The world we live and work in has materials that are often safe when we use them, but manufacturing processes may involve or produce hazardous substances. The majority of industrial processes are safely managed, however, accidents do happen.
There are other substances that are safe in their everyday use, such as milk, cream and yoghurt, but if they are spilled in large quantities they can be extremely harmful to marine life and the environment by blocking out oxygen.
The Fire and Rescue Service is responsible for managing incidents that have the potential to contaminate air, land or water, and this influences the way we deal with a fire or chemical spill.
Products that seem harmless, like tyres, rubbish and straw, can also cause problems if involved in fires, because the water that we use to fight the fire could end up being highly polluted after it has come into contact with those products.
We have a group of specially-trained Hazardous Materials and Environmental Protection Officers (HMEPOs) to deal with incidents such as these that involve hazardous materials (Hazmat) and substances that could damage the environment.
One HMEPO will attend the scene of the incident as an advisor, whilst a second will go to a different location, which is usually our Fire Control Room. The officer in Control will have a vast array of information at their disposal to be able to research the substance involved, contact any specialist agencies necessary (eg National Chemical Emergency Centre and the Met Office) and liaise with the officer at the scene. Information from the Met Office will also help to determine any changing weather conditions which could affect the way the incident develops.
Vehicles and equipment
We work closely with the Environment Agency but we also carry a selection of equipment to help us respond immediately to protect the environment in the emergency phase of an incident.
All of our fire engines carry two gas-tight chemical protection suits and ‘grab packs’ which contain granules to soak up some types of spillage, for example. If the incident requires more specialist equipment or additional support, then our specialist Environmental Protection Unit (EPU), which is based at Stockhill Fire Station, will be dispatched. We also have equipment for detecting and measuring oxygen, flammable gases (based on methane), hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide and radiation.
Some of our HMEPOs are trained to act as Detection Identification and Monitoring (DIM) Advisors and can be called on to support a national response to terrorist attacks. The DIM equipment and vehicle is based in Leicestershire but can be used anywhere in the East Midlands.