The technology is called infrared spectroscopy, which compares and distinguishes one substance from another, among other things.
The device used to measure it is an IR spectrometer. The device takes a sample of a substance and determines if it contains harmful chemicals.
The gadget is being used by the Northwest Georgia Special Operations Team — a hazardous materials unit with agents at the Gordon County and Calhoun fire departments — on calls that require such technology.
Thanks to a recent $20,000 grant from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), the hazardous materials team will be getting an upgraded version of the spectrometer.
“We already have one, but this is going to be an upgraded one with all the (newest) technology,” said David Hawkins, Gordon County Fire Chief.
The device allows the hazardous materials team to quickly evaluate the potential risks of a substance found in a building, for example. Once they identify the substance, they can determine the next course of action.
The device is housed at the Gordon County Fire Department but is used by any department on the hazardous materials team, which includes units in the Murray County, Whitfield County, Gordon County, Calhoun, Dalton and Chatsworth fire departments.
Though the device is not part of everyday fire department calls, the hazardous materials team understands that the risk still remains.
“With I-75 running through here, three railways and the industry that we have here, the threat (of a chemical spill) is very high,” said Bo Nicholson, a lieutenant with the Gordon County Fire Department and a member of the hazardous materials team.
The team trains at least once a year on managing a serious chemical spill.
Recently, the team created a scene in which a factory had a major chemical spill and many employees became contaminated.
The team practiced setting up a decontamination area and transporting the victims to the hospital.
“The first step is identifying the problem,” Nicholson said, which would include using the IR spectrometer. “Then we would set up a decontamination area and bring in any other equipment we would need.”
The team would then stop any leaks they found within a factory, for example, and then maintain the scene for 24 hours to make sure it was safe to reenter.