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This month’s HAZMAT refresher course, taught by Al Nygren of Training Technologies International, gave us a valuable new perspective on how our metering equipment works and the mechanisms behind some of the dangers we face. The course was a change of pace from the usual HAZMAT classes which focus on the decontamination process and identification of specific hazards. It had a heavy emphasis on the chemistry behind many of the fuels and oxidizers we may run into at any time.
All that white board chemistry can be pretty dry, but Mr. Nygren came prepared for restless firefighters by bringing demonstrations. In one of these he made two points with a single example, by showing what adding a common oxidizer to an ordinary rag can do. In the experiment, Nygren produced a rag which he had soaked with a commonly used oxidizing agent in a 30% solution with water and allowed to dry. The rag was protected from the rain by a cardboard box, and placed on apron in front of Central Station. At the first touch of a flame, the rag burned up entirely in seconds – producing a very large flame. In a second or two the rag was entirely consumed.
The point of Mr. Nygren’s demonstration was the oxidizer increased the rate at which the rag burned, but it was the rag itself which was burning – not the chemical. The chemical itself is not a fuel. Further, because there was no fuel vapor, our meters would not pick up any danger at all.
Another demonstration was a bit more basic, but was fun in any case as it is always fun to play with Liquid Nitrogen. Nygren pulled what appeared to be an empty baloon from his flash of the supercold fluid, and place it on the table where it proceded to inflate as the air itself thawed from solid to vapor. He was making a point about how vapors can be produced by changes in both temperature and pressure.
Our meters are not perfect, and pointing out where they can leave us with danger was a key part of the class. Below are some really important things to consider when using our meters.
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