Clandestine Drug Laboratories and Fire Service
The menace of clandestine drug labs has been in existence for decades now and is a widespread issue over all the states across the country. The labs are established in homes, backyards, stores, apartments, hotel rooms, covered boats and even trunk homes.
The police departments and the concerned authorities do invade on intelligence information, several of these clandestine drug labs but the worrying this is the contamination that remains once the found equipment and substance is confiscated.
These materials that remain behind can contaminate porous walls and floor covers, the house heating vents as well as the air conditioning system, let alone the furniture that is daily exposed to the elements. Lots of times the next occupants are not aware of the activities of the previous occupants and even if they are aware, they may not know the dangers that lie therein.
Without proper and professional decontamination, the potential threat and risk of exposure to the dangerous chemicals is very real. This has seen many states to enact legislations that protect the new occupants of houses.
Among the several recommendations of the various legislations that have been passed is the compulsory recording of sales of cold medications which contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine which is the major constituent of methamphetamine. It also requires the sellers to keep such chemicals behind the counter (Indiana Department on Environmental Management, 2011).
It is due to the seriousness of the issue that the government constituted the U.S.A. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which is aimed at curbing and controlling the menace.
The menace of clandestine drug laboratories is so serious and portends such great thereat to the American society that the government could not turn a blind eye to the same. From the historical time, the clandestine drug laboratories have been a major concern to the authorities in all aspects. To indicate how the problem is deeply rooted in America, there were 23,327 reported cases of incidences involving hazardous substances (David P, 2011).
The Hazardous Substance Emergency Events Surveillance also alerted the nation that of these cases, 112 which accounts for 0.5% were connected to the methamphetamine (meth), and amazingly all the 112 cases occurred in Iowa, Missouri, Washington, Minesota and Oregon. It is also noted that these meth labs caused in this period, 115 cases of injuries with 79 of them happening to first responders. This accrues to 51% of all the injuries happening to first responders.
The substance that are used in the meth labs are toxic, corrosive and flammable. The equipment that these labs use range from chemical bottles, cans of Coleman Fuel, propane tanks, glass cookware, glass or plastic tubing, coffee filters and heating plates (Asia & Pacific Amphetamine-Type stimulants Information Centre, 2009).
These equipment are home assembled and are not well fitted and in many cases have resulted in home explosions that have seen home owners acquire burns and get hospitalized. These have also posed a danger to the fire service responders who come to dismantle the laboratories since they once in a while explode and burn them. The home clandestine laboratories have resulted into deaths, for instance the 1996 case where three bodies were found dead in a small motel room in Los Angeles.
In an effort to help curb the menace, various states have taken keen attention and interest in training and equipping the fire service with prerequisite knowledge and skills in fighting, and curbing the menace to American society. The fire service staffs in all the states do get training on the clandestine laboratories that will enable them to carry out their activities efficiently.
The tricky part with the clandestine labs is that the training is put into severe test out there in the field where clandestine labs are located. There have been cases of the responders falling pray to the accidents at the labs or intentional malicious traps set by the propagators.
There are dangers that the fire service personnel are perpetually exposed to out there and it is incumbent on them to know and be able to guard themselves against such. As the service staff walk out there into a clandestine lab, they must be aware of the following; the environment may be flammable and potentially explosive environment, toxic atmosphere that may be oxygen deficient, damaged and/or leaking gas cylinders, confined spaces labs, pyrophoric and water-reactive chemicals, leaking containers for chemicals, risk of electrocution from ignition sources, high pressure and heat containers incase the reaction is found in progress, mismatched chemical reactions and most deadly are the bombs and/or the booby traps (Fire Engineering, 2011).
The fire service responders are also faced with numerous anti-personnel devices (APD) which are designed to protect the ill investments of the lab owners when they are out of the laboratory. Some of the APDs are so complex that they act as a warning signal to the lab owner and the “cooks” or operators to enable them ample time to escape. Ironically they are also designed to hurt responders.
