More than a dozen people were sickened at a New Rochelle, N.Y. YMCA when they were overcome by a cloud of toxic gas. At least 11 were transported to hospitals.
New Rochelle Fire Chief Andrew Sandor told CBS the victims had “respiratory injuries and some skin-exposure injuries.” The fire department provided oxygen therapy, gross decontamination, transported the injured and ventilated the facility. The hazmat team also set up a decontamination section to clean firefighters who entered the site.
Early reports are that hydrochloric acid was mistakenly added to a mixing barrel of chlorine used for the facility’s swimming pool. News 12 reports the acid was mixed into the pool. Either way, the mixture released a toxic cloud that effected swimmers in the pool area and those in other parts of the site. The facility manager told CBS they have safely added chemicals to that mixing barrel hundreds of times before.
In addition to being a workout facility, the YMCA also houses a daycare center for children.
For more on the dangers of mixing household chemicals, read: Mixing Cleaning Products — Not a Good Idea.
Here are four take-aways from hazmat incident at the New Rochelle YMCA.
Get a confirmed, accurate identification of the products. This has all the trappings of the children’s game where they sit in a circle and a simple phrase is whispered to the first child, who whispers it to the next and so on until it gets to the last child where the message is completely different from the original. The person who inadvertently mixed chemicals may not know exactly what they mixed, who passes that information to someone to call 911, who changes it slightly when talking to dispatch, who tweaks it when toning it out. Gear up to protect against no less than what was reported.
Early crowd control is critical. This means ensuring everyone is evacuated from enclosed spaces. It means keeping track of those who were exposed so they can be decontaminated and treated. And it means keeping the well-intended out of the area — police officers and firefighters not in proper PPE. Having police go through basic hazmat training can help. Advising dispatch to instruct police to keep out when the call comes in is another option. In the end, it is important to keep the victim count as low as possible.
Decon matters. Getting an area and a system set up to manage contaminated victims and responders early is key to patient care. This can be difficult when staffing is short. It is best to train for the level of staffing you are likely to have versus what you should or wish to have.
Pre-incident planning and routine inspections will go a long way to helping achieve item one above. Knowing what chemicals a place like the Y normally keeps on site helps narrow the possibilities. Regular inspections can confirm that there were no new chemicals introduced to the facility. Inspections are a good time to review hazmat best practices with staff. Ensure that whomever is conduction fire inspections and doing pre-incident planning knows to list the chemicals on site. Bake hazmat into the pre-incident plan recipe so that vital information is ready, especially for nonindustrial sites where a hazmat incident is not expected.
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