On August 25, 2014 a worker entered a 3×3 entrance to an approximately 6×6 sump area to retrieve a part number off of a pump when he became overcome by high levels of hydrogen sulfide. Another worker (who happened to be his father) noticed him to be in trouble and entered the space and assisted his son out of the well but was then overcome himself and in so many of these situations, a third worker saw the father in trouble and entered to try and help and was overcome and fell on top of the father. There was enough sewage water in the sump area to cover almost both bodies. Points to consider:
- Always: Rescue or recovery. Be realistic about survivability profile
- On con space calls, it makes sense to establish a hazard group for dealing with the hazmat portion of the incident and set-up a rescue group for dealing with the technical rescue side
- When meters give a reading that is suspicious, conduct some research on why. Use a different meter, research the possibility of cross-sensitivity, or deal with it as if it were there (error on the side of caution)
- Prepare back-up teams in case the first entry team cannot accomplish everything. This is something we always consider with our high heat in the summer
- Be aware of the dangers of H2S, it gives olfactory breakdown and paralysis at levels around 150ppm (anyone working around the entrance had to be in SCBA) It is also very flammable with 4.0 – 44.0 flammable range
- Utilize the Incident Command System – a must to help organize so many very involved tasks.
Just prior to making the first entry we locked out any power issues and after doing that the well began to fill with more water because the pump was shut off. This produced another problem, obviously, and we then called for a vacuum truck to vacuum out the water. Once that was accomplished it was obvious, for the first time, that there were indeed two victims in the well.
Rescuers were dressed in Level B protective garments with supplied air and were lowered into the space by a tripod, the rescuer placed a pick-off strap around the first victim and the rescuer was then retrieved from the hole and then the victim was winched out with a DBI & tripod. Due to the high heat and members in Level B PPE the first rescuer needed medical attention and was transported to the hospital. Another member was dressed and continued with the same process.
The victims were heavily saturated with waste, which proved an issue with the medical examiner. They were not comfortable with transporting the bodies with the strong chemical odors that were off-gassing from the victims. We performed a decon for the victims with a contained decon pool. All members that were around the well and worked with the victims were sent through a technical decon.
Groups and Teams working under a Unified Command
The unfortunate incident involved fire units from Scottsdale, Phoenix, and Tempe and we utilized the incident command system by assigning members to Hazard Group, Rescue (TRT) Group, Research Team, Decon. Team, Logistics Team, and all Groups and Teams working under a Unified Command of Scottsdale BC602, Phoenix BC2, Police, Medical Examiner, and Utilities.
Risk-benefit analysis from the survivability profile was the defining issue on this incident. There was no possible chance of survival for the victims. Unfortunately, if they did not expire from the high levels of H2S, they were also submerged in sewage for as long as 12 minutes before any help could arrive – both unsurvivable on their own. The low probability of survival shifted the focus to protecting our members for the duration of the operation.
HazMatNation welcomes comments, concerns, or personal experiences that may help other first responders.
About the Author
Jeff Zientek is a 28-year veteran Fire Captain with the Phoenix Fire Department. He is the responding Safety Officer and responds to all hazardous materials, technical rescue incidents and all greater alarm fires, not only in Phoenix but also the surrounding 27 other fire departments in the Phoenix automatic aid system, covering approximately 2000 square miles. Jeff is a trained Technical Rescue Technician, Hazardous Materials Technician, and helicopter Rescue Crew Chief and when not responding and working special operations incidents his responsibilities include; evaluation, purchasing and inventory of all the hazardous materials equipment used by the 6 Phoenix Hazmat Teams, assisting with continued education classes for the hazmat technicians in Phoenix and surrounding agencies, managing the helicopter rescue program by continued training of rescue Crew Chiefs, ground crews and coordination with the Phoenix Police Department rescue pilots. Jeff has been a member of Arizona Task Force 1 (AZTF-1) since 1995 and is currently responsible for maintaining the hazardous materials cache and equipment, along with training and continuing education of current hazmat members. In his time with FEMA he has been on deployments to Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics, 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City, and the devastating hurricanes of 2005 in southern U.S. (Katrina/Rita). Jeff is also the author of the book â€œHazmat Response: A Field Operations Guideâ€ which gives 1st responders and Hazmat Technicians critical information for working a hazardous materials incident. Jeff is married, he and his wife Robin have 4 children and when not working, likes to explore Arizona on his road or mountain bike, trail run the numerous urban trails or hike the canyons throughout Arizona. You may also find him attending rock & roll concerts with his wife!