Unfortunately recent events have caused this to be so much more important. The Environmental Quality (EQ fire) and the ConAgra explosion have been in the forefront of first responders in this area.
The importance of a hazardous materials assessment is priceless. It serves first responders with valuable details needed for potential future responses. This information can save lives and property by guiding decision making during responses.
Preplans One place to start in working on hazardous materials assessment in buildings is in preplans. Preplans should include this information. If so then great, as this means that one aspect that you can check has already been taken care. Just remember that you need to ensure that the information you see is up to date (hopefully within the last year). If not then remember that when it is time to revise your preplans include this information in them.
Local Emergency Management/ Local Emergency Planning Committee
Businesses are required to report to your local emergency management agency/ local emergency planning committee and the local fire department if they meet certain thresholds of various hazardous materials. This is a result of the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) also known as Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) Title III.
The purpose of this reporting requirement is to assist emergency management and local fire departments in making emergency response plans. Thus, this is a resource that should be taken advantage of.
If you have not been receiving information from your local emergency management, then I would suggest you contact them and ask for a copy of the agencies that have reported and what they store. This would allow you to contact them and do some planning from there.
Also assist your local EM in spreading the word about the EPCRA reporting requirements, as not all businesses are aware of it.
Some businesses place the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1904 placards onto their buildings. However, this does not mean that they report to the local EM or LEPC. Take the time while you are out in your district to observe buildings with those signs.
Compile that information and take the time to research if you already have information on hazardous materials in your preplans or if they have reported to the local EM/LEPC. If not take the time to contact them, review what hazardous materials they have, include that into your preplans, and work with EM to ensure that they become aware of reporting requirements.
Once you have completed this, make sure that information is compiled and updated regularly. Take this information and create plans for response. Once that is done ensure to train on it. Take the time to discuss this during training meetings or create simulated response scenarios and walk through them.
Do not forget to study the types of materials in your district. Look into reviewing the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for those materials. It would be impossible to memorize everything in those, but a familiarity of that information would be beneficial as would it be for that information to be available during the response.
By doing this you will ensure that your department is more prepared for responding to events like the EQ fire or the ConAgra explosion. Good luck in your assessments and be safe.