National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Hazmat Incident Operations


Firefighters may encounter hazardous materials (hazmat) in the field and should recognize that it requires special precautions. Hazardous materials include, but are not limited to, clandestine drug waste, which may look like common household trash at first glance; midnight dumping, which may be recognized by the presence of barrels or containers, discoloration of land, plants, or water, and/or dead vegetation and animals; and transportation accidents with spillage or release of hazmat that may result in danger to life, property, or resources.

Think Safety

  • Assess situation.
  • Safe approach: upwind/upgrade/upstream.
  • Identify, isolate, establish perimeter, and deny entry.
  • Notify agency dispatcher.
  • Use Global Positioning System (GPS) for exact location.
  • Request assistance and identify a safe route.

Scene Management

  • The goal is to protect life, environment, and property.
  • Attempt to identify substance using Emergency Response Guide (use binoculars to look for placards/labels, container shapes/colors, Material Safety Data Sheets, shipping papers, and license plate).
  • Assess quantity of material involved.
  • Identify exposures and hazards surrounding the site.
  • Anticipate weather influences.

Isolation Distances

  • Minor event (1 drum, 1 bag, etc.) = 150 feet.
  • Major event (more than 1 drum or bag, etc.) = 500 feet.
  • Residential/light commercial = 300 feet.
  • Open areas = 1,000 feet.
  • BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion) potential = 2,500 feet (one-half mile).
  • Stage arriving units 2,500 feet upwind.
  • Position vehicles heading out.


Misc Fireline Hazards
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Mar 2022

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