This article is mainly about improvising Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
I have been employed for over 36 years by an international coatings company. I have held several positions in different areas of our plant, including production, maintenance, and raw materials. I also have 35+ years in the field of Industrial Emergency Response. The last few years I have been an instructor for our Emergency Response Team (ERT). Some of the topics we deal with are firefighting, Haz-mat, Medical response, and rescue.
Participating with the Team has been both educational and enjoyable as we develop a closeness and brotherhood (and recently sisterhood).
I have been able to use some of these skills and talents in my everyday life, as well as in other interests that I have.
I was reviewing some information a few days ago for a presentation coming up in the Haz-mat area. Haz-mat basically means hazardous materials. The facility where I work uses approximately 250 different chemical compounds. My present position allows me to have direct contact with most of these either by sampling for analyst, or verification.
The information I was reviewing was decontamination during and/or after an emergency exposure.
It dawned on me that many people of the prepper mindset might find it useful as it closely resembles the decontamination (“decon”) of bio, chemical, and radioactive fallout exposures.
Most of us, as preppers, do not have all of the fancy and expensive gear that professionals have available. But please keep in mind that even in industry we don’t always practice with the “real thing”. Instead of expensive haz-mat suits we usually make do we inexpensive substitutes. Also there are times when we do not have enough of the real thing. At these times we use the system outlined below.
I do not recommend using these substitutes except under dire emergencies. Please, please do not ever take unnecessary risks by exposing yourself to bio, chemical or radioactive hazards.
There may be times though that you must operate in these environments. If you do not possess the correct protective equipment then you may have to substitute. These substitutes are what I would like to address in this article.
At this point I would guess that most of us are on a budget in our prepping endeavors and are looking for bargain prices and ways to stretch our prepping dollar (Euro, peso, or whatever).
Whenever I am teaching I always take the time to tell my students, whether they are ERT members, Boy Scouts, adult Scout Leaders, or Appleseed students, to NEVER become a victim. Always stay alert as to what is going on around you. Be Aware!
The secret to staying safe in a hazardous environment is to stay alert. Do not take chances…ever. It only takes one time and its over, death awaits those who are careless.
Statistically most firefighters who are seriously injured or killed in the line of duty become victims while trying to rescue someone else. Many times it is while trying to rescue one of their own.
“That’s my friend down there!”, and so off we go to rescue our pal and fall victim to the same dangerous environment that affected our friend.
Most of the time that first victim is down for a reason… we probably can’t hold our breath long enough to perform a rescue. One way to eliminate some of the danger is have a second person in any hazardous situation, literally some one to have your back.
Anyway…be cautious. ‘Nuff said about that.
Back to basic and inexpensive equipment.
One of the most important items to have is a quality gas mask. It is almost impossible to improvise one of these. It really is a high priority item. These can be purchased commercially through Industrial outlets such as Grainger and Fastenal. They can be expensive, often costing in the hundreds. I have also seen mil-surp masks at Army-Navy stores and gun shows, often for $40 or less. Please research these before you buy.
If you do buy the mil-surp masks please make sure that the rubber or silicone face piece is not dry rotted or cracked. There are different sizes and you must make sure that you correctly fit your face. Facial hair can also be a problem as it does not allow for a tight fit.
There are two schools of thought when donning the mask. Either can be used and are correct:
- Open the straps all the way with the web in normal position. Place your hand inside the web, with the web against the back of your hand. Lift the mask above your head and bring down. Using the hand inside the web to pull the web out and your other hand to pull the bottom of the mask out, the mask should slide over your head and face.
- Loosen the straps and pull the web over the face piece so that the web is inside out. Place and hold the mask against your face and with the other hand pull the web back over your head.
After donning the mask you must cinch-up the straps. On most masks there are 5 or 6 straps. I usually tighten the two nearest my temples first, followed by the lower two. I always tighten the top strap(s) last to avoid pulling hair.
The next step is to check the seal around your face. With the mask in place cover the exhaust valve with one hand. Exhale normally to verify that the mask is sealed. You should feel the mask pressurize. If it does not there may be a leak due to improper fit, facial hair or condition of the mask.
Next place one or both palms over the inlet(s). There may be one or two inlets depending on style/manufacturer. Breathe in normally. You should feel the mask shrink into your face.
You may need to try petroleum jelly on the seal in you cannot get it to quit leaking. This is not recommended as it may break down the rubber material in the mask.
A word or two about filter cartridge:. There are basically two different media that I have had the opportunity to use, activated charcoal (carbon) and HEPA.
The carbon filters are used with organic compounds such as solvents, monomers, and isocyanides. I would imagine that they would be effective against most gases.
The HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are used for solid particles in the air, including dust. This would be effective in the case of nuclear dust fallout.
Filter cartridges are available with either of these media. However, whenever I have a choice I will use both together. Some filter cartridges are made with both carbon and HEPA. There are also “add on” HEPA filters that attach over the intake on carbon filters. Please be aware when buying mil-surp masks that correct cartridges may not be available.
One other point before we proceed; gas mask type filters do NOT supply oxygen. In a low-oxygen environment you will need to supplement with oxygen and/or breathing air via a device such as SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) or SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus). Without supplied air you must leave the area immediately if you find yourself in a low-oxygen situation.
Most filter cartridges are good for about eight hours. You must changes filters immediately if you detect an odor or taste.
In an emergency situation you may find yourself needing a barrier suit. These are protective coveralls that are impervious to dangerous materials. They also will not allow radioactive fallout to reach your skin. However, they will not protect you from radiation. Fallout is most dangerous when inhaled or when it comes in direct contact with your skin, eyes, nose, or mouth.
The following is one of the least expensive ways to make a barrier suit:
It is made from a two piece vinyl rain suit. You’ve seen them…bright yellow, usually with a hood. That’s what you need. I have found them online for $15-20 USD.
You also will need pull-on over boots and some kind of rubber (butyl, vinyl, etc.) gloves. In addition to all this you will need a roll of duct tape.
To do this properly you will need an assistant to help you dress.
Start by donning the pants/bibs. Pull the pants legs up and put on the boots. Pull the pants legs down, over the tops of the boots. Have your assistant tape the cuffs of the pants, with the duct tape, to the boots. You will want to give yourself plenty of slack in the pants so that you can move freely. Note: when taping seals be sure to fold under the last inch of the tape to itself, making a tab. This greatly helps when removing the tape from the protective suit.
Secondly you need to put on your face mask and check for leaks.
Thirdly, don the jacket. Pull the sleeves up and put on the gloves. Pull the sleeves down over the gloves. Have your assistant tape the jacket sleeves to the gloves with the sleeves held back enough to give you slack.
Next have your assistant pull the attached hood up and over your head up to the face piece. Pull and tie the drawstring snuggly enough to hold it on but not choke you.
The assistant should now tape the hood to the mask, making sure all skin is covered. Tape the front of the jacket closed so that the gap is covered.
Finally, tape the hem of the jacket to the pants and the front opening (where the snaps or zipper is) closed, again allowing for movement.
You should now be totally encapsulated and safe from most threats.
Please remember to leave the tape tab on each piece of tape to aid in removal.
If you find it necessary to change filters it is easier to have the assistant change them for you. However, if you are in a hazardous area your assistant must be protected also.
Which brings us to decon (decontamination). In a real emergency it is a good idea to decon in stages. The area that is contaminated is the hot or red zone. This is wherever the suit is needed to protect you.
Next is the warm or yellow zone. This is where the main decon occurs. Finally is the safe or green zone. As its name implies, it is safe without protection. These zones should be well marked so that you do not track in contaminants.
Now for the actual deconning. When you are done in the hot zone you need to communicate to your assistant that you are ready to enter decon.
A very inexpensive way to decon is to invest in three kiddie pools. You know the kind, cheap plastic about 5-6 feet in diameter and about a foot deep.
Place one pool just outside the hot zone in the warm zone. Place about six inches of water in it with a half cup of dishwashing detergent. Note: In a bio situation I would also use a disinfectant. Even liquid bleach would work.
The assistant, who should have on a minimum of a rain suit, face shield, boots and gloves, will use a long handled boot brush to scrub you down.
Next step into the second pool which should be located about one foot away from the first, again containing soapy water. Your assistant should wash you down again with a second brush.
The next step should be into the third pool placed one foot from the second. This will be half filled with clean water. Your assistant will pour this fresh water over you to remove the soap.
A tarp covered with newspaper or another absorbent should be placed next to the third pool. You will step out of the pool onto the newspaper.
Your assistant at this point will help you remove your protective clothing. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR THE ASSISTANT TO NOT CONTAMINATE YOU OR THEMSELVES IN THIS STEP.
Do you remember those tape tabs I mentioned twice? They come into play here. With clean gloves the assistant should remove the tape from around the mask. DO NOT REMOVE THE MASK.
Next remove the tape around the gloves, then down the front of the jacket and then around the hem of the jacket. He should gently assist you in removing the jacket by pulling it off from behind you, turning it inside out. It should be placed inside a large trash bag.
Now remove the tape from around the pants cuffs. By far the easiest way to remove the pants is for him to cut the pants down each side with a utility knife, being VERY careful to avoid cutting you.
The assistant can also slice the sides of the boots for you and help you remove them.
Your gloves are still on at this time to avoid contaminating your hands with the boots. They can be removed at this time if you have another pair to don.
You can now step into the cold zone and remove your mask. Your assistant will now pick up and dispose of all contaminated articles.
He now steps over to the warm/cold zone line. You will assist him in disrobing if needed.
The Protective gear that was in the hot zone, with the possible exception of the face mask, should not be used again, but disposed of. The mask must be totally decontaminated before using again.
Is this method as good as the PPE made specifically for the job? Of course not. It will protect you, however, in an emergency situation. Do not ever expose yourself unnecessarily. Remember: DO NOT BECOME A VICTIM.
If we look around us we will be able to find ways to improvise what is needed. Be safe and be ready.