Article Critique: Physiological, Biomechanical, Environmental Stresses the Firefighters Suffer From


The purpose of this paper is to analyze the various challenges such as physiological, biomechanical, environmental stresses the firefighters suffer from. In particular, dealing with the hazardous materials will be discussed together with the levels of safety of the firefighters’ protective clothing and equipment when reacting to emergencies, fires, disasters, catastrophic, and special operations. The majority of them include administration of hazardous materials.

Firefighters are exposed to severe dangers as well as risk their lives while dealing with hazardous materials while working. Various studies show that they receive injuries, their bodies are affected, and thus, they need to wear highly protective clothing. Besides injuries, they are vulnerable to communicable diseases because of their involvement with the chemicals and hazardous materials while performing their tasks in cases of catastrophic operations. For example, the last two decades has observed the increased susceptibility of firefighters to the AIDS. These days, exposure to chemical and radioactive substances has become a significant challenge in fire fighter activities.

The current paper analyzes incidents that involve hazardous materials as well as provides a meaningful solution to the problem of the administration of hazardous materials during firefighting operations. It also evaluates issues encountered by emergency responders and other stakeholders.

A Statement of the Problem

Firefighters may not be aware of the gravity of the situation when they are sent to the scene of an accident that involves saving people’s lives and removing hazardous materials. However, they should realize that there may be a possibility of dealing with chemicals or hazardous substances as well as chemically affected people. They have to inquire of the victims and pre-hospital staff about the nature of the event. It is necessary to note that the lack of coordination between various stakeholders and agencies creates more problems instead of helping to handle the situation. Sometimes, delays occurring due to such circumstances do not permit emergency personnel respond efficiently and quickly, which results in loss of lives and damage to property. Emergency responders should also possess thorough knowledge about the influence of hazardous materials, and it can only be possible through effective training, which is being neglected by some of employers in the America.

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Firefighters encounter chemical accidents during a large number of response activities. They are not merely hazardous materials calls. The increasing use of chemicals in households and industry also endangers the lives. These elements pose different kinds of hazards when they are emitted. They lead to irritation, toxicity, flammability, skin infections, tuberculosis and even blindness and may affect the body of firefighter. The toxic fumes in fire smoke also result in chemical exposure. The number of hazardous fires has been increasing due to the wider usage of synthetic materials in construction activities, and federal laws pertaining to the administration of hazardous materials are largely ignored (Fahy, LeBlanc, & Molis, 2011).

A Debate on Hazardous Materials Responses and Views of Stakeholders

Hazardous materials responses are incidents which involve the release of hazardous substances into the environment causing loss of life and damage to property. NFPA has declared hazardous materials as those substances that endanger people’s lives because of chemical properties such as toxicity, decomposition, corrosively and etiological hazards.

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Federal laws instruct firefighting agencies to follow the regulations relating to the use of personal protective clothing and equipment because the need for PPE is essential in such cases. It is not a secret that many chemicals present hidden dangers without prior warning. Unfortunately, there is a lot of protective clothing and equipment that are not recommendable for hazardous material accidents. Even NFPA standards do not provide protection against chemicals. It has been observed that structural clothing materials are easily permeated by dangerous substances and even absorb chemical vapors, thus increasing the chances of exposure and damage. Federal laws require that OSHA certified PPE should be used during an incident.

American Association of Firefighters is not satisfied with PPE and current techniques of firefighting and states that training is necessary before any responder attempts to wear protective clothing. OSHA standards also mandate the need of studying, i.e. ten hours of initial training, to attain the level of competency for firefighters engaged in emergency incidents at the first operational level. Besides, each employer should design health and safety programs for workers that can be applicable during emergency response. These standards intend to offer additional protection even to emergency medical services and police officers. OSHA’s final rule (March 6, 1989, 29 CFR (1910.120)) states that first responders should not be dispatched to hazardous incidents without proper training and experience (Urbina, 2013).

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An Analysis of the Data and Information about the Incident

In 2005, the incident of chlorine spell rocked Graniteville city in South Carolina becoming one of the most serious hazardous materials disasters in the history of America. The tragedy struck at night displacing 5,400 citizens, killing nine persons and remarkably changing the structure of the community. Although the death toll was considerably low, the response to the case demonstrated gaps in the federal preparedness. The occurrence demanded from all the stakeholders connected with encountering hazardous incidents to implement practices which would improve the operations of fire fighters.

The chlorine leakage was the result of train collision on January 6, 2005, when railway guard failed to toggle the switch so as to disconnect from the main junction line. This error diverted goods train from the main junction line resulting in collision with a stationed train, thereby derailing three engines and eighteen wagons. Nearly sixty metric tons of liquefied chlorine leaked from the nine of forty-two freight wagons. The chlorine gas quickly vaporized into the atmosphere with the expansion level of 450:1 in volume.

Fire department reacted within one minute after receiving information, and the fire fighters were dispatched within the next one. However, the chief of the department instructed personnel to stand by upon getting a radio report of chlorine spill. Within the next six minutes, he was supervising rescue operations and stood nearly 1,000 ft from the site of the accident. The rescue team was forced to retreat when they noticed that chlorine fumes were spreading and their toxic level was rising. Within the next thirteen minutes, the chief took a decision to evacuate people because high velocity winds were enveloping the city. Fire fighters obeyed the command with a request of mutual cooperation and activated Reverse 911 for major evacuation. These actions, however, did not occur immediately resulting in a complete chaos and situation becoming worse.

The emergency responders realized the necessity to minimize the chaos by managing the operations sensibly but poor communication between various stakeholders and the delay of the decision accelerated the disaster. Evacuation team disagreed over the plan to evacuate the city, and this confusion caused inaction and loss of precious moments. Fire personnel could not assess quickly the damage that could have been caused by the chlorine spill and follow the proper procedure. Moreover, the wheel report sent from Southern Railway to the Fire Department did not specify emergency response requirements for hazardous chemicals cargo, and the fire department showed negligence to learn procedures (Dunning & Oswalt, 2007).


The firefighters suffer from fatalities and injuries as a result of lack in training and noncompliance with the standards that exist for wearing personal protective clothing. There is no doubt that despite the fact that fire departments have advanced systems of modern technology, their services involve a job which requires excessive manual labor. This study coupled with a critical review of the hazardous materials operations makes it obvious that the federal government has to provide the emergency responders with highly advanced protective clothing. Moreover, the risk assessment is necessary in different hazardous situations. It will enable choosing an appropriate strategy to mitigate the effects of chemicals during firefighting operations. The increase in the incidents that happen while using dangerous substances in industrial activities and during their transportation further shows the lack in communication between various agencies.

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