How to Improve Decon

How to Improve Decon

A hybrid approach to decon provides more site flexibility and demands fewer resources

By Craig Dyer

The traditional decon methods work. Water works to wash bad stuff off people and things. Water is often easy to find, inexpensive to use and very familiar. There is even an old adage about water as the best decon solution, “The solution to pollution is dilution.” We use it because it works and we know it. But when we do it this way, decon sucks.

Well, wait a second. Let’s take a deeper look at decontamination. There are lots of ways to think of decon. There is gross decon anytime someone spills ketchup on the counter. Patient decon happens everywhere patient care happens.

But in our world, decon takes a more important role. Now we are preventing injury and illness, maybe even a time-loss disability or death claim. Ultimately, we want to see fewer people getting hurt or sick. And there are better ways to achieve this goal than lots of water. 

Also Read: Decontamination for Law Enforcement Operations

When something bad gets on you, what is your first instinct? “Get that thing off me.” In other words, reduce exposure time. Because some chemicals have the tendency to stick around, we need better ways to encourage their removal. Often this is achieved by removing clothes, but that is unreasonable while at a Packers game in December, or at a shopping mall, or while fighting a fire in the industrial district.

Quick physical removal of the bulk of the contaminants with a dry wipe can improve your situation by 85% or more. Now the careful application of a decon solution can finish the job, either by facilitating the physical removal or chemical neutralization of the threat. Then a quick wipe can get you to a point where it is safe to move to the next step. That next step could be back in the fight. Or to rehab. Or off to appropriate medical attention. Or enjoying a long retirement.

Also Read: Fentanyl Decontamination and Response Considerations

Hybrid decon notably uses no large-scale washing. Because we remove the wash, rinse, wash station, and the next rinse, wash, rinse station, and the go-over-there-so-you-don’t-get-wet doffing station, the footprint is smaller. Now we don’t have to keep six brushes, ten kiddie pools, lots of buckets for soap, confinement berm, overspray protection, water distributor, moldy hoses, low-pressure nozzles and lots of extra parts because something is always broken. The decon station can be condensed to about 5 feet by 15 feet. A single person can carry the amount of gear required and set it up in about five minutes.

Because there is no longer a need for hoses that leak and can only stretch so far from an engine, the warm zone can be placed strategically adjacent to the hot zone as defined by the hazard instead of the topography. Where practical, the decon line can be set up on the same floor as the fentanyl overdose, or right outside the mail room instead of in front of the building.

The impact of the unwelcome incident can be reduced to what is practical, and sometimes that means out of the prying eyes of the local news crews. Imagine the compliance of building owners when they do not have to shut down the entire building for hours while the hazmat team sets up shop and renders the site safe. 

In short, we don’t use the garden hose to clean up the pancake batter we spilled on the counter. Let’s make decon suck less by being a little smarter. Wipe it up, spray a cleaner, then dry it off. Or, as we say, blot, apply and remove.  

About the AuthorCraig Dyer is a retired firefighter with 24 years of service with the Seattle Fire Department, supplemented by six years as a volunteer firefighter. He dedicated his last decade to the Seattle HazMat Team and Washington’s US&R Task Force. In 2022, he left the fire department for a private hazmat contracting opportunity, stepping into the role of an emergency response manager. Craig is now a Decontamination Product Manager at First Line Technology.

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