Immediate, operational decontamination knowledge saved my life

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kevin Spranger
  • 8th Civil Engineer Squadron
I remember one time when knowing how to properly perform immediate and operational decontamination saved my life.

My buddy and I were walking around the base perimeter when out of nowhere a crop duster flew directly over us and sprayed the area. My buddy looked at me and said, "That dude is way off course." That's when we heard the attack sirens go off. I immediately put on my protective mask and started to run for cover, but it was too late. I was in the chemical danger zone.

I knew I had to get out of the contamination and perform an immediate decontamination to all exposed skin within three to five minutes using the M291 skin decontaminating kit. The nearest shelter was an overhang, so I drove underneath it. Once out of the falling chemicals, I preceded to decontaminate my face by first holding my breath and closing my eyes. Next, I pulled the mask away from my chin just enough to allow one hand to pass between my face and mask. I then proceeded to use the M291 to decontaminate my face by starting at one ear and going to my nose, and finally to my other ear. Once all of my face was done, I decontaminated the inside of my mask using the same M291.

With my face and mask taken care of, I moved on to my hands. Using a new M291, I decontaminated both hands. With all that done I knew I could now finish putting on the rest of my chemical protection suit. That's when my buddy looked at me and started laughing. He claimed there was no way we could have been exposed to chemical agents because he felt fine. I tried explaining that some agents had delayed reaction times, but he wouldn't listen. I even pointed out the fact that there were color changes on our M9 paper, but still he refused to decontaminate.

About 30 minutes later he started to show signs of nerve agent poisoning. I quickly administered one of his auto-injectors. Once his symptoms subsided, he finally decontaminated himself. It's never too late to decontaminate.

I told him we still needed to get him to the clinic for additional medical treatment, so we started walking back to our truck. Once we got there I checked the M8 paper that was placed on it. It had blue spots all over, which meant only one thing -- that crop duster had sprayed us with a V-series nerve agent. I knew I now had to perform an operational decontamination of the truck using the M295 individual equipment decontamination kit. Luckily, the windows were rolled up and the air conditioner was left off, so I only had to decontaminate the driver and passenger doors. Had the windows been left down, I would have had to decontaminate everything inside the truck that we would touch.

We got to the clinic and my buddy got the care he needed. He wasn't too happy when the medics stripped him down and sent him through patient decontamination, but that's what he gets for not properly decontaminating. As for me, my decontamination story had just one more chapter in it, Contamination Control Area processing. Since my suit was contaminated I needed to go to the CCA. It was a long line of bins, chairs, buckets and a whole lot of bleach. Starting at the entrance, first I had to decontaminate and remove all external equipment using an M295. Next I went through the boot wash and used bleach to clean off my boots. The mask wipe area was next, where you guessed it, I wiped off my mask with more bleach. I then took off my overboots at the overboot removal area, which was then followed by the overgarment removal area.

After getting monitored for residual contamination, I could then take off my protective mask. Finally I removed my chemical protection gloves and was free to pass into the toxic-free zone. What a fun-filled day of decontaminating that was.

So even though my story was just a story, it could happen. Always know how to decontaminate yourself, your buddy and your equipment.