Security Levels

National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) check current status

Pacific Strike Team (PST) | Response Highlight


Not your everyday 'Level A' in American Samoa…


POSTED MAY 1st, 2012

Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Schofield, Public Information Assist Team, National Strike Force

PAGO PAGO, AMERICAN SAMOA - Looking at the lush forests, large Samoan Mahogany trees, and laid-back island people, one would never know that a potentially deadly threat was buried nearby – a threat that could attack at a moment’s notice.   
A large quantity of potentially dangerous high and low pressure gas cylinders containing chlorine and anhydrous ammonia were found at a scrap yard on the west side of American Samoa near the international airport, and the Environmental Protection Agency called the experts at the National Strike Force’s Pacific Strike Team to assist. 
In October 2007, the American Samoa Power Authority awarded a contract to clear a seven acre scrap metal yard in preparation for airport expansion. During the initial period of metal removal, multiple site workers were sent to a local hospital when a piece of heavy equipment crushed a discarded cylinder, releasing the toxic chemicals.  No one was seriously harmed, but it signaled the need for a cautious, organized solution. 
Christopher Weden, the EPA On Scene Coordinator in charge of the current operation in American Samoa, said chlorine and anhydrous ammonia pose a significant hazard to skin, eyes, and respiration, requiring the responders to operate in “Level A” personal protective equipment.  

Strike Team assistance in Pago Pago

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Cody Staneart, a marine science technician, Petty Officer 1st Class Josh Rogers, a boatswain's mate both with the Pacific Strike Team, Duane Newell, with the Environmental Protection Agency, use a special drill to tap an anhydrous ammonia high pressure tank to make it safe and prepare it for disposal, June 11, 2012, at an EPA clean-up site near the Pago Pago airport. National Strike Force personnel are the Coast Guard's highly trained hazardous materials responders and they work with other federal, state and local response organizations to ensure the public's safety. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Schofield.


Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is classified as Level A, B, C, or D, according to the level of protection it provides a person who may be exposed to hazardous materials.   When choosing PPE, factors that responders must consider are whether or not the hazard is fully identified, whether the hazard poses exposure risk through inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion, or eye contact, and the material the PPE is made of.
Level A provides the highest level of protection and is worn when a hazard is the greatest.  It consists of a self-contained breathing apparatus, optional cooling vest, gloves, and a hard hat, all worn inside a fully-encapsulating chemical resistant suit.   Conversely, Level D provides the lowest level of protection and may consist of everyday items such as work coveralls, safety goggles, and gloves. 

Strike Team assistance in Pago Pago

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Cody Staneart, a marine science technician, Petty Officer 1st Class Josh Rogers, a boatswain's mate both with the Pacific Strike Team, Duane Newell, with the Environmental Protection Agency and Fireman Maino Mose, a nozzle man and safety back-up with the American Samoa Fire Department, use a special drill to tap an anhydrous ammonia high pressure tank to make it safe and prepare it for disposal, June 11, 2012, at an EPA clean-up site near the Pago Pago airport. National Strike Force personnel are the Coast Guard's highly trained hazardous materials responders and they work with other federal, state and local response organizations to ensure the public's safety. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Schofield.


Chief Petty Officer Carrie Lee Gagnon, a marine science technician, was one of the PST members who deployed to American Samoa. She said wearing the Level A equipment requires practice and training because it inhibits dexterity, visibility, and stamina.
 “When we are in these Level A suits, especially here in American Samoa, it is really hot and humid,” Gagnon said. “It feels much hotter than what the thermometer says. It adds a little extra effort to an already difficult job.”
Although the PST participates regularly in exercise scenarios that imagine the worst-possible disasters, real-world responses that require Level A equipment are quite rare.  The PST more commonly responds to sites that require Level B or lesser protective gear.
 “When I received a call saying that I would be headed out here to do a real Level A entry job, I was nervous and excited, because we rarely get the opportunity to suit up and work with really dangerous chemicals,” said Gagnon.
The PST members used a special drill to “tap” each cylinder and siphon off the chemicals into water tanks or chemical neutralizing baths; anhydrous ammonia quickly bonds with water, and it turns the water into an ammonia by-product similar to household cleaners that can be used as an old-fashioned fertilizer.  Chlorine was siphoned off into a similar chemical tank, but sodium hydroxide was added to the mixture to create a basic salt water mixture.  


Throughout the operation, the American Samoa Fire Department was on hand to suppress chemicals and toxic vapors in the event of an uncontrolled release. The fire department was also responsible for evacuations of the nearby businesses and for air monitoring, if necessary.

Once all of the cylinders were drained and the chemicals neutralized, the team cleaned up the debris and decontaminated their Level A suits and all the equipment they used, getting everything ready for the next response. 

 “Practice always pays off, in this field and particularly with Level A… that’s why I would always call on the strike team to help out in a Level A case,” said Weden.  “If we didn’t take this action and the cylinders continued to deteriorate, they could have posed a significant threat to the health and welfare of the American Samoa public.  Everything we do is to keep people safe.”

 

 

coast guard rod small

“The World’s Best Responders: Any Time, Any Place, Any Hazard.”

Last Modified 9/19/2013