2016 Dept. of Transportation

By now, you should have received the latest edition of the Department of Transportation’s Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG). The old 2012 edition should be removed from all of the apparatus in your fleet and replaced with the 2016 edition. New editions are published every four years. Now that a new edition has been published, it is a good time to review the changes that have been made since the last edition was published as well as to review how the ERG is used on an emergency response.


The ERG is designed to be used by all first responders — fire departments, law enforcement and emergency medical services. It is small enough to be stored in the glove box, center console or any of the organizers commonly used by emergency services. It is used for rapid identification of a hazardous material through placards, proper shipping names found on containers or shipping papers or four-digit United Nations Identification (UNID) numbers. We will review these steps further along in this article.

2016 ERG Changes and Revisions

  • Instructions are now listed in a flowchart form.
  • Expanded and Revised Sections
    — Shipping Papers
    — Table of Markings, Labels and Placards
    — Initial Response Guide
    — Rail and Highway Container Identification Charts
    — Pipeline Information
    — Protective Clothing
    — Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Information
    — Glossary
    — Emergency Response Telephone Numbers
  • Brand New Sections
    — Local Emergency Response Numbers (To be filled in by local responders)
    — Table of Contents
    — Global Harmonization System (GHS) Classification and Labeling Information

In general, you probably won’t notice any large changes. The biggest change every four years is that old chemicals that are no longer produced or transported are deleted while new chemicals are added.

What Do Those Colored
Pages Mean?

The ERG is divided into five sections: white, yellow, blue, orange and green. Each color has a specific meaning.

The white pages contain information on how to use the ERG, a table of contents, space for local emergency contact numbers, safety precautions, DOT Hazard Classes, a Table of Placards, Rail Car and Road Trailer Identification Charts, GHS information, Intermodal Container Hazard Identification Numbers, Pipeline Information and a Glossary.

The yellow pages contain all of the chemicals in numerical order based on their UNID. Looking up a chemical in the yellow pages will give you two additional pieces of information: the proper shipping name and a three-digit Guide Number to be found in the orange pages.

The blue pages contain all of the chemicals in alphabetical order based on their proper shipping name. Looking up a chemical in the blue pages will also give you two additional pieces of information: the UNID number and a three-digit Guide Number to be found in the orange pages.

It should be noted that any chemical that is highlighted in green in either the yellow or blue sections means that the material in question is Toxic by Inhalation and special care should be taken. If the material is highlighted in green, the green pages must be consulted for additional information on isolation and evacuation distances that is specific for that chemical. You will also find isolation and evacuation distances in the oranges pages, but this information is more generic and used for a wide range of chemicals as opposed to just one.

The orange pages contain guides that give emergency responders information on potential hazards (fire/explosion and health), public safety (protective clothing and evacuation) and emergency response (fire, spill/leak and first aid). These guides are designed for the First Responder, not a Hazardous Materials team. The Hazmat team carries its own library that is much larger and contains more specific information. The guide pages give the first arriving officer and later Incident Commanders the tools they need to handle the incident until the Hazmat team arrives on scene.

The ERG is not something that you will use every day. I would venture to guess that many of you have never even used in on an emergency scene. That is no excuse not to maintain proficiency. Rest assured, if you never use the ERG in the field, you will most certainly use one in a promotional assessment.

DOT Hazard Class Review

DOT Hazard Class 1 contains explosives. They may be explosive materials or explosive devices and are divided into sub-classes 1.1 – 1.6, with 1.1 being more dangerous and 1.6 being less dangerous. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security when dealing with Class 1.6. All explosives are deadly!

DOT Hazard Class 2 contain gases of all types, including flammable, non-flammable, oxidizers, poisons and corrosive gases. It doesn’t matter what kind of gas you are dealing, the fact they are all under pressure must be respected. A sudden release of pressure could cause a container failure or could cause the container to rocket on an uncontrolled trajectory. Depending on the size of the container and the pressure it contains, the container could travel several hundred feet or more.

DOT Hazard Class 3 contains flammable liquids such a gasoline or diesel fuel. Approximately 85 percent of all hazardous materials shipments involve flammable liquids making this hazardous class the one that you are most likely to deal with as a First Responder. All Class 3 materials will burn, it is just a question of their flash point and the ambient temperature.

DOT Hazard Class 4 contains flammable solids such as magnesium or sodium. Class 4 materials require special extinguishing agents. Our old standby water will either not work at all or have an adverse affect and make things worse. Class 4 materials generally require either a special fire extinguisher or a smothering material such as sand.

DOT Hazard Class 5 contains oxidizing materials. Oxidizers do not burn, but will aggressively support combustion. Oxidizers in Class 5 include solids and liquids. Oxidizers that are gases are placarded in Class 2.

DOT Hazard Class 6 contains poisonous materials. Like oxidizers, poisons in Class 6 include solids and liquids. Poisonous gases are also placarded in Class 2. Poisonous materials can be absorbed through the skin or eyes or inhaled through the respiratory system.

DOT Hazard Class 7 contains radioactive materials. Due to public perceptions about radiation, any event involving radioactive material will be one of the most challenging of your career. When dealing with Class 7 materials, remember the words time, distance and shielding. If you can decrease the time you are exposed to the material, increase the distance between you and the material or increase the amount of shielding between you and the material, the safer you and your personnel will be. Class 7 materials include anything from a small vial of radioactive material used for medical purposes to a military shipment escorted by Federal assets who are armed.

DOT Hazard Class 8 contains corrosive materials, usually liquids but sometimes solids. Corrosive materials account for 10 percent of all hazardous materials shipments. Corrosive materials can cause severe burns, very similar to thermal burns. Structural turnout gear provides no protection against corrosive materials. Only appropriate chemical protective clothing can be used.

DOT Hazard Class 9 contains miscellaneous materials. These are materials that present some harm to humans or the environment, but fall outside the range of Classes 1-8 and their primary hazards — flammability, corrosiveness, explosion potential, etc.

In a previous article, we discussed ways to may hazardous materials continuing education interesting. One of those ways involved the ERG. Now that your new edition has arrived, there is no time like the present to get out there and sharpen a little used, but very important skill.

Until next time, stay safe out there.

Mark Schmitt is Captain/Hazmat Specialist for the Greensboro Fire Department in Greensboro, N.C., and a veteran of over 20 years in the fire service. The majority of his career has been spent in special operations. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program and holds a Master of Public Administration in Emergency Management. Schmitt has taught numerous hazardous materials courses for the Greensboro Fire Department, local community colleges and the North Carolina Office of the State Fire Marshal in addition to serving on several hazardous materials related committees at the local and state level.

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