Nothing showing, people sick, call HazMat

Source: Google

Source: Google

An interesting event occurred in Wisconsin requiring a Hazardous Materials Team response.  The news report from below reports that several people were ill – but why?


Investigators are trying to figure out why 10 people became ill Sunday at a Watertown church, with the Madison Fire Department hazardous incident team sent to the scene to help.

The churchgoers were taken from St. John’s Lutheran Church to a local hospital, all exhibiting dizziness, weakness and lightheadedness, with one person not coming around for several minutes.

“The Watertown Fire Department found no readings of carbon monoxide and oxygen levels were normal in all areas of the church, said Madison Fire Department spokeswoman Cynthia Schuster.

Air tests were done in the church and in an affiliated school across the street from the church, because some of the ill people had been at the school before going to church.

“The hazardous incident team members were unable to turn up any clues pointing to the root cause of the mysterious illnesses,” Schuster said.

The air monitoring results were reviewed by fire officials, health officials, the mayor and church members, with officials agreeing the church and school could reopen.

This type of response requires a plan and should involve (as was the case here) public health and other stakeholders.  Often a HazMat Team is sent to chase a ghost which may or may not have been there in the first place.  By starting with a coordinated plan, clues and data can be obtained to confirm or deny the facts.  Often several pieces of information will need to be obtained to find the solution.  More often, there will be no confirmation – so the check list and method is important, to back up your decision given to the IC.

Things to consider:

  • Air handling system and routes of air entry
  • Area (loading dock) with vehicle idling prior or during
  • Cameras in or around facility (good assignment for PD)
  • Air monitoring plan, including high and low and potential accumulation areas
  • Weather and environmental conditions effecting air movement including chimney/fume hood downdraft
  • Recent construction or modifications to the building
  • Inventory of cleaning supplies
  • Check all gas powered systems and/or sources of CO
  • Acute signs and symptoms versus psychosomatic or delayed signs
  • Consider how information is given to IC or PIO from tech ref
  • Who makes the final call to reoccupy the structure
  • Documentation – not uncommon for legal action several years later

With multiple persons there will be several areas of concern including a hospital concerned with decon.  Starting with a plan, and using an incident management system to give out assignments is key to success.  This type of scene can go sideways in a hurry since there is nothing ‘obvious’ that everyone can see.

We would love to hear your opinion or events from your first in.  These calls are not as glamorous as when there is smoke showing but important to get right.

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