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 stares at you uncomfortably, like a mall cop watches a group of teenagers. He smells faintly of dried sweat, Brut and talcum powder!

Meet Jack – His full, pursed lips protrude beneath the bushy black moustache. At their corners, sunk into little folds filled with disapproval, are the remains of his Burrito lunch from last Tuesday!

Jack: Hey Mack. A guy rides his motorcycle through the border from Canada to the U.S. every week carrying two bags of sand. The border guard searched the bags every time, but never found anything, so he had to let him through.


Last week, the guard had his last day at work before retiring and the guy approaches the border again, carrying his usual; two bags of sand.


The guard says, “Look, man, it’s my last day, I’m not going to bust you. You’re clearly smuggling something across the border all this time but we never find anything, what is it?”

The guy shrugs his shoulders and says, “I’m smuggling motorcycles!”

The moral of this story Mack, is that’ it’s easy to miss the obvious by trying to find something that doesn’t exist and that’s a good lesson for anyone in our line of business – Hazmat or CBRNe!”

It also segues nicely into this week’s question from Rochester, NY which is “How would you best evaluate a Hazmat Incident upon arrival?”

Mack: “You’re right. From my perspective, the first few minutes of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear incident or explosion are critical. The decisions made and actions taken during this period will often determine the success of the response – and whether lives are saved or lost. It’s often the obvious that’s overlooked.”

Jack: “In most Hazmat responses, first responders arriving on scene will know beforehand if an event involves the accidental or intentional release of chemicals. However, there are at times situations in which we have to make a determination given only what the scene itself can tell you. That’s when it’s critical not to miss the obvious!

When you arrive at the scene of a suspected chemical release for example, consider what the obvious conditions, symptoms, and signs suggest. In the absence of more obvious indicators, chemical releases can often be characterized first by the rapid onset of symptoms in humans and wildlife in a localized area. Check for:

  • Is there anything unusual in what you see?
  • Are there obvious signs that a chemical release is occurring or has occurred?
  • Are there less obvious signs?
  • Consider the following factors: The location of the event – Did the event occur in or close to a facility that stores or uses chemicals? These facilities include but are not limited to:
  • Gas stations
  • Hospitals
  • Hazardous materials waste sites
  • Chemical manufacturing plants
  • Research facilities

Consider the nature of the event – Did the event occur while chemicals were being used or transported? As we’ve shown statistically in recent Jack & Mack discussions, chemicals are most often released as a result of transportation accidents or because of chemical accidents in plants.

Look for signs that can immediately help you identify if chemicals were involved. At the site of a transportation accident, for example, placards, container labels, or shipping documents may indicate the presence of hazardous materials and even tell you what chemicals are involved. If an event occurs in or around a building, look for signs posted on doors or windows that warn of rooms or facilities where hazardous materials are used or stored.”

Mack: “From the CBRNe perspective and it would apply to you guys in Hazmat some of the obvious misses and pitfalls from us dealing with a suspected Nerve Agent are;
Failure to consider nerve agents if respiratory distress or generalized weakness is observed.
Failure to consider nerve agents if respiratory distress or generalized weakness is observed.
Failure to notify local, state, and federal authorities. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Failure to wear appropriate protective gear for suspected or confirmed nerve-agent poisoning.
Failure to initiate decontamination.”

Jack: “As my father said, the obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply!”

Mack: “Yes but by the same token Jack, The true facts are not always obvious. They often have to be looked for!”

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