Early Halloween morning, Los Angeles firefighters and hazmat crews responded to an incident that shutdown part of Los Angeles International Airport and sickened four people — one who required resuscitation.
News agencies report that a carbon dioxide fire suppression system went off in a small utility room that housed electrical equipment. The four workers in or near the room took ill. Three were treated for minor complaints. One was found pulseless and not breathing.
The utility room was about 200 feet from the baggage area in Terminal 8. About 100 people were evacuated from that area of the terminal. And United Airline inbound flights to LAX were held at their originating airport until hazmat crews finished.
LAFD Capt. Erik Scott told KTLA that the situation was under control but the system needed to be reset before operations could return to normal. “We don’t want to rush a hazardous materials incident,” he said.
While not every jurisdiction will have a major airport that can be partially shutdown due to a hazmat leak, most have well-trafficked public places with similar suppression systems. Here are three key takeaways if a similar event does hit your jurisdiction.
Ensure your people know how to properly use gas-detection meters. It may sound simple, but the response will be compromised if the first-arriving firefighters are not getting accurate readings. Inaccurate readings could delay evacuation, mitigation or even returning the facility to normal operation. Train the first-due firefighters on how to use a four-gas detector on both the bread-and-butter residential CO alarm calls and the more complicated calls where maybe only decreasing oxygen levels are detected.
Control the scene until it is safe. There will be pressures on the incident commander or the hazmat team leader to reopen the facility. The higher the impact of it being closed — such as multiple delayed flights — the greater the pressure to get it back to normal. The public’s safety has to trump their inconvenience, regardless of the financial implications.
Sync up robust inspections with robust pre-incident planning. Facilities like this need alarms and those alarms need to be in working order. And having that hazard information plugged into dispatch notes or site planning will keep everyone prepared from when the tone drops.
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