Methamphetamine (Meth) labs are nothing new. What’s new are the methods of making them and the cooperative response between fire departments and law enforcement.
Meth labs are a fire hazmat scene and a crime scene…
Meth labs have been around since the 1970’s and were predominantly on the West Coast of the US. The main type and manufacturing method was that of P2P – 1 Phenyl-2-Proponone. As time went on, so too were the ways Meth was made and their spread across the country. Red Phosphorus (Red-P) and the “Nazi” method became more prevalent as has the newest method the “One Pot”. Each of these methods have their own unique process as well as hazards to everyone including first responders.
Red-P Hazards: Phosphine, Red phosphorus converting from yellow or white phosphorus, Sulfuric or Muriatic acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Hydrochloric acid, Acetone.
Nazi Hazards: Anhydrous Ammonia, Lithium, Sulfuric or Muriatic acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Hydrochloric acid, Acetone.
One Pot: Ammonium nitrate, Lithium, Sulfuric or Muriatic acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Hydrochloric acid just to name a few…
In the 80’s, law enforcement had no real training in how hazardous these chemicals where just simply by themselves let alone mixed together. Unfortunately several officers developed serious acute and chronic health effects. Some were so severe that they either had to retire or passed away.
With time came training for law enforcement officers in basic air monitoring and ppe which made these types of scene’s a little safer. Unfortunately, joint training was rarely conducted between the fire service and law enforcement. Not only are these chemicals toxic but flammable as well. So why not have someone on scene that can offer protection against several of these issues and provide first aid or rescue of personnel should something go wrong? “Meth labs are a fire hazmat scene”! “Meth labs are a crime scene”! Well, they’re both. So why not work them together.
Unfortunately, not enough of these joint responses are happening across the country
Fire departments can offer: air monitoring, fire suppression / decon,Â Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) and first aid. Wouldn’t it be better to have the FD standing by rather than calling for them after a flash fire or chemical spill has happened during the crime scene investigation or worse, someone goes down? Anyone entering these structures needs to be decontaminated. Especially the “cooks”. Hospital ER’s shut down as soon as a contaminated or perceived contaminated patient shows up. FD’s train on decon, RIT, air monitoring and EMS all the time. Why not take advantage of their training. “Law enforcement doesn’t like to call the FD because they send so many trucks”. This is one of the complaints commonly heard. If training is conducted prior to an incident and a game plan has been developed, then law enforcement gets to level of assistance from FD without “the whole world showing up” and a safer more well organized scene evolves. Several fire department hazmat teams respond with officers to these types of labs and are even responding to “grow houses” for similar reasons. Unfortunately, not enough of these joint responses are happening across the country.
In conclusion, it is essential that the fire service and Law enforcement work together to make these types of incidents as safe for first responders as possible. Reach out to your counter parts and get a game plan now not at 3 am. Many jurisdictions have established very good relationships between Law and Fire for hazard mitigation and investigation at Meth Lab scenes. Â If your team does not perform joint training reach out now to provide the protection needed not only to each other but the citizens we protect.