Hello again fellow Hazmatters, Welcome back to the Buzz Blog for Part III of the Great Debate. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read the Blog. I appreciate the comments, debate and new friends that have come with this blog. I see it as a privilege to be a part of the greatest profession the world. I believe this is my way to give back to something that has been good to me all these years. The PPE quiz is still available to be taken. You can take the quiz at The quiz was designed to test your knowledge on PPE selection. It is also meant to spur conversation and to help evaluate scenarios that PPE choices are made. The quiz was taken by the Hazmat Guys Nation this week on the roundtable. Plenty of great conversation ensued from the discussion of the quiz. THMG Nation Roundtable can be found here. Let’s jump into Part III and talk about PPE selection for Ammonia.

Anhydrous Ammonia is a great chemical to debate PPE selection with. The chemical is highly toxic and a flammable hazard as well. The debate begins as soon as you see a placard. Placarding this as a non flammable gas(Hazard Class 2) is highly misleading as to the real dangers of this chemical. Why does DOT placard this as a non-flammable gas? Understanding DOT regulations is probably a whole other conversation. You can have so many definitions that define the hazard classes. Now throw in exceptions to really muddy the waters. The bottom line is that it does not meet the definitions of the other classes. A thorough research process is essential to getting your PPE choice right for this product. One of the things I try to do is to prepare before the incident. Much like pre-planning fire hazards, there is no reason we cannot be ready in advance. We have several occupancies such as commercial refrigeration in our city. Some form of ammonia is probably present in most jurisdictions no matter how small.

I believe the biggest question coming from our research is going to be what’s the biggest hazard? Chemical’s that present multiple hazards really make our selection process difficult. Our selection choice needs to be practical. I say this because it’s a near impossible task to ask our guys to get in Level A suits over TO Gear. We cannot dress for every hazard we encounter on an incident. We need to focus on the greatest hazard that a scenario presents us. A complete and continuous size up will always be our best ally to make the best PPE choice. Part of that size up includes our detection equipment.

Single gas toxic sensors, PH paper, PID’s and LEL meters give us the capability to establish and quantify the amount of Ammonia present. This information needs to be interpreted throughout an entry. The information interpreted lets the entry teams know when certain action levels are reached. When is the IDLH (300 ppm) level reached? Has the flammability range (15-28%) been breached? Do these action levels necessitate a change in PPE choice? Can you think of a scenario where Level A, Level B or TO Gear would be the PPE of choice? You can probably come up with scenarios for all 3 of these PPE choices. SCBA for respiratory protection would always be my first choice for dealing with an unknown amount of ammonia regardless of plastic suits or TO Gear. There is not one hard and fast answer when deciding the correct choice to wear for ammonia. Decision making is at a premium here.

An experienced hazmat technician is worth his weight in gold. One of the first questions that need to be asked is if the chemical is confined or ventilated. A confined chemical can build up to IDLH or LEL levels that impact decision making. On the converse, a well ventilated chemical could allow you to step down your level of PPE from A to B depending on the scenario. The chemical and physical properties must be considered as well. Real world understanding of these properties is a must. The book on ammonia says it has a molecular weight of 17 and is lighter than air (air=29). The reality of it is that ammonia is not always on the rise. A cloud of ammonia that is starting to hook is actually becoming heavier than air. The cloud starts to sink towards the ground. The hooking cloud of ammonia is estimated to be > (greater) than 40,000 ppm at this point. Tanner Industries from Philadelphia PA put on an excellent live training with ammonia. You can see this hook effect if you have been lucky enough to attend this class. This scenario takes place in a well ventilated outdoor environment. Tanner Industries personnel wear Level B in this evolution. The only caveat for them is they wear an encapsulating B suit due a splash injury from liquid ammonia many years ago.

Safety personnel must monitor the wind and volume of product so that members in Level B are protected from the possible hook. Level B is not appropriate for being in such a large volume of product. Weather can be crucial for ammonia PPE selection as well. High humidity days have a lot of water vapor in the air. Ammonia just loves water. The attraction to water can have the chemical hanging lower in the air. This attraction can also create a water and ammonia solution (many different synonyms for this btw) that you may step in. Can your chemical boots withstand this liquid exposure? You may see ammonia act differently than what the book says it should for this reason. PPE selection is truly driven by the product. It also depends on probability of exposure based on your tasks assigned. A higher risk of exposure would necessitate a higher level of PPE. Minimal risk of exposure such as personnel on the decon line allow you to step down a level.

I can go on forever discussing PPE selection scenarios for ammonia. PPE selection for any chemical needs to be based on a thorough size up, good research, responder experience and practicality. PPE choices are one of the most important decisions made at a hazmat response. Wise choices will see a successful close to your incident. Part III of the Great Debate will be the last blog on PPE selection. I could write 10 blogs on the subject and still never end the debate. I want to invite all the readers to join the debate. You can leave your comments at the bottom of the blog page. We look forward to your feedback and sharing your experiences. Check out YouTube for the Hazmat Guys Nation Roundtable from this past Tuesday Feb. 28th 2017. You can see how members of the Round table fared while discussing the quiz. Thank you everyone for your continued support of the Buzz Blog. I hope to see you next time when soccer collides with hazmat in a most unexpected way.

Be safe and see you soon!!

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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