The University of Arizona

Advanced Hazmat Life Support(c) Course

By Jean Spinelli, March 17, 2003

As terrorism threat continues, UA College of Medicine's international program focuses on medical management of hazardous materials incidents.

When a truck carrying nearly 9,000 gallons of liquid propane overturned on I-10 in February, the accident easily could have turned into a hazardous material (hazmat) incident had the cargo leaked or exploded. In addition to being extremely flammable, the compressed gas affects the central nervous system, causing headache, dizziness, nausea and, in high concentrations, asphyxiation; skin contact with the liquid causes burns similar to frostbite.

To meet the challenge of responding to hazmat threats, more than 30 paramedics, nurses, physicians and other health professionals from throughout the U.S. will attend the Advanced Hazmat Life Support (AHLS) Course, Wednesday, March 19, through Friday, March 21, at the Arizona Cancer Center, Kiewit Auditorium, 1501 N. Campbell Ave., Tucson.

A hazardous material is defined as any substance -- solid, liquid or gas -- capable of harming people, property or the environment. U.S. Department of Transportation data shows that every state is affected by hazmat incidents, some of which result in deaths and major injuries.

"Hazmat exposures pose a threat to communities and individuals both locally and internationally," says Dr. Frank Walter, course director, chair of the AHLS Scientific Advisory Committee and chief of the Division of Medical Toxicology at the University of Arizona Department of Emergency Medicine in Tucson. "The Advanced Hazmat Life © course is the only international one if its kind where attendees learn medical management of hazmat incidents, from everyday hazmat exposures to biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear weapons."

The AHLS Course is offered by the Arizona Emergency Medicine Research Center (AEMRC), a Center of Excellence at the UA College of Medicine, in collaboration with the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology (AACT).

Nuclear terrorism response training is included in the AHLS curriculum that instructs emergency responders on the medical management of victims of bioterrorism and other hazmat exposures, whether from intentional acts, inadvertent hazmat transportation or industrial incidents, natural disasters causing toxic releases or an individual exposure to a toxic substance.

The AHLS course covers important hazmat properties; decontamination; rapid assessment and medical treatment of hazmat-exposed patients; antidotes and drug therapy; and establishment of hazmat-response systems in the community. Each course involves a board-certified toxicologist and medical doctor and is taught by AHLS verified instructors. The AHLS program also trains other medical personnel to become AHLS instructors who bring the course to their regions. The course format includes lectures followed by small-group interactive case studies and concludes with provider and instructor exams.

AEMRC has conducted the three-day program since 1999 when it was developed by Dr. Walter; Harvey Meislin, MD, AEMRC director and head, UA Department of Emergency Medicine; and Tucson Fire Department Captain Raymond Klein, who saw a need for a program addressing medical management of patients exposed to hazardous materials in addition to decontamination of patients.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the number of Advanced Hazmat Life Support© (AHLS) courses has more than doubled, training more than 1,800 emergency responders throughout the world. Participants have included paramedics, nurses, physicians, pharmacists, physician assistants, toxicologists, industrial hygienists and risk-management personnel from more than 26 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Greece, Mexico, Brazil, Switzerland, Italy and Australia, as well as Hong Kong.

"AHLS enables health care providers to become the guardian angels of the front-line heroes -- the firefighters, medics and law enforcement officers who respond to hazmat incidents and terrorist attacks," Dr. Walter says. "AHLS also enables health care providers to provide state-of-the-art medical therapy for victims of hazmat incidents and toxic terrorism."