Quick Guide: When to Call Hazmat Teams, and When not to

In this short video clip, I walk you through a quick overview of my class at this year’s FDIC helping firefighters and officers understand when to wait for the hazmat team and when to take initial steps themselves. Most often, assembling a hazmat team takes time. And that’s time viable victims don’t have.

Here are three go/no-go scenarios. You can learn more by attending my class at FDIC, by reading this brief preview article or by reading this full-length article.


Police, EMS and firefighters are called to an apartment where a man reports finding a chemical suicide note on his roommate’s closed bedroom door.


Firefighters in full turnout gear and SCBA will have enough protection for a fast entry and rescue. Once outside that environment, the patient’s chances of survival go way up and the firefighters’ risks go way down.


A train derails and three cars carrying hazardous, but yet unidentified, material is leaking. From a distance both liquid and vapors can be seen escaping from the cars.


Firefighter PPE will not protect against many hazardous liquids. If there are no reported or visible viable victims, sending firefighters in could create victims. Get the hazmat team rolling and begin securing the perimeter and preparing for evacuations if needed.


Police are called for a welfare check. Upon entry, the officers are overwhelmed by noxious, chlorine-smelling gas. They back out and call for help.


Gas typically wants to stay a gas and won’t cling to surfaces or remain when ventilation is introduced. Again, structural PPE and SCBA are enough protection to find and remove the victim. Waiting for a hazmat team would turn the rescue into a recovery. It is important to decon both the victim and the firefighters and to isolate contaminated firefighter PPE. But this, like chemical suicides, is a situation where going in can mean making a save. Remember, most house fires emit more toxic chemicals than will be found on either of these “go” scenarios.

Remember, this isn’t an either/or choice. It is often prudent to activate the hazmat team and go for the save; the hazmat team can always be returned to quarters if not needed — if they are needed, you’ve saved precious time by calling early. It is important to include scenarios like these in pre-incident planning as much as possible. Likewise, it is important to train for these scenarios for both officers making the call and firefighters making the grab. If HazSim is part of your hazmat training, use it to make these go/no-go training scenarios more realistic.

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