In the span of five days, neighboring Florida counties each had a suspicious package call that brought out hazmat teams and bomb squads. Both, thankfully, turned out to be neither malicious nor hazardous. Yet, both provided some good lessons for training for and responding to the suspicious-package call.
The first call came in to Martin County responders from a home on the border of Palm Beach County. There, TC Palm reports, a family cleaning the home of a recently deceased man found an unusual package.
“Whoever found it had some concern so they relayed it to 911,” Fire Rescue District Chief Joseph Lobosco told TC Palm. “And that triggered the response.”
About five houses within the containment zone were evacuated.
The hazmat team found liquid sodium, which is like mercury or solder. According to Science Direct, it “is a well-known low-melting-point (97.7°C) alkali metal, which has the main advantages of high thermal conductivity and low neutron absorption cross-section.” It also has a high boiling point (828.8°C), which is why it is used in Russian nuclear reactors.
“However, sodium is very reactive substance, which requires special precautions, when used as a reactor coolant. For improved reactor safety, a secondary sodium loop is utilized, which acts as a buffer between the radioactive sodium,” Science Digest writes.
There were no injuries reported and those evacuated were allowed to return home.
A few days later, Palm Beach County hazmat and bomb squad teams responded to a suspicious package homeowners said made them feel sick.
WPTV reported that the homeowners did not know who the letter came from and did not recognize its Arkansas return address.
“Homeowners opened a strange letter, which they believe caused them to start coughing and gave them a burning sensation in their nose. The letter contained a small piece of cardboard, similar to a game piece,” the station reported. “Although they said they didn’t see a powder as they opened it, the family immediately felt burning in their noses and started coughing.”
There, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue’s Hazmat Team had neighbors shelter in place. Everyone in the home was cleared by paramedics, and the hazmat team found nothing dangerous. It was unclear why the residents experienced the symptoms, but those had cleared up prior to hazmat leaving the scene.
The U.S. Postal Service was brought into the mix early on, but stepped back once it was confirmed no emergency took place.
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These incidents may not be as prevalent as they were a few years ago, they are always a threat. This is a list of just some of the recent suspicious substance stories. Here are three takeaways from these incidents.
It has been said over and over, but it is critical to train with other responders before a real call comes in. In both cases here, hazmat teams had to work side-by-side with bomb squads and sheriff’s police. Getting on the same page early in the emergency comes from practicing together and learning each other’s needs and expectations.
Team leaders who will serve as incident commanders need to train on which scenarios require what level of public protection. In one instance above, shelter in place was ordered, while a small evacuation was undertaken in the other. Get that protection activated quickly in case things go sideways early.
Train first due firefighters on suspicious packages and substance evolutions. These don’t require a lot of props and can be done inside most firehouses. Make sure the training involves both false alarms and real substances. Most of all, make sure the evolutions focus on problem-solving skills.
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