Fire and radiation are harmful and feared emergencies requiring immediate and informed action, but when the situation involves both these hazards at the same time, first responders, usually firefighters, need to stay extra cautious.
In case of a fire radiation emergency, first responders need to be armed with information. As well as the right devices that can minimize the risk and control panic.
The best way to understand what to do when in the middle of an emergency concerning radiation is to think of it this way…
Handling radiation is like taking out the trash. You don’t want trash on your hands or on your body. But, if it does happen, you don’t panic. Just wash your hands and change your clothes if the need be.
Now, it doesn’t mean that radiation is harmless in all cases.
But, in most cases, there is no need to panic. Radiation detection devices are your trusted partners. The device can inform you about the exact situation. And the level of prevention and precaution you need.
Here are five tips for radiation protection for firefighters shared by experts –
1. Identify Chances of a Radiation Emergency
It is your job to jump straight to the action. But it is important that you also make sure you know what the situation holds for you.
Especially in the case of a radiation emergency, any kind of heads up is welcome.
You cannot ascertain the levels of radiation and the type of radiation at the scene from afar. But you can do intelligent guesswork.
Is it a hospital that you got a call from? Chances are the X-ray machine has been affected. The containment package might have suffered damage. It is good to go prepared for low-intensity radiation emergencies.
Is it a cancer center? Does the center offer radiation therapy? In such a situation, you’ll need to be better prepared for handling radiation.
Some other situations that can involve potential radiation threats include calls from –
- University labs
- Research labs
- Blood banks
- Oncology departments in hospitals
- Commercial nuclear pharmacies
- Commercial sterilization facilities
- Industrial radiography firms
- Geotechnical consulting firms
- Accidents involving vehicles carrying radioactive material
When you get a call from the above-mentioned locations, it is better to reach the accident scene prepared. Radiation detection equipment is a must. Also, alert radiation experts and ensure that they arrive at the scene at the earliest.
2. Follow Basic Radiation Protection Steps
Personal Radiation Detector (PRD) can inform you about the intensity of radiation. And then, you can determine what preventive and safety steps to follow.
There are four types of radiation and each with its peculiar characteristics. And they warrant different preventive measures.
- Alpha radiation – PPE and breathing protection in the form of an SCBA are needed.
- Beta radiation – Shielding using plastic, aluminum, and thick cardboard will be effective. PPE clothing and breathing protection are also essential.
- Gamma Radiation – Lead, thick steel, and concrete are effective forms of shielding. Protective clothing and breathing equipment will not limit contamination if exposed to Gamma radiation.
- Neutron Radiation – Protection from this ionizing type of radiation requires materials rich in hydrogen, like water or concrete.
In the absence of detective equipment and before radiation identification is not done, follow basic caution.
Do not touch radioactive items. Stay 100 yards away from the radioactive source. Also, make sure you wash yourself and change clothes before touching your mouth and nose. Refrain from smoking, eating, or drinking before being decontaminated.
3. Limit the Time of Your Exposure to Radiation
The radiation impact drops by the square of the distance from the source. This means staying as far away as possible from the radiation source is your best defense.
Also, make sure you have some sort of shielding keeping you protected from exposure.
4. Always Wear Your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
As mentioned earlier, PPE is required for protection against all types of radiation.
Especially in the case of Alpha and Beta radiation, PPE will be an effective form of protection. In the case of Gamma and Neutron radiation, while PPE is not effective alone, it can certainly reduce internal contamination by accidental ingestion.
When used in combination with time, distance, and shielding principles, PPE can be simple yet effective protection against radiation.
5. Use Appropriate Radiation Measurement Tools
This is the most important fact that firefighters and all first responders should keep in mind.
Certain radiation detectors are built to detect only specific forms of radiation. This will give false and unreliable results in case of other forms of radiation being present.
You might be given a false alarm about how much time you can spend exposed to radiation.
It is essential to have the right radiation measurement tools. And the ECOTEST Group understands this well. That is what pushes us to develop and manufacture accurate radiation detection equipment.
In case of a radiation emergency, a firefighter’s most important asset is information. With the right equipment from the ECOTEST group, first responders can get all the information needed to better handle the radiation emergency.
How do firefighters identify potential radiological threats?
Radiological threats are hard to identify. The sense of smell and sight cannot be used for radiation detection. Radiation detection devices can help identify the type of radioactive source on the scene. Portable radiation detectors can also offer other valuable information. Like levels of contamination and how much time can be spent while being exposed to the radiation.
What is the hardest thing in fighting with radiation?
Radiation is like an invisible enemy. And its invisibility makes it all the more dangerous. Even if the radiation from the source is not fatal and not even remotely harmful to health, it can induce panic. Firefighters and other first responders need to understand that while fighting against radiation, having the right information is as important as prevention from exposure and its cure.
How far should I go from the radioactive zone?
How far you should go from the radioactive zone depends on the potency of the radioactive material. Your portable gamma radiation detectors or any other type of radiation detector devices will be able to alert you about how much distance is a safe distance.
If you do not have a detector, it is good to stay at least 100 yards away from the source and create a perimeter. And call for someone with a radiation detector to give you exact details.
What do people who have a radiation accident need to know?
In case of a radiation accident, the most important thing to do is do everything that you would do with any other patient. Changing the outer layer of clothing can remove 90% of radiation (if the radiation exposure is external). So getting washed and changed is the first thing to do. And then, it is wise to call for experts for further decontamination and checkups.