Mass Casualty Decontamination in the United States : An Online Survey of Current Practice
Chilcott, Robert P
Mass casualty decontamination is a public health intervention that would be employed by emergency responders following a chemical, biological, or radiological incident. The decontamination of large numbers of casualties is currently most often performed with water to remove contaminants from the skin surface. An online survey was conducted to explore US fire departments' decontamination practices and their preparedness for responding to incidents involving mass casualty decontamination. Survey respondents were asked to provide details of various aspects of their decontamination procedures, including expected response times to reach casualties, disrobing procedures, approaches to decontamination, characteristics of the decontamination showering process, provision for special populations, and any actions taken following decontamination. The aim of the survey was to identify any differences in the way in which decontamination guidance is implemented across US states. Results revealed that, in line with current guidance, many US fire departments routinely use the "ladder-pipe system" for conducting rapid, gross decontamination of casualties. The survey revealed significant variability in ladder-pipe construction, such as the position and number of fire hoses used. There was also variability in decontamination characteristics, such as water temperature and water pressure, detergent use, and shower duration. The results presented here provide important insights into the ways in which implementation of decontamination guidance can vary between US states. These inconsistencies are thought to reflect established perceived best practices and local adaptation of response plans to address practical and logistical constraints. These outcomes highlight the need for evidence-based national guidelines for conducting mass casualty decontamination.