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The Emergency Response Guidebook for ARFF Responders

 By William Greenwood

The 2016 US DOT (Emergency Response Guide) ERG is a guidebook that is required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for all first responders. The commonly found orange paperback book is designed to be used during the initial phase (first 30 minutes) of a dangerous goods or hazardous materials incident. It is produced by the United States Department of Transportation, Transport Canada and the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (Mexico).

The ERG is required to be covered as initial firefighter training (prior to assuming initial performance of duties) and recurrent firefighter training once every 12 consecutive calendar months for aircraft rescue firefighters under the Part 139.319 (i)(2)(x). This section covers Cargo Hazards, including Hazardous Materials/Dangerous Goods.

The ERG is primarily applicable for hazardous materials transported by highway, railway, air, water or pipeline. It was first issued to the public by the U.S. DOT in 1973. It later became a joint publication of the DOT, Transport Canada, and the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT) of Mexico. The ERG is issued to emergency responders every four years. The ERG is primarily a quick-response guide to aid first responders in identifying specific or generic hazards of a material involved in an incident while providing the responders with a guideline to protect themselves and the public during the initial phase of an incident. I can’t stress enough that it should only be used for the initial response phase of an incident. The book has been divided into six color-coded sections for ease of use. The ERG includes guides that can be found in the orange section that identify the primary hazards associated with the applicable general category of hazardous material. Remember: This information is only a general guidance on how to respond to incidents involving that category of hazardous material. The primary purpose of ERG is to direct the emergency responders to the most appropriate guide based on the incident. The ERG can also provide guidance regarding recommended evacuation distances, if needed in the green section.


A Quick Educational Breakdown of the Sections

The first section, with white page (uncolored) borders provides information regarding shipping documents, instructions on how to use the guidebook, and overall general guidance for responding to any hazardous material incident. If you don’t remember the hazard classifications, no worries because this section provides basic information on the hazard classes and any associated placards or labels. The white section also provides recommendations for the proper guide-based transporting vehicle types when the material in question cannot be further identified by signage.

The second section, with yellow page borders, references the material in order of its assigned 4-digit ID number/UN Number, which is often placarded with the other hazardous materials placards and identifies the appropriate guide number to reference.


The third section of the ERG has blue page borders and references the material in alphabetical order of its name and identifies the appropriate guide number to reference in the orange section. Items highlighted in green throughout this section will also have evacuation distances included in the green section.


The fourth section with orange page borders includes the actual response guides. There are 62 Guides that provide safety recommendations and direction on how to proceed during the initial response phase of the incident. It includes health and fire or explosion potential hazard information. Note that the most dangerous hazard is listed first. This section also includes information for responders on appropriate protective clothing and possible evacuation information for either spill or fire. It also includes information on firefighting operations like not applying water to sodium, warnings for spills or leaks, and special directions for first aid.

In the event of an unknown material, the GUIDE #111 should be followed until more information becomes available for more specific identification.


The fifth section, with green page borders, suggests initial evacuation or distances for shelter-in-place (protective action distances) for spills of materials that are toxic-by-inhalation or (TIH). These distances vary based on the size of the spill (small or large) and whether the incident occurs during the day or at night. Only materials that were highlighted in green in the yellow and blue sections are included in the green section. This section also includes information regarding toxic gases that are produced when certain materials are spilled in water as identified previously in this section. Finally, this section includes some very specific evacuation details for six common materials.

The sixth and final section contains white pages without colored borders and provides additional instructions on how to use the guidebook, including information regarding protective clothing and equipment, instructions on fire and spill control, and BLEVE safety precautions.

Modern Day—Technology
The Internet has now afforded the emergency first responder with the ability to have all of this information at the palm of his hand. The U.S. DOT now offers the 2016 Emergency Response Guidebook as a mobile app. A quick search in your phone app store and you can have this manual downloaded on your mobile phone or tablet. While the app is nice to have, the physical book as depicted in the very first photo is required to be carried on all FAR Part 139 Certified Airport Fire Apparatus. The reason for this is the physical manual doesn’t require battery power or Internet access.

Though this section of a professional ARFF training program is not exciting like live fire suppression drills, the progressive instructor can turn a simple training exercise into a psychomotor training session through the use of hands on props and simulated hazardous material spills. The key to training should emphasize that firefighters can use the manual during an emergency incident without having to relearn how the manual is designed, laid out, and operates. The best practice in training subjects like this is to incorporate a didactic and psychomotor skill station to simulate real world incidents.

 WILLIAM GREENWOOD is a 25-year veteran of the fire service. He is currently the Assistant Fire Chief of Training at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. He is a Senior Staff Instructor for the New Hampshire Fire Academy and owns FETC Services, which provides advanced firefighter and leadership training/consultation services. He is also a national speaker for FDIC International and has been published in Fire Engineering and FireRescue.


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