Hello Fellow Hazmatters!

Hello Fellow Hazmatters and welcome back to the Buzz Blog. As you may know from my previous blog that i was on a two week vacation to the Caribbean. I spent some of my time wondering about hazardous materials and where i might encounter them on my trip. I know pretty pathetic right?? Two weeks vacation and I am thinking about work.

I think a lot of us can relate to this. Being a firefighter, paramedic or hazmatter is not just something we do. It is truly who we are as people. We do not stop being a responder just because we leave work for two weeks. I met two retired firefighters from Birmingham England in Barbados

From L to R – Keith, Kevin Ryan, & Phil

I discovered that a firefighter is always a firefighter no matter where you are from. Phil and Keith if you are reading this, it was a privilege to share beers with you and talk football (that’s soccer to my fellow Americans). I did encounter the occasional fire station in my travels. Interestingly enough, every hydrant i saw had storz connections. I had to look a little deeper to find hazmat related items. Every port we stopped at had vertical storage tanks or some type of petroleum storage. Most of these had the geodesic domes to help protect the environment from harmful vapors escaping. Puerto Rico was an interesting stop. The island is a US Territory and might as well be the 51st state. I had better cell phone service there than i do in some spots around Baltimore!!! I was able to sit on my balcony as we prepared for departure listening to the weekly roundtable. Three things on Puerto Rico stood out to me.

First, everything was placarded or labeled just like it would have been in the states. I suspect DOT regulations apply just as they would on the mainland. Every tank truck, intermodal or shipping container had some hazmat identification on it. Some quick internet searches reveal Puerto Rico has a SERC and is a part of PHMSA’s southern region. Second, Puerto Rico is huge in the pharmaceutical industry. Our tour guide on the way to the Bacardi Factory mentioned this to our group. I also remembered Frank Docimo said this in one of his classes I took. According to the PR Industrial Development website, there are 49 FDA approved pharmaceutical plants on the island. Several good reasons for the industry thriving is stable climate, tax incentives and a well trained labor force that has better than 50 years experience in pharma manufacturing. More information is available on the Wikipedia page at here, Wikipedia may not be the most accurate source for information since it is user updated. I would use

Wikipedia for some general information such as learning some more about Puerto Rico. I absolutely under no circumstance use Wikipedia to research a chemical for life and death decisions. There is always one chemical you can count on being present in pharma production. Anyone want to hazard a guess?? If you said Chlorine, you are correct. The American chemistry website estimates that 88% of pharma production involves CL2. CL2 is a part of the final composition of a drug 25% of the time. The link to their website is here.
The third thing that got my attention on Puerto Rico was the Bacardi Factory Tour!!!! YAY!!! Yes, this did involve some very good rum drinks while we toured the plant. The tour also highlighted two processes we may be familiar with as hazmatters. The two processes are fermentation and distillation. Fermentation is the process of taking sugars and converting them into alcohol. At the Bacardi Factory, a specialized yeast mixed with molasses ferments for 30 hours at strictly controlled temperature. Distillation is the process used to separate a mixture of liquids. Heat can be applied to force the liquids into the gas phase separated by boiling points. The gases can then be condensed back into liquids and collected individually. You can find out more about these processes and how Bacardi utilizes them here.

I started to think what else utilizes fermentation or distillation. I immediately remembered investigating a possible home bio weapons lab. The end result was a home beer brew operation. What better way to disguise a home bio lab than with a beer brewing setup??  The fermentation process is essential for both operations. That would be a good name for a Lab ID class, Bio Weapon or Beer Brew? The distillation process came to mind for fractional distillation of crude oil. A good description of this process can be found on the Chevron Pascagoula website here .

Puerto Rico was an enjoyable experience and worth your trip there. Stop at Barrachino’s Restaurant(the home of the PIÑA COLADA) and have a great meal in the old section of San Juan. I am sure we are all aware the LNG use is on the rise. I saw an LNG tanker coming into port while we were in Antigua. The cruise ship’s Captain also mentioned that cruise ships were starting to run on LNG during a crew Q and A for the passengers. There is a nice FAQ from the California Energy Commission on LNG here.

I have one last lesson to relay from my time on the ship. Did you know the average age of a person cruising is in their 50’s? The vast majority of cruisers on my boat were in their 50’s or better. I thought about what this meant. It finally hit me that the older we get the more we value experiences rather than possessions. I think there is a valuable lesson here for the fire service and hazmat responders. We need to value and respect the experience of our senior members. I can still recall the value of having a good first acting man to show me the ropes when I was assigned to E-23 out of the fire academy. I have to thank Dave Kraft of E-23 D shift for setting me on the right path in my career in the BCFD. Experience is priceless in our line of work.

I want to end this edition of the Buzz Blog by sending congratulations to Lt. Bob McCurdy of the BCFD on his retirement after 30 years of service. Bob served the BCFD as a paramedic, firefighter, ladder driver, hazmatter and finally as a Lieutenant. Bob served the last 7 years of his time in Hazmat. He became a fine hazmatter as well as an Irish whiskey connoisseur. Bob, this bottle of Tullamore Dew at the tax and duty free price is for you!!!!  Congrats on a well deserved retirement. If you would like me to send a shout out to a deserving hazmatter, email me and I will add it in the blog. Until next time, everyone be safe!!!


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About the Author

Kevin Ryan

Kevin Ryan is a member of the Baltimore City FD Hazmat Operations. He has been involved in hazmat response for over 15 years and a fire service member for 25 years. He is currently the training coordinator for the BCFD Hazmat Team. He can be reached at