What’s in Your Cell Phone?

A hazardous materials incident is a dynamic, ever changing one. For this reason, the research process is ongoing throughout the incident. For years, the Rule of Three has been used when referring to reference materials used for hazardous materials research. 


Since there is no “One Book” to paraphrase the phone book commercial, we must use at least three separate reference sources to find the answers to the questions we have regarding the chemical, the container, environment, etc.

Often, this meant waiting for the Hazardous Materials Team and their apparatus that had the resource cab, desk, etc. The HazMat truck had all the manuals and a computer for research. Years ago, the computer was stand alone and lacked Internet access because satellite Internet access was terribly slow and even more expensive. As technology has improved and gotten cheaper, we now have wireless internet access. Wireless Internet applies not only to laptop computers, but also our smartphones. While we may not have a laptop on scene, there will undoubtably be many smart phones available. This is where the app comes into play for a hazardous materials response.

According to Wikipedia, an “app” or mobile application is “a computer program or software application designed to run on a mobile device such as a phone, tablet or watch.” Apps are downloaded within a matter of minutes and are either free or low cost. They are designed to run like a computer program on your laptop and are often updated much like computer programs.

In an earlier article, I asked “What’s in your wallet?” about your hazardous materials related certifications. In this article, I would like to ask, “What’s in your cell phone?” in relationship to the apps that may be downloaded. Here are just a few (10 to be exact) for your consideration. All these apps are free. The name of the app is listed in bold font to make your search in the app store easier. This list just scratches the surface. There are literally dozens to choose from.

Ask Rail is sponsored by the Association of American Railroads and includes information from the DOT Emergency Response Guidebook, the Field Guide to Tank Cars and the Top 125 Hazardous Commodities list. The biggest advantage with Ask Rail is that it gives you instant access to the material in any rail car. Simply input the reporting marks of the car and the app will tell you if the car is loaded, empty or residue, how much material is in the car and what the car is loaded with.

WISER is the acronym for the Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders and was created by the National Library of Medicine. WISER contains the Guidebooks (orange pages) from the DOT Emergency Response Guidebook, triage procedures, radiological tools, and the Chemical Hazards Emergency Medical Management system, used for identifying the chemical exposure incurred by a patient during a hazardous materials emergency.

ERG 2020 is the app version of the 2020 DOT Emergency Response Guidebook. It has the same exact information as the print version that is found in every fire, EMS, and law enforcement vehicle. It is not designed to replace the hard copy, but it does supplement it. Only one person at a time can use the hard copy but many people can use the app on their personal cell phone at the same time.

Rail Crossing Locator is sponsored by the Federal Railroad Administration. By targeting the location recorded by your cell phone, Rail Crossing Locator will give you the closest rail crossing and which railroad is responsible for the line you are operating on or nearby. Using the information provided by Rail Crossing Locator, you can locate the nearest crossing, get the crossing number and/or address and the contact number for that railroad. This will enable you to get the line shut down by the railroad to enhance the safety of your personnel in addition to those of the railroad.

REMM is the acronym for Radiological Emergency Medical Management. It provides guidance for First Responders and other healthcare providers about radiation emergencies. This guidance includes information on diagnosis and treatment, triage, and references. First Responders run hundreds of calls involving chest pains, trauma, diabetic emergencies, etc. They may only run one radiological incident in their entire career. REMM will be beneficial on that lone incident.

The Williams Fire app is designed for flammable liquid emergencies and will calculate fire hose friction loss and foam calculations for fires involving large storage tanks. Foam calculation formulas can be extremely difficult to remember. The Williams Fire app takes the guess work out of the equation and does all the work for you.

The National Fire Protection Association’s HAZMAT FLIC app provides the Incident Commander with guidance and information for dealing with flammable liquids emergencies involving trains and pipelines. The app contains links to various reports, checklists and resources that will be beneficial when dealing with these specific incidents.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health sponsors the NIOSH Mobile Pocket Guide app. This is an app version of the printed guidebook and includes chemical formulas, synonyms, exposure limits, chemical and physical properties, reactivities and incompatibilities, respirator information and emergency medical information that includes signs and symptoms and emergency treatment.

CAMEO Chemicals, sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, allows you to search for a chemical by its name, Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) number or the four-digit United Nations (UN) Identification Number. Entering any of this information to identify the chemical you are dealing with will immediately take you to tabs for the DOT Emergency Response Guidebook or a HazMat Table that gives you the proper shipping name, placarding and hazard class and label information. You also have the option to click on a datasheet that gives you much of the same information that is found on a Safety Data Sheet (SDS).

These are just 10 of the apps that are available to you. There are many, many more relating to hazardous materials response. This list does not include the apps that are also available to you for firefighting, technical rescue and EMS. The key is finding the apps that work for you. I highly encourage you to download as many as you like and play with them. Keep the ones you like and delete the ones you do not. Ask other first responders what apps they use. Unlike computer programs, many of these apps will automatically update themselves making that practically maintenance free. These apps are just one more tool in your toolbox and they are not just for millennials or the tech savvy. Anyone can use them.

Until next time, stay safe out there.

Mark Schmitt is a Captain/HazMat Specialist for the Greensboro Fire Department assigned to the Foam/ARFF Task Force and a veteran of 25 years in the fire service. The majority of his career has been spent in Special Operations. He holds a Master of Public Administration in Emergency Management and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. He 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 as a contract instructor with the National Fire Academy.

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