04/20/09 270 W, 1 I - + 15 - 14 The History of the Haz-Mat Symbol

Here's an interesting bit of North Carolina haz-mat history. On July 9, 1959, the Charlotte Fire Department was dispatched to the old Charlotte Chemical Company on West Templeton Avenue, just off South Boulevard. The building was being demolished, and a large vat of materials had been left in the basement. Crews arrived and found fire within the vat. They thought the burning material was kerosene, and fought the flames as such. Yet the heat and the intensity of the fire increased. The decision was made to apply foam, and then the vat exploded. Thirteen firefighters were injured, several with critical injuries. One firefighter lost both ears and most of his face. He retired from his injuries. Another injured member later committed suicide.

What was learned was that the vat contained a hundred pounds of metallic sodium sealed in kerosene. Heavy rains, from the remnants of a hurricane earlier in the month, had penetrated the exposed vat. The water reacted with the sodium and ignited the kerosene, which started the fire. The incident had a profound effect on the Charlotte Fire Department. The need for training was made obvious, protective clothing became a priority, and the Fire Prevention inspection program was expanded. Toward the latter, Fire Marshal J. F. Morris developed a marking system to identify hazardous materials inside buildings. The diamond-shaped symbols indicated the presence of haz-mats, and their levels of flammability, health hazards, and reactivity. The symbols were later adopted by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) as Standard 704. And now you know the rest of the story. Source: Charlotte Fire Department Millennium History 2000.

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