The Angry Captain got his nickname from his fellow workers when he was in charge of reconciling FEMA grants for his department’s Urban Search and Rescue responses to nationwide emergencies. The paper trail required to receive reimbursement was finite in FEMA’s eyes as well as requiring receipts for all purchases. These are foreign to the rescuers trying to get the job done in stormy weather and lack of any initial support at the scene. Simple things that we use every day get lost when power is out as well as cell sites, land lines, and stores and banks are closed; credit cards mean nothing. Sorting out these items later creates great stress on the person trying to get the money back. Hence the “Angry Captain” moniker.
The call 1 a.m. Saturday:cell phone call from passerby of smoke in the area of an industrial complex, no specific address.
This is a single engine response to investigate. We get many calls in the same area due to the nature of the businesses in this area and the proximity to a major road. As usual, we cruise by the buildings that have night shifts finding nothing. We continue, as my eye catches something from the corner of a building that appears to be smoke but dissipates immediately at the roofline.
We walk around the building not seeing anything except in the one corner above a rollup door that is closed. I remember this business from an inspection I did in the last year. It specialized in drying and preserving plants for use in household decorations. They had a special room inside (not unlike an auto spray booth) for drying the plants with a foul smelling preservative. I suspected that this might be something that was a normal part of the operation. However, to have something coming from the rollup door instead of the roof where the booth would normally vent was odd.
We called dispatch to contact a responsible party. They responded “no response”from the number on file. Now, with no means of visualizing the warehouse area from the outside and continued wisps coming from the top of the door, I elect to force entry to a man-door next to the roll up. No heat on the doors, but I just was not comfortable leaving (unlike the responsible party who choose not to answer the phone). We opened the door and found a haze from the top 6-8 feet of the warehouse. I called for a full structure response as we continued in (better to have them on the road and turn them around if not needed).
No heat, just the haze; as we inspected the drying unit, it was shut down and closed up. It was clear inside. We continued into the office areas, which were clear. Other units started arriving and the truck was sent to check the roof. We opened the other doors to ventilate and clear the haze. The rest of the units were released except for the Truck and the BC who hung out just to see what the deal was. Finally, dispatch received a call from the owner who said he would be there in 30 minutes.
About an hour passed until he arrived. He stated that a fumigation company had been there Friday to fumigate the warehouse. No signs were posted on the doors to warn us of any hazards. We placed all the units exposed out of service until their turnouts could be bagged and replaced. Luckily, everyone wore SCBA until the building was clear, but the unknowns of the fumigation process created mountains of paperwork and exposure reports, as well as activating our service center to replace 18 sets of turnouts for all companies at 3 a.m. The paperwork and documentation took me well past my normal relief time of 8 a.m. It took 2 weeks to find out what the fumigation company used due to “trade secrets.”The chemicals were then listed on all the exposure reports.
Lesson Learned – Expect the unexpected, always, no matter what you think you know about the situation.