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Spill or No Spill? Grayslake Fire Department “HazMat” Response Shows Just How Suburban Fire Departments Can Underperform in Public Information Tasks

Fri April 25 2014 4:40 am
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Thursday afternoon, April 24, 2014 in Grayslake: Citizens in Grayslake witnessed a second alarm MABAS Hazmat response. Numerous fire vehicles converged on a small dry cleaners building. HazMat technicians donned in protective suits entered the building. When HazMat techs exited, they were washed down with water. A large staging area of fire vehicles was set up at St Gilberts church across the street. Belvidere Road (Route 120) was shut down.

Two employees and two firefighters were transported with injuries to Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville as a precaution. The injuries were described as non-life-threatening.

A1 Cleaners, 322 E Belvidere Road, and other business in the strip mall remained closed Thursday night.

Washing down suits in the parking lot.

First the incident was described as a chemical leak, but then it was published by the Daily Herald that Grayslake Battalion Chief Joe Weidman reported there was “not a chemical spill as originally reported.”

Ninety minutes into the incident, there was no information about the incident on the fire department’s official twitter account. There was no alert that Belvidere Road was closed. The most recent alert at the time was a promotion for NOAA All Hazards Weather radios.

Compare this to a more informative tweet from Chicago Fire Department during an incident involving elevated Carbon Monoxide levels …

Example Chicago Fire Department update on March 12, 2014 at a Carbon Monoxide incident … Chicago Fire Department explains that Carbon Monoxide levels are in excess of 200 ppm.

At 9:02 p.m. Grayslake Fire Department posted an update on their Twitter account, but the statement reported “Grayslake dry cleaner chemical spill injures 4” with a link to an ABC 7 Chicago new story. That tweet contradicted the quote from Battalion Chief Joe Weidman in the Daily Herald that said there was no chemical spill. There is no intent here to criticize the statement of Battalion Chief Joe Weidman, whether it is accurate, or not accurate, because of information available to him at the time.

Hazmat technicians near a collection container.

What we don’t know:

Was there a chemical spill or not?

What chemicals did firefighters suspect were possible exposure risks?

Did the employees suffer a chemical injury?

Did the employees suffer a heat burn or steam burn?

Did the employees and/or firefighters suffer injuries unrelated directly to any hazardous material (e.g., heat exhaustion, musculoskeletal injury)?

Presumably firefighters wore HazMat suits as a precaution for chemical exposure and their suits were irrigated for potential chemical exposure; but why were their suits irrigated onto the open ground? (Perchloroethylene is the primary solvent used by Dry Cleaners and is a known soil contaminant, skin irritant, and possible carcinogen.)

Why were area businesses in the strip mall closed after the incident was secured?

Public Information a Delicate Balance
In a public emergency, saving lives and property are priorities of first responders; however the notification for the prepared public and minimal interruption to a community’s local economy should also be a major concern. Fire chiefs are challenged by balancing security issues, accuracy of information during unfolding investigations, HIPAA compliance (medical privacy issues), over-alerting, and under-alerting. A Second Level Hazmat Box alarm certainly should be accompanied by some type of emergency alert(s) explaining the following:

• There should be notifications about road closures and evacuations (or lack of).

• Information about casualties, rescue work and actions toward resolution should be alerted as soon as possible.

• If the hazardous material is unknown, the fire department should report that the material is unknown.

• If the hazardous material is known, details about the name of the chemical and the amount of hazardous material spilled or hazardous material released should be part of the alert.

• The public should be notified whether the hazardous material is a gas or a liquid, and whether there is any threat to air or drinking water or sewers, streams, rivers and/or lakes.

• Notification should be made whether the situation is contained, or whether there is a potential evacuation pending.

Due to the public’s concern by a large emergency vehicle response with the words “HAZMAT” in a neighborhood, public officials owe the public as much information as they can reasonably and securely release to the public.

It should not be acceptable to use a news media report as the fire department’s only official release on the Twitter account, Facebook account, official website, or other press release. Fire departments should be committed and accountable for their information with disclaimers that information accuracy depends on their discoveries as the incident is investigated.

Spill or No Spill?
The conflict of information of the battalion chief quote (no spill) in the Daily Herald, and the ABC 7 Chicago report (“spill injures 4”) should be clarified. Grayslake Fire Department should clarify whether Battalion Chief Joe Weidman’s quote is incorrect or misquoted.

Responders called in the Lake and McHenry County hazmat crews to assess the situation because of the chemicals at the site, but there was not a chemical spill as originally reported, Weidman said.

Weidman said a chemical spill was ruled out early in the response and there was no danger to the area.

— Daily Herald quote with Battalion Chief Joe Weidman

A video below shows Grayslake Division Chief Dan Pierre reporting that there was a chemical leak …

Grayslake Division Chief Dan Pierre describes how the Lake County HazMat team was called to an incident Thursday at the A1 Cleaners in Grayslake. Two employees were sent to Advocate Condell Hospital in Libertyville with minor injuries.

To credit Grayslake Fire Department, few fire departments in Chicagoland have even attempted to manage a Twitter account. Like any endeavor, there are always bugs to work out. Even the City of Chicago, which does a good job of notifying the public and news media of major incidents, is not entirely consistent with the difficult job of notification for every major incident.

Some noteworthy official fire department Twitter accounts nationwide are noted below …



Los Angeles

Los Angeles County

New York City

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

See also …
ABC 7 Chicago Grayslake dry cleaners chemical spill injures 4

Daily Herald 4 hurt in accident at Grayslake dry cleaner

Dry Cleaning
Health Information Privacy

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