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NIST Issues Guidelines to Protect First Responders Exposed to Chemical, Biological, Radiological or Nuclear Agents

A new report issued today by the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is the first comprehensive set of basic procedures for decontaminating protective clothing and equipment of fire and rescue personnel responding to a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear—CBRN—attack. The report was released today at the National Homeland Security Technology Expo in Washington, D.C.

"This information will help our nation's brave men and women who respond to America's alarms protect themselves and others in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack," said NIST Director Arden L. Bement, Jr.

"This is not a book that will sit on the shelf in the firehouse. It is a tool that should be on every fire truck in the country," said Chief Philip C. Stittleburg, chair of the National Volunteer Fire Council. "Written in plain, easy-to-follow language, it can be used as a primary reference at an emergency scene, when time and information are both critical," he said.

While the concentration of a CBRN agent may be diminished greatly by the time fire and rescue personnel arrive at the scene, exposure to even a small amount of some toxic agents can contaminate clothing and equipment. If not carefully and properly decontaminated at the scene of the incident, first responders, or those who come in contact with their clothing or equipment, can become ill or die.

Also, first responders may be required to respond to multiple incