisely where your showers are, where your eye washes are, how you can save yourself and help save your fellow workers if they are contaminated while you're waiting for help to arrive.

So very, very early in my career, I was involved in an incident where we did have someone that was doused in kerosene. So we sent them basically into water immediately to remove their contaminated clothing, but particularly underwater so that we didn't have a static discharge as they were removing their clothing that could have ignited the kerosene on them. What I didn't realize at the time is that I was standing in some sand that was contaminated with kerosene and it soaked in through the elastic sides of my work boots at the time, and I didn't realize that I was actually getting doused, being contaminated continually for a period of time.

And so I actually received chemical burns to my feet as a result of that incident at the time, whilst I was continuing to manage the immediate response in containing the leak that was occurring and those sorts of things. So yes, I have personally had contamination-related issues. And whilst I was the only person hurt and it was only minor, it was still something that I was unable to wear shoes for a couple of weeks while my feet healed and those sorts of things. So certainly a big lesson for me early in my career there.

Traci: So I wanted to know a little bit more about local communities and I guess getting the word out that there might be some sort of issue that they may be exposed to, and what is the protocol there?

Trish: Yeah. So look, that's a really important part. And if you think about the responsible care codes that exist around the world through the Responsible Care program, there's a community right-to-know code. So the community has a right to know about what's going on in their community. You need to make sure that you've effectively communicated in appropriate languages and appropriate means to your local residents and communities what could go wrong and what you need them to do in the event of something going wrong.

Now, that may sound scary that you have to tell them about what the hazards could be, but actually you do. It's an obligation to tell them about what the hazards are so that you can help keep them safe. You may need them to shelter in place and they need to understand what that means, shutting the windows, shutting the doors, turning off the air conditioners, et cetera. They need to know what a shelter-in-place means if it's been called for them, or they need to know where to go if they need to be evacuated.

Now, keep in mind, it's going to be the emergency response services, the fire, the police that are going to initiate an evacuation. As a company, you can't make people evacuate, and even responders can't make them, but they have a lot more control in being able to create the imperative for people to evacuate. But where do they go? How are you going to look after them then? And again, it's back to this whole transparency and honesty. Be upfront. Make sure ahead of time before any incident happens, the community understands what they need to do, what their part to play is, so that they can adequately play that part and therefore help protect themselves whilst you are busy working with your facility and emergency responders in that incident.

Traci: Now, Patrick, how do rescue efforts in chemical facilities differ in terms of technical preparation?

Patrick: Well, before we talk about that, I want to add a remark in regard to Trish's statement in regard to the protection of the community around it while right-to-know stuff is extremely important and getting that information out there. I think that's really good, really important there. And for us as public safety, we are entrusted by the public with information and taking care of the public. We are problem-solvers and supposed to help out on those things. And it's important for us to think of those considerations of, "Hey, if we do need to work on some evacuation considerations, how do we move people? How do we get them out of dangerous areas so that they're not exposed? How do we recommend, strongly recommend or evacuate the individual to get them moving out of spaces?" And there is discussion about evacuation versus shelter-in-place.

And once again, it comes to that honesty and being communicative with the public to inform them, "There is an incident going on, we're working on it." And looking at your different media outlets in order to get that information out. It may not be as simple as just making an announcement on the radio or a tweet on Twitter or social media or on the news. It could be actively engaging your communities, your community services groups, even your churches, things of that nature, your religious organizations to say, "Hey, can you help us get this word out so that we can get these people out of an affected area so that they don't have further harm coming to them?"

And there are impacts of that, especially if it's for a long-term duration of, "Okay, I have to have clothing, I have to have medicines, I have to have food. What's going to happen in regard to the safety of my building and my home and my property? Should I be removed from that place for a long time?" And then it gets into the law enforcement considerations in regard to looting and things of that nature. So there are a lot of considerations, especially for long-term sustained response area. And fortunately, these things don't just continue through the release and the majority of these cases, and they are resolved relatively quickly and people are not displaced for a very, very long time on that side of things. And then, I'm sorry, Traci, your question then was actually what, that I did not answer?

Traci: Well, I wanted to know a little bit about the rescue efforts in chemical facilities and how they differ in terms of technical preparation. You have to be... It's different than going into a house fire.

Patrick: Absolutely. In regard to rescue efforts in chemical facilities, for example, this is your world and you're very honest about it as it has a variety of different hazards and considerations that are not a normal space. While you have workers that are working and walking about offices and moving up and down elevators and stairwells, those are common to any building. So in regard to rescue efforts of those, obviously that's the first way that we look at moving around and moving people in equipment is through those facilities. Let's be honest about your facilities though. From there, it does change. That's the office administrative side of things.

Now we get into the plant side of things where we have overhead hazards, we have trip hazards, we have lockout-tagout, electrical hazards that we may have to be aware of and pay attention to. We have processes that are going, which can be loud, that can have a lot of sounds associated with it. So we might have hearing and communication considerations that are impacted. And that's not even getting into your vertical component that you may have to climb up an OSHA ladder, for example. You may have to get higher vantage points to get into areas where a worker may be injured or where a valve needs to be shut off or something of that nature to shut down on that side of things. That starts creating additional consideration.

So we kind of grow from that like, "Okay, we're sending in somebody, getting some recon, getting some information." And once again, that is with somebody that is familiar with the facility. Where is the person? What is the quickest way to get to them? The street address of the facility may not be where the incident actually is. It may be 200, 300 feet/meters, we will be inclusive of the rest of the world here instead of just using feet all the time, down from where we are. Is there another access point for our equipment and our vehicles and our personnel to come into to gain access into that space? So to me, that's very important in regard to working with you guys and your facility and figuring out the best way to set us up for success for that.

And should the injury happen, or the issue happens that requires confined space, that's a whole other level of discussion in regard to we're doing things in order to ventilate that space to provide a breathable atmosphere. Should somebody be trapped down there and when they're unconscious, for example, do we have ladders in place to be able to get into them? Even in regard to the solids, did we have some type of a solid that was an engulfment hazard that pulled them down? And then if we're getting into rescue considerations and we're dealing with solids, do we have grain bin explosion considerations in regard to a dust particle explosion? If we are going to have to do any kind of a cutting with any kind of torches or saw blades, things of that nature, so then what water do we need to bring in? What is our access to water? There's a huge variety of complications that get added into a facility, especially as it becomes more and more complex in regard to your processes.

Conversely, it might just be a simple injury that happened in a laboratory that we just have to get access to the laboratory. Maybe the laboratory space has engineering controls already in place to prevent it from releasing out of the environment. Maybe there are scrubbers built-in within the fume hoods, for example. So once again, getting information from the people that work there that live in this space that we're visiting to help solve a problem, to give us an idea, what are our controls, what are our situations that we can work around, and that we can work to make sure everybody's safe.

Traci: Trish, do you have anything to add, first off, to what Patrick just said, and then in general on this topic?

Trish: Yeah, look, I think more in general, my key final thoughts to add for people is one, on your facility, know what your hazards are and know how your hazards can escalate to the consequences. Understand that pathway really, really clearly. That way you can then plan your emergency response. And then talk to your local responders. Have them come in and do a walkthrough of your facility. Do joint exercises with them so that they can start to understand what some of those constraints that Patrick was talking about. Do they need to respond up ladders down into basements? Do they need to cut through tank walls or that walls or something to get into an access area? They need to know what that is ahead of time and so do you. So make sure that you can learn jointly on that. And then update your response processes based on the learnings from those exercises so that next time your response is going to be better prepared.

And lastly, from the local community perspective, be transparent about what their response needs to be when you have an incident. And these are things that you need to do ahead of time, both with the community and with your emergency responders. Engage, open, be upfront, be transparent. Make sure everybody knows what the requirements are and what they need to be doing, so that everybody can play their part to minimize the impact and to mitigate the consequences of what's actually going on.

Traci: Oh, great points from both you. Great insights. A lot of good stuff to really understand and work through. From the chemical facility side, it's the risk assessments, and from the first responders, it's that chalk talk, but it's the same thing. So a lot of good stuff here, and I appreciate the time that you both put into this.

Unfortunate events happen all over the world, and we will be here to discuss and learn from them. Subscribe to this free podcast so you can stay on top of best practices. You can also visit us at for more tools and resources aimed at helping you run efficient and safe facilities. On behalf of Trish and our guest, Patrick , I'm Traci, and this is Process Safety with Trish and Traci.

Trish: Stay safe.

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About the Author

Traci Purdum | Editor-in-Chief

Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

About the Author

Trish Kerin, Stay Safe columnist | Director, IChemE Safety Centre

Trish Kerin is an award-winning international expert and keynote speaker in process safety and the inaugural director of the IChemE Safety Centre. Trish leverages her years of engineering and varied leadership experience to help organizations improve their process safety outcomes. 

She has represented industry to many government bodies and has sat on the board of the Australian National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority. She is a Chartered Engineer, registered Professional Process Safety Engineer, Fellow of IChemE and Engineers Australia. Trish also holds a diploma in OHS, a master of leadership and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Her recent book "The Platypus Philosophy" helps operators identify weak signals. 

Her expertise has been recognized with the John A Brodie Medal (2015), the Trevor Kletz Merit Award (2018), Women in Safety Network’s Inaugural Leader of the Year (2022) and has been named a Superstar of STEM for 2023-2024 by Science and Technology Australia.

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