Hazardous Materials Encountered by Firefighters


It’s worth mentioning that being a firefighter is a very hard job. In fact, firefighters have to face a lot of dangerous situations every day in which they must be very careful in order not to lose their lives. One of the things firefighters have to deal with is hazardous materials. Any kind of substance or material that could lead to causing any harm to a human, an establishment or living organisms and surroundings is considered hazardous. On the other side, there are certain emergency situations where these hazardous materials are left without covers or lids and could lead to injuries or burnings to humans. That’s why a lot of organizations provide firefighters with a lot of training programs in order to teach them how to be able to take correct decisions while facing any danger. These programs are very helpful because they increase the awareness of workers and enable them to determine any hazardous situation, analyze the dangerous materials and isolate them in order not to cause harm as well as protecting the surroundings.

Hazardous materials that firefighters encounter:

One of the most famous organizations responsible for offering protection and guidelines for firefighters to assure their safety is National Fire Protection Association. As a matter of fact, this association managed to create a marking system in order to determine certain characteristics. In case of finding these characteristics, the firefighter must know that these materials are hazardous and he must be very careful while dealing with them. This system is formed in the shape of a diamond and it has four sections. Each section is marked by a different color and represents a certain characteristic. Here are these four sections:

First: materials that could lead to health problems: this section is marked by blue color. As a matter of fact, health issues can be generated from being exposed to something like inhaling gases and could last for different periods ranging between a second and one hour or more. On the contrary, physical efforts and operations done by firefighters during these emergency cases could result in increasing the strength of bad consequences over those employees and could lead to negative outcomes.

Second: materials that could lead to burning: this section is marked by red color. This section contains any materials that could cause raise the risk levels and could expose firefighters to burning. From these materials are flammable gases or liquids. That’s why there are various ways to attack and put out the fire according to the element of susceptibility of each material.

Third: materials that could result in producing energy whether they are combined with water or not: this section is marked by yellow color. It also includes cases related to being exposed to fire and shock or pressure. Furthermore, materials in this category could be reactive or stable based on the element of susceptibility existed in them. Some of these materials are explosives for instance.

Fourth: this section is marked in white. In addition, it only mentions information about the characteristics of each hazardous material like whether they are reactive or not with water and if they are capable of being oxidized or not.

Steps employed to ensure public safety in the event of an accidental release:

In addition to creating the marking system of hazardous materials, the American Environmental Protection Agency was able to create a protection system to help firefighters and provide them with the right procedures and precautions to be implemented in emergency situations. The Agency has divided these procedures into four levels: A, B, C and D.

 The first level: firefighters must wear clothes that offer the highest levels and standards of protection since they will have to deal with extremely dangerous substances. That’s why they have to put on suits and boots resistant to any chemical materials, gloves to cover their hands, hats and other garments to protect their faces and bodies. They also must be provided with breathing devices in case of being chocked.

The second level: firefighters in this level have to be provided with clothes to protect their respiratory system. However, protecting eyes and skin is needed but less than the first level. That’s why firefighters are offered clothes resistant to chemicals as well as breathing apparatuses.

The third level:firefighters in this level cover their faces and are provided with devices to purify air from any toxic materials as well as clothes resistant to chemicals and respirators. They use these suits and apparatuses when they have information about concentration of hazardous materials, their characteristics and types. Besides, firefighters in this level are provided with suits to protect their skin like in the second level. However, respiratory protection is low comparing to level B.

The fourth level: firefighters in this level are provided with normal clothes. These clothes are used as uniform for the job since they don’t offer any kind of protection whether for the skin or the respiratory system. That’s why firefighters must not put them on in case of dangerous or emergency cases.   


In a nutshell, being a firefighter is extremely a difficult job. The reason for that is because you can lose your life in any second. That’s why every single firefighter must be careful while dealing with emergency situations. He must also have a background about the kinds of hazardous materials he could encounter in any fire scene. Besides, he has to know how to deal with situations and how to take the right decision under pressure. On the other side, organizations which are interested in firefighters must provide them with trainings and events in order to increase their awareness and encourage them to face dangers using right methods and techniques. In addition, they have to attract the attention of the whole world to the importance of such job, the problems firefighters might face and health problems they might be exposed do during their daily work. Finally, they have to offer those firefighters with the needed resources and clothes in order to be able to protect themselves well against any danger.


Metro Graphics. (2001). Emergency Department Response to Hazardous Materials Incidents. Retrieved from atsdr.cdc.go: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/MHMI/mhmi-v2-2.pdf

NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION. (2001). HAZARDOUS MATERIALS CLASSIFICATION SYSTEMS . Retrieved from atsdr.cdc.gov: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/MHMI/mhmi-v2-a.pdf

Sandoval County Fire Department. (2013, Dec). Hazardous Materials Awareness: Self-Study Guide. Retrieved from bosqueschoolshaw.weebly.com: http://bosqueschoolshaw.weebly.com/uploads/2/2/9/0/22907224/scfd_haz_mat_self_study_guide.pdf

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