What is a Hazardous Materials Fire?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A hazardous materials fire is a fire involving substances known to be hazardous to human or environmental health. Fire crews responding to such fires need to exercise special care and fire departments are required to provide specific training in hazardous materials handling to protect their personnel and the community. In facilities where hazardous materials are handled, building codes provide some specific regulations for reducing the risk of fire, activating fire suppression systems, and alerting first responders to the presence of hazards to allow them to take precautions.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Hazardous materials include compounds that are pathogenic, flammable, corrosive, oxidizing, reactive, explosive, and toxic. When these materials are involved in a fire, as when a tanker trunk explodes or a chemical manufacturing plant experiences a fire, the resulting hazardous materials fire can be more dangerous than a conventional fire. There is a risk of accidental release during a hazardous materials fire, posing a threat to the environment and first responders who could be injured while fighting the fire. Such fires can also burn hotter and fiercer than fires with normal fuels like paper and wood.

The presence of hazardous materials is usually indicated by warning signage. The signs provide information about the types of materials present and any precautions that need to be observed. When first responders arrive at a fire, they can determine it is a hazardous materials fire by the presence of such signs. Automated alarm systems designed to call for aid can also transmit information about hazards present at the site of a fire. This allows people to develop an action plan for suppressing the fire, containing the materials, and staying as safe as possible.

Since some hazardous materials can directly increase the risk of fire as a result of being reactive, flammable, or explosive, facilities where these materials are stored, handled, and produced must usually take steps to address the risk of a hazardous materials fire. This includes having clear guidelines for handling, installing fire suppression systems, and training personnel to work safely and securely with the materials in question. Devices like ventilating hoods, isolation chambers, and fireproof storage containers can all be used for increased safety.

Once a fire has been successfully suppressed, it is conventional to investigate. Investigators determine the cause of the fire and evaluate contributing factors. If investigators find that hazardous materials were present without adequate warning for fire personnel, people may be fined or otherwise penalized for failing to comply with hazardous materials regulations. In situations where people were doing something illegal with hazardous materials and a fire occurred, those individuals can be criminally liable for injuries and deaths caused by the fire.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Forgot password?