Firefighters praised after KEMH chemical spill
Firefighters kitted out in protective suits dealt with a hazardous materials spill at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital yesterday.
Acting Sergeant Ivan Dyer said that crews responded to a call about a spillage of formalin, a toxic water solution of formaldehyde.
He added that a member of hospital staff was able to provide information on the risks from the chemical.
Mr Dyer said: “It’s very important that we know that stuff so that we can dress accordingly and so that we have the right personal protective equipment.
“The fumes are very toxic and also if it gets on your skin it could cause damage to your skin; it’s corrosive.”
The incident happened in a utility room in a surgical unit just after 7.30am.
Firefighters Jordan Lamb and Trevor Smith dressed in hazardous materials suits and used breathing equipment to carry out the clean-up operation.
Mr Lamb explained: “It’s very difficult to put on these suits.
“You’re trying to isolate yourself from any sort of hazardous material or chemicals so we had three layers of gloves, the actual hazmat suit with bootees that go over your feet, followed by boots.
“We’re also wearing the breathing apparatus underneath the suits. It took us about 15 minutes to get it all on.”
He added: “Normally in a fire call we will use half-hour breathing apparatus sets, for hazmat calls we use an hour set, so it’s a little bit heavier, so with everything on it’s close to about 50 to 60lbs.”
Mr Lamb said: “We’ve done training for it before, but never in my career have I done anything like that.
“We were confident going in because we had the equipment and the hazmat suits. We were just hoping that we could get it done quickly and efficiently.”
The firefighter of almost three years added: “It was mostly isolated, but I guess the clean-up crew couldn’t go in there because of the fumes, so that’s when they called us.”
Mr Lamb said: “The hardest part was trying to manoeuvre in those suits, it’s hard with all the gloves on and everything.
“It’s actually basic clean-up — it’s just you’re in the suit, and that’s the hardest part, with sweat ... you can’t see, really; you’re looking through two masks.”
Mr Dyer said that the crew used a dry absorbent agent called Sphag Sorb, which was spread over the spillage so the firefighters were able to sweep up the hazard and stow it safely in a container.
He added: “Everything we do is high-risk, but it’s just that we have to take the proper precautions, so even though it might seem like a small thing we have to go over and beyond for our safety as well.”
Mr Dyer guessed that the job took about 90 minutes and no one was injured.
The Hamilton Fire Station acting sergeant said he was very proud of the team and added: “They did an excellent job.”
A Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said that the chemical was removed from the site by the hospital’s special waste section.
He said four appliances from Hamilton Fire Station and one from Port Royal attended the scene. A total of 12 firefighters were involved.
A Bermuda Hospitals Board spokeswoman added: “Early this morning, there was a spill of formalin in a utility room in the surgical area. Formalin is used to preserve specimens.
“Wearing appropriate protective equipment, BHB staff neutralised the spillage with a powdered agent and, as is appropriate for this type of toxic chemical, the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service were called to assist with decontamination of the area.
“No one was injured or harmed by the spill, although there was a delay in opening one of the operating rooms which resulted in seven outpatient surgeries being cancelled.
“We apologise to the patients who were impacted and thank staff and the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service for ensuring a safe response and clean-up.”
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