The other danger that the responders face are the weapons and even explosives that are frequently found in the illegal labs. The danger of these weapons and explosives lies in the fact that they have been connected to trigger wires made of monofilament fishing lines. If the responders don’t approach with caution, then they may end up losing their lives and if lucky sustain immeasurable bodily harm (Slide Share, 2011).
The responders should also the cautious of the dangerous animals that may be keep within the compound or even inside the houses. These range from trained dogs to venomous snakes that can be set at the responders.
There are also some cases where loose floors or even deep holes in the floor that have been loosely concealed to act as a trap and distraction and enable the operators escape. There are also spring devices that have sharp objects like nails. Worse still are the buckets of gun powder mixed with nails meant to explode once the trip wire has been activated.
The other very potentially lethal APD is the chemical APDs such as the pipe combs, acid containers, aluminum foil balls concealing explosive mixtures, grenades and the acid jars that tip over and spill at the entrant if one enters through closed doors.
Bearing the above dangers in the life of a responder, accompanied by the fact that these labs are growing each day, each service staff should go thorough training. This training must include awareness of the potential risks and hazards that the clandestine drug labs. The personnel must be enlightened on the most indicative features of a clandestine laboratory for example explosions, guard dogs, odors among others. Before they move into a place, the responders should be able to identify the potential dangers.
The personnel must also be dressed in protective equipments and a further decontamination be done is need be especially in the case of responder emergency.
Further to these, if a drug lab is identified then the police must immediately be alerted and the place secured. If one responder finds the drug indications, he must immediately make all those responders working on the case and avoid touching anything and in particular the switches.
The next logical thing is to move out of the area as u take mental pictures of anything that u see. Treat this as a crime scene and utmost preservation of the evidence is paramount in the police investigations later on.
Emergency Film Group (2011) gives a summary of the don’ts and does for the safety of the fire service personnel while at work to aid in reduction of the staff which are:
Do not touch items in the lab.
Do not attempt to turn on or off any electrical power and light switches.
Do not feed on anything around the lab or in the lab.
Do not open, move or attempt to carry containers with chemicals or suspected chemicals.
Do not Smoke anywhere close to the lab.
Do not sniff any containers or surfaces.
The does are quite few and straight forward as follows;
The responder should decontaminate himself and the clothes they wore.
Ensure you must wash your hands and face thoroughly after visiting the lab.
Ensure to call your local law enforcement or DEA district office immediately.
The fire service personnel are always exposed to the dangers that may physically confront them upon entrance into the suspect compound to the health issue that may emanate way later on in life, such like are hard to identify exactly what time one got affected. Considering this predisposal to these conditions, the government must be willing to readily compensate the service men that get health compromises in line of duty. The government should also dedicate funds for the training of the fire service personnel so as to avoid future simple complications which could have been divided.
Asia & Pacific Amphetamine-Type stimulants Information Centre, (2009). Clandestine
Labs. Retrieved March 9, 2011 from http://www.apaic.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=70&Itemid=85
David P, (2011). Clandestine Drug Labs. Retrieved March 9, 2011 from http://cms.firehouse.com/content/article/article.jsp?id=12333§ionId=18EmerEgency Film Group, (2011). Meth Labs — A to Z. Hazards for Emergency Responders.
Retrieved March 9, 2011 from http://www.efilmgroup.com/AtoZ.html
Fire Engineering, (2010). Responding to a Clandestine Drug Laboratory. Retrieved March 9, 2011 from http://www.fireengineering.com/index/articles/display.articles.fire-engineering.volume-163.Issue_6.Features.Responding_to_a_Clandestine_Drug_Laboratory.html
Indiana Department on Environmental Management, (2011). Cleanup of Illegal Drug
Labs. Retrieved March 9, 2011 from http://www.in.gov/idem/4178.htm
Slide Share, (2011). Methamphetamine Abuse and Clandestine Laboratories. Retrieved March 9, 2011 from http://www.slideshare.net/NCPC/methamphetamine-abuse-and-clandestine-laboratories-presentation
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