Firehouse Friday Chat – with Jack & Mack

Jack & Mack - Happy Holidays

Each week Jack & Mack will answer your questions on any Hazmat and CBRNe matter. On Firehouse Friday, they’ll meet to discuss an important topic in their own indomitable style! 

Meet Mack – He once asked for a wake-up call at a hotel …and they said, ‘You’re alcoholic and you’re killing yourself!” He has a hungry look, the kind you get when you don’t eat in a while. He’s too tired to do all the things on his “To Do list”, so he tried a “To Don’t list “ and wrote all the things he wasn’t  going to do and then… didn’t do them, this gave him a huge sense of achievement with none of the effort.

Jack – He has a face that swells up when he’s excited, like a red sponge. Thoughts tumble around his head like a pair of trainers in a dryer. He’s as lazy as a mob informant in a Staten Island pizzeria. I wouldn’t say he’s tight but his Facebook is behind a paywall, but he does have a mind like a rusty steel trap…. left out in the rain!  He suffers from one long nasal hair that sticks out like a CB radio antennae, when he laughs it whips about like a conductor’s baton. 

Jack: “I remember a time where you could walk into the gas station with a quarter and leave with a candy bar and a coke.”

Mack: “Yes but now there are cameras everywhere! So not paying any attention, she didn’t realize she hadn’t inserted the hose properly and all the gas was leaking on the ground and her shoes. 

Jack: “By the way, why the hell do they lock gas station bathrooms?

Mack: They’re scared someone’s gonna come and clean them! Anyway, not thinking to undo the latch under the gas nozzle, she pulled on the gas nozzle and got gas all over her shirt as well. 

Jack: “I remember when it used to cost 25 cents to fill my tires at the gas station. Now it costs $1.25!”

Mack: “ Yup, Inflation is getting out of hand. So anyway this woman is fuming and she stormed into the shop and demanded a refund for the gas she spilled. Of course the owner declined, telling her it was her own fault and she was welcome to pay for more gas on the pump. She laid out a stream of curses and stormed out the door. Shaking with rage she climbed in her car and lit a cigarette to calm her nerves, and igniting her sleeve in the process. Instead of going for the fire extinguisher she cranked up her car and decided to speed down the local high way with her arm out the window trying to blow out the flames. 

Jack: “ President Trump has announced a last minute plan to limit the Highway Speed Limit of 55 Miles per Hour.”

Mack: “Really?”

Jack: “ Yup, he wants to Make America Late Again!”

Mack: “ OK so she’s speeding through an intersection almost causing a crash and catching the eye of a police officer, who immediately gives chase trying to pull her over before she killed someone. After a short chase he got her to pull over and once he got to her car he yanked her from her seat and arrested her. 

Jack: “I’m going to regret asking this, but what happened?”

Mack: “They posted her mugshot on the front page of the next issue of the local paper and you won’t believe what they charged her with?”

Jack: “Tell me….;?”

Mack: “ Baring a fire arm!”

Jack: “Idiot! Let’s get to this weeks question.”

This week we have a question from Anjelica D, from Cambridge, MA. She asks, “What do you guys consider the most novel tech in your particular field of expertise?”

Jack: “Thanks for a great question. For Hazmat teams, dangers don’t only exist where flames are blazing with plumes of black smoke. Emergencies involving Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) substances are some of the most dangerous situations faced by emergency first responders. And they happen more often than we would imagine. 

According to US Department of Transportation’s Hazmat Intelligence Report, a total of 22,746 incidents were reported in 2019, a steady increase year upon year over the past five years. That means on average, 62 Hazmat incidents are happening every day in the US. I’m going to answer your question in two parts: i) what do I think is the current best tech and ii) what do I think is emerging technology. 

In-order to train to meet any eventuality you need to train with as much realism as possible. There have generally been two choices. Student led instruction with post-it notes and taps on the shoulder or messing around with hazardous materials! 

As regards  emerging tech, I would say that the use of unmanned vehicles including drones aside from collection of imagery is going to be forefront.  Last month, the Los Angeles Fire Department unveiled its Robotics Systems 3 (RS3) firefighting droid to the world. About the size of a Smart car, the bright yellow RS3 is a remotely controlled, hose-equipped tank-like vehicle. It can pump up to 2,500 gpm of foam or water into potentially explosive indoor fires that are too dangerous for humans to attack.

RS3 can blast 2,500 gallons of water or foam per minute and is designed to battle fires in areas too dangerous for firefighters it could also be adapted for wide area decontamination by the addition of a tool like the “TridentOne.”

Imagine a liquid hazardous materials release where a thermal Imaging camera attached to a drone can be used to quickly determine the size and magnitude of the spill, how much liquid remains in a container, and a more precise location on the ground and the extent of its spread. If the substance is floating on water a thermal camera can determine a more precise location. Or placing a colorimetric swab onto an arm of the drone and flying it several hundred yards ahead of a safety zone to obtain samples. 

Mack: “Yes, that’s a great Question. Chemical weapons pose a serious threat to civilian and warfighter lives, researchers have developed a product to detect chemical weapons accurately at low concentration levels. Active Army, Reserve and National Guard units started to receive the Chemical Agent Disclosure Spray and the Contamination Indicator/Decontamination Assurance System, known as CIDAS earlier this year. The Army is fielding it to all units in areas where there is a threat of chemical agents.

The Chemical Agent Disclosure Spray, purchased by FLIR Systems, Inc., has transitioned into the CIDAS Program of Record within the Joint Program Executive Office for CBRN Defense. The research, began 20 years ago with a business first spun out of the University of Pittsburgh and later acquired by FLIR, as part of a Small Business Technology Transfer contract managed by the Army Research Office.

ARO is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. The program was led by Dr. Alan Russell. Russell worked to identify ways to incorporate enzymes into polymers that would be stabilized for use outside the cell and then ultimately used in realistic battlefield environments.

Typically enzymes are not stable outside the living organism, but Russell’s fundamental polymer and enzyme chemistry research identified a way to maintain high activity of the enzymes for sensing chemicals in realistic battlefield conditions. He then started a small business based on those findings, which FLIR purchased.

The new technology uses enzymes (complex proteins naturally produced by living organisms that act as a catalyst for specific biochemical reactions) to drive rapid, color-based reactions with chemical warfare agents. Once applied to a surface as a liquid solution, a vivid color change indicates the exact location of contamination by a specific chemical warfare agent.

Products previously available for the detection of nerve and blister chemical agents range from simple units that use colorimetric techniques, wherein the presence of a chemical substance is indicated by a specific color change, to more complex systems that use special equipment. Unfortunately, most colorimetric-based products such as paper detection products or gas detection tubes, can be highly susceptible to chemical interference, which can result in false positive and false negative results, as well as poor sensitivity.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the DOD agency responsible for countering weapons of mass destruction, provided additional funding to bridge the technology from development to capability delivery. JPEO-CBRND, the DOD entity that manages the nation’s investments in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense equipment, adopted the technology as part of the Domestic Response Capability Kit.

The kit packages the chemical components into a simple, pen-like construct, an easy-to-use point-and-touch detection as well as a spray-based formulation of the same technology. The kits have been fielded to all 57 Army National Guard Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams across the country.