This newsletter was written as a response to the following email I received. The question:
Today, first-responding firefighters across the country are being asked to take some lifesaving action at suspected bomb incidents. In some instances, firefighters are requested to search for bombs and to evacuate suspected terrorist-bomb areas. This occurs most frequently in cities and towns where police or state bomb experts do not have the quick response time that the local firefighters do. I strongly urge FEMA to insure firefighters receive training for operating at terrorist-target bomb areas. However, until we receive this needed training, firefighters should know some basic survival techniques for operating at bomb incidents.
Here are three situations at which firefighters find themselves operating at terrorists bomb incidents where standard guidelines are needed:
Situation #1: Fire Caused by a Terrorist's Bomb When firefighters at the scene of an explosion, collapse and fire discover the incident was caused by a terrorist bomb they should notify the police department, evacuate injured people, and protect the exposed building against fire from a safe distance. Firefighters should use nearby buildings and vehicles as shielding when protecting burning exposures.
Situation #2: Discovering a Terrorist Bomb After a Fire When discovering an unexploded terrorist bomb after a fire has been extinguished, firefighters must not disturb the bomb. Firefighters evacuate people and withdraw a safe distance out of sight of the potential explosion area, then notify the police. Firefighters located at a safe area should prepare to protect exposure buildings from a fire, and, if an explosion occurs, firefighters may have to conduct a collapse-and-rescue operation, then prepare for a hazardous materials operation if the explosion is from a so called dirty bomb.
Situation # 3: Search and Evacuation of Suspected Bomb Area When called to a terrorists bomb incident by the police department, firefighters must report to the police officer in charge and assist as requested. If the police request firefighters to search for the bomb or evacuate a building suspected with bomb placement and the incident commander decides to comply with the request first, addition reinforcements should be called. These back-up firefighters should prepare for an explosion. After the explosions, firefighters may have to rescue trapped firefighters. A collapse search-and-rescue operation may be required. At the same times, defensive firefighting operations will be required to protect burning exposures buildings. A simultaneous Haz- Mat incident may also have to be started.
EVACUATE BOMB BUILDINGS
Firefighters do not order a building evacuated as a result of a suspected or reported bomb. The evacuation should be the decision of the person in charge of the building, such as the business owner or the principal of the school. The fire department may recommend, but the final responsibility for evacuation rests with the person in charge of the building. When requested to work in a building with a suspected bomb, firefighters must realize when a bomb explodes, a great cause of injury from a bomb blast is flying glass. All windows will blow. Jagged, razor-sharp glass fragments will fly through the air with hurricane force. All protective clothing and masks should be worn, with eye shields down. Fire department radios may trigger a bomb explosion, so mobile radios should be shut off 300 feet from the suspected bomb area and portable radios should be shut off during the search.
PROCEDURES FOR EVACUATION STAIRS
Procedures for evacuating people from a building containing a suspected hidden terrorist bomb are different from evacuating people from a burning building. This bomb search is considered a primary search. The fire officer in charge should limit the number of firefighters, and the search should be done quickly. There is no secondary search. A specific stair should be designated for evacuation. People leaving the building should be requested to leave by way of this exit. However, search this stair for bombs before the evacuation. Before evacuation, search the entire exit path. Search the access corridors leading to the stair, the stairway and the discharge lobby into which the stair feeds. Firefighters should prevent people from lingering in the street outside the stair. Direct them out of the explosion area at least 2,000 feet away.
INSTRUCTIONS TO PEOPLE
People being asked to leave a building in which a bomb is reported should be told to take all belongings with them, so there will be fewer items to search for the hidden explosives. Also, people should be directed to leave their desks, offices and lockers unlocked. This too, will assist the bomb search and reduce damage to locks and doors. Leave lights on and windows open, and, as long as it will not trigger an explosion, turn noise-making machines off. It will assist bomb searchers.
Firefighters generally are not requested to search for bombs; however, during these early undefined, stages of homeland security preparedness, if there are an insufficient number of police officers on scene and the fire department has personnel available with protective equipment, the fireground commander may be asked by community leaders and/or officials to have the firefighters search for a terrorists biological, nuclear, chemical, or explosive device. Bomb searching by untrained firefighters is not recommended. However, if it is a community-life-and-death situation, and many lives are at risk, and if we size up the situation, considering the priorities of incident management (life safety of our community residents first, incident stabilization second, and property protection third), the fire commander might commit firefighters to search for a terrorist device.
Bomb searching is different from fire searching. Bomb searching begins outside the building. First, vehicles parked in the street around the building are examined. Owners are requested to move vehicles. Any vehicle not identified by a local resident and not moved must be considered a potential vehicle bomb. Next, the outside sidewalk around the perimeter of the building is examined for the bomb. Window sills on the first floor are often the site of a package bomb. Then the building's interior is searched, starting in the cellar and working upward. Pay attention to areas where a bomber could gain access inside the building and easily place an explosive package and set a timing device unnoticed. Bathrooms, stairways, refuse containers, storage areas and supply closets are places in which a bomb may be hidden. According to the Emergency Response to Terrorism manual, page 4-39, the following are a few warning signs of a bomb. (Note: If a suspected bomb is discovered, do not touch or disturb. Note the location, floor and room. Report this to the incident commander. Do not use portable radios that may trigger an explosion during search.)
Several common types of explosive devices are used by terrorists to kill or destroy. They are:
EXPLOSION WITHDRAWAL AREA
If a bomb is discovered, the area should be evacuated to a distance of at least 2,000 feet (610 meters).
FIRE DEPARTMENT PREPLANNING FOR TERRORISM
1.Which one is a correct answer regarding when a firefighters may be required to operate at an incident with a terrorists bomb?
2. When evacuating people from a building before a bomb search, which one is not a good action?
3. Before directing a building evacuation, which area of the egress is not searched before the evacauation?
4. Which is not an indication of a bomb?
True or False
Answers: 1, D; 2.D; 3, D; 4. D; 5. True