Meth Labs: Fire or Law Enforcement? Yes.

Meth Lab

Methamphetamine (Meth) labs are nothing new. What’s new are the methods of making them and the cooperative response between fire departments and law enforcement.

Meth labs are a fire hazmat scene and a crime scene…

Meth labs have been around since the 1970’s and were predominantly on the West Coast of the US. The main type and manufacturing method was that of P2P – 1 Phenyl-2-Proponone. As time went on, so too were the ways Meth was made and their spread across the country. Red Phosphorus (Red-P) and the “Nazi” method became more prevalent as has the newest method the “One Pot”. Each of these methods have their own unique process as well as hazards to everyone including first responders.

Red-P Hazards: Phosphine, Red phosphorus converting from yellow or white phosphorus, Sulfuric or Muriatic acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Hydrochloric acid, Acetone.

Nazi Hazards: Anhydrous Ammonia, Lithium, Sulfuric or Muriatic acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Hydrochloric acid, Acetone.

One Pot: Ammonium nitrate, Lithium, Sulfuric or Muriatic acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Hydrochloric acid just to name a few…

In the 80’s, law enforcement had no real training in how hazardous these chemicals where just simply by themselves let alone mixed together. Unfortunately several officers developed serious acute and chronic health effects. Some were so severe that they either had to retire or passed away.

With time came training for law enforcement officers in basic air monitoring and ppe which made these types of scene’s a little safer. Unfortunately, joint training was rarely conducted between the fire service and law enforcement. Not only are these chemicals toxic but flammable as well. So why not have someone on scene that can offer protection against several of these issues and provide first aid or rescue of personnel should something go wrong? “Meth labs are a fire hazmat scene”! “Meth labs are a crime scene”! Well, they’re both. So why not work them together.

Unfortunately, not enough of these joint responses are happening across the country

Fire departments can offer: air monitoring, fire suppression / decon, Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) and first aid. Wouldn’t it be better to have the FD standing by rather than calling for them after a flash fire or chemical spill has happened during the crime scene investigation or worse, someone goes down? Anyone entering these structures needs to be decontaminated. Especially the “cooks”. Hospital ER’s shut down as soon as a contaminated or perceived contaminated patient shows up. FD’s train on decon, RIT, air monitoring and EMS all the time. Why not take advantage of their training. “Law enforcement doesn’t like to call the FD because they send so many trucks”. This is one of the complaints commonly heard. If training is conducted prior to an incident and a game plan has been developed, then law enforcement gets to level of assistance from FD without “the whole world showing up” and a safer more well organized scene evolves. Several fire department hazmat teams respond with officers to these types of labs and are even responding to “grow houses” for similar reasons. Unfortunately, not enough of these joint responses are happening across the country.

In conclusion, it is essential that the fire service and Law enforcement work together to make these types of incidents as safe for first responders as possible. Reach out to your counter parts and get a game plan now not at 3 am. Many jurisdictions have established very good relationships between Law and Fire for hazard mitigation and investigation at Meth Lab scenes.  If your team does not perform joint training reach out now to provide the protection needed not only to each other but the citizens we protect.

About The Author

Mr. Robert Coschignano has been in the fire service for 24 years most of which has been in Special Operations. Mr. Coschignano has serviced on several hazardous materials related committee’s. He is the program manager for the Hazardous Materials Technician program at Valencia College. Mr. Coschignano is also certified in Clandestine Labs and is the past manager of the Central Florida environmental company responsible for their clean up. Mr Coschignano is Co-Author of Chemical Card Guide TM and RBR Chemical Access Cards TM with Red Hat Publications. Mr. Coschignano is currently a Hazardous Materials Lieutenant with the City of Orlando Fire Department.

8 comments

  1. The article still is accurate as it was in the 1980’s. I’m retired as a first response LEO, I actively instruct now various 1st responder courses. I had the opportunity to attend DEA and (AZ) Phoenix Fire courses specifically dealing with Hazardous Materials as a law enforcement responder. I quickly realized the lack of training / knowledge and lack of resources the standard police officer had. Due to economic losses in the real estate venue from abandoned homes used for meth processing thus becoming hazardous waste sites I was allowed to join my agency’s hazardous materials team. The win-win for this was now the fire department had a qualified person to make entry and to mitigate energetic materials and hazardous person/s and animals along with evidence collection for use in felony cases. A qualified LEO can seek prosecution at local/state/federal levels and can use not only criminal statues but civil regulations in the EPA arena. But as with all things the task force concept has suffered due to agency budgets. A trend is coming back that any hazardous material incident is solely a Fire department issue. Until enough incidents that result in economic or human capital loss occur this will remain an uphill battle. Sharing qualified resources is not only economically sound but a BEST practice method that needs to be nationally accepted.

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