CAMEO: The Hazardous Chemical Alert System

By Rachel Martin

November 1, 2011 Updated Nov 1, 2011 at 6:58 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – The Fort Wayne Fire Department (FWFD), Fort Wayne-Allen County Homeland Security, and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) said they knew a hazardous chemical was inside the Momper Insulation warehouse when they received the 911 call Sunday morning.

That hazardous chemical is Polymeric Diphenylmethane Diisocyanate, otherwise known as a form of cyanide. It is one of the least hazardous forms of cyanide, but can still irritate the eyes and lungs. IDEM officials said they did catch a significant portion of the run-off in Junk Ditch by building dams and using sand bags and cotton booms.

But the question is, how did they know?

Homeland Security and IDEM officials both credit a computer software database called, “CAMEO” run by the Indiana Emergency Regulatory Commission (IERC). IERC is a cooperative function of a couple state agencies. IDEM employees work for IERC, but the function is housed in Homeland Security.

Here is how CAMEO works: Businesses and industries are required to report annually, any hazardous chemicals housed in their facility. They must include details such as contact information, site safety plans, and diagrams of the facility indicating where the chemicals are located.

“That information is then disseminated by the state back to the local emergency planning committees (LEPC) and fire departments so they’re aware that those hazards are present on those buildings should there be an emergency there,” said Rich Hackel, On-Scene Coordinator with IDEM.

Whenever an emergency call is made, whether it’s a minor medical run, or a huge industrial fire, local emergency responders are alerted of what chemical dangers they might face. Bernie Beier, Director of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Homeland Security said it helps police, paramedics, and fire departments know what kind of tactical approach they need to take in an emergency.

“Having the information available that they could be dealing with chemicals early on put us in a position to put people assigned to that task away from the scene to start researching what might be involved and what might it do with the fire,” said Bernie Beier referring to the Momper Insulation fire on Sunday. “I think it gave the tactical fire command some really good in-depth information to make some of those smart decisions.”

Beier said FWFD should have been alerted on their way to the fire on Sunday, but it is also impossible to know everything that is inside a burning building. That’s something firefighters won’t know until they can get inside.

“Firefighters know that there’s all kinds of toxic things that could be in a fire, whether it’s tires, oils or things like that,” Beier said. “In a fire this size, you simply don’t know all the ‘knowns’. There are more ‘unknowns’ than ‘knowns’ and that’s why we have to take the most protective measures that we can early on…and it worked very well.”

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