As many of you know, I am a firefighter. As the fire service now responds to medical and hazardous materials (Hazmat) incidents, we have gotten quite a bit of cross training. In the last year, our Hazmat experience has been expanded on to include at least a basic knowledge of NBC warfare and incident mitigation. Most of this training has been adapted for the fire service from military sources. An NBC attack is simply a malicious Hazmat incident designed around making part of the infrastructure unusable, or killing or injuring the largest number of people possible. As such, most of the training for the two areas are the same or similar.
What You Will Need
Field decontamination (decon) is basically a function of washing contaminating particles off of equipment or people. Here is a list of what you will need to set up a decent decon station:
3- Kiddy wading pools
3- Long handled scrubbing brushes
1- Garden hose with spray nozzle
1- 5-gallon bucket
3- Bottles liquid dish soap
PPE (commercial/industrial hazmat or MOPP)
Box of yard sized garbage bags
Building the Decon Station
All persons involved in building the decon station and involved in the decon procedure itself MUST be wearing proper PPE or they WILL become contaminated.
The decon station is a series of three wash stations. The station closest to the dirty environment is the first station and will remove the majority of the contamination. Likewise, the last station will be the closest to the clean environment (such as your shelter door or your saferoom airlock). Select your site so that any runoff will flow away from your retreat. Also, set up so that the prevailing wind will blow spray away from your retreat and away from the persons doing the actual decon work.
Each wash station will require a kiddy wading pool (or similar small pool), a long handled brush, a bottle of liquid dish soap (Dawn works well, many chemical agents are oily and stick to surfaces) and access to the water hose with spray nozzle. The three wash stations should be assembled one right after the next, with the kiddy pools literally touching. This allows the contaminated person to step from dirty to cleaner, to cleanest. The first (dirtiest) wash station should also have a spray bottle of 10% bleach solution on hand.
When a contaminated person is to be deconned, they step into the first pool. If they are wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) they shall be deconned with that equipment still on. If they are not wearing PPE, they shall be stripped completely naked prior to decon. Their clothing is considered contaminated, and should be bagged in large garbage bags for disposal. In a SHTF situation, that means burning them.
All persons performing decon MUST be in proper PPE as contaminated water will splash during this process.
When the contaminated person is standing in the first pool, they are sprayed with the water hose. Hose them down very well; however be observant for possible signs and symptoms of hypothermia. Have the person raise their feet and arms to be sure that no skin is left dry. If you know that they were exposed to a bio agent, or you have no idea WHAT they were exposed to, give them a good misting with the 10% bleach solution. Be sure to not get it in their eyes. If you do use the bleach solution, let it stand for a minute or two, then spray it off with water. The next step with or without the bleach is to drizzle liquid dish soap on the person and brush. Now scrub the person very well. Leave no area untouched. We generally scrub a person twice in each station, just to make sure we got it all. Again, donít forget the soles of the feet, under the arms, and the groin. Also, while you scrub, work from the top down. Let gravity spread your soap and draw the contamination away. Hose the person off. When you rinse their feet, rinse them one at a time being certain to rinse the sole very well. After the first foot is rinsed, that foot is placed in the pool for the next wash station, then likewise with the second foot. They are now in the second wash station.
The procedures at the second and third wash stations are the same as at the first. After the third wash station, we generally run indicator paper over the person or item we were decontaminating. Check for PH and for chemical weapons agents if you have the ability to do so. It is not possible to check for bio agents at our level. If they are clean and have a neutral PH, they are considered decontaminated. If not, they need further deconning and should repeat the process.
People who have completed decon should undergo a simple medical screening after entering the saferoom or shelter. This screening should consist of routine vitals (BP, pulse rate, respiratory evaluation), general appearance, skin tones, pupil examination and so forth. Results should be recorded for reference. Also, record any complaints from that time on, no matter how "normal" they seem to be. You may see a trend develop which could alert you to additional problems or infection.
NOTE: Deconned persons who were not wearing proper PPE may now be considered clean on the outside, but not the inside. As such, these people must now be quarantined. Chemical agents may be off-gassed through respiration, or through pores. Bio agents can have incubation periods longer than 14 days. Many illnesses from bio agents are quite contagious, yet show no symptoms during this incubation period. You must wear PPE around them or risk being contaminated, yourself. Quarantined persons should live apart from the rest, with a separate air and water supply. Depending on what they may have been exposed to, the quarantine may have to last 3 weeks. The exception to this rule is radioactive fallout. Fallout will not off-gas, nor is it an infectious substance. The radiation from the fallout will be absorbed into the personís bone structure and other body tissues.
Disposal of Contaminants
In the current fire service, we have to transfer contaminated wash water and equipment into proper containers for disposal. In an NBC attack, we wonít have this option at our retreats. Since contaminated items will be incinerated, I suggest you do the same. Contaminated clothes, pools, brushes, and PPE should be bagged and burned, safely. Since your fire wonít reach the same temperatures that proper incinerators reach, stay out of the smoke column. Contaminated water should be treated with a healthy dose of bleach and allowed to sit for several hours. As of the last refresher class I had, bleach would kill any bio agent known to man. I doubt very much that God has changed it since then. Wash water should be transferred to an area that will not affect children or livestock. I suggest a hole or grassy depression well away from any drinking water source, which is down hill and down wind from your retreat if possible. If you dispose of the water in a hole, I suggest filling the hole when you are done.
After bagged items have been burned and wastewater is removed, the people doing the decon work must be deconned themselves. Since they have only been around the contamination and not directly IN it, their decon can be a little more informal. A good rinsing and treatment with bleach solution is in order.
A word on PPE. In the fire service, we donít reuse our deconned PPE again, EXCEPT for SCBAís or respirators (gas masks). Masks and SCBAís are deconned as detailed above, then washed and dried in the station afterward. Fire departments have much deeper pockets than most of us, and also get state and federal money should they have a hazmat event, so they can afford to discard equipment like that. I canít. I intend to doff my PPE in the airlock of my saferoom, provided it is properly deconned. I will then give it another spray of 10% bleach solution, just for good measure. Do not use the same bottle you used during decon. Instead, have a separate bottle dedicated to the airlock specifically for this purpose. After that bleach solution dries, I will consider my PPE safe to re-don after it has been inspected for damage.
After removing your PPE and entering your clean environment, promptly wash your hands, face and hair. Avoid contact with your face and other mucus membranes until you have taken this final step. A full shower is even better.
Cleaners and Disinfectants
In my training, we are taught to use items that are cheap, effective, and easy to get in quantity. In fact, if we need to do a mass decon, itís suggested that we strip people naked and have them wade through a chlorinated swimming pool, dunking completely several times. While reading "Demon in the Freezer" many of us discovered that labs use Lysol Disinfectant to decon their lab workers. Lysol is a great product. It first appeared during the Great Depression and was billed as a gargle, general cleaner and douche. It remains an excellent product, but itís too expensive for me. Bleach and soap are proven cleaners and disinfectants.
Bleach solutions can be mixed and stored ahead of time for about one year without a loss of effectiveness. Such solution should be stored in plastic gas cans, which are clearly marked. Do not store bleach solution in metal containers, as bleach is corrosive to metal. The solution should be stored in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Ultraviolet rays from the sun degrade the solution more quickly.
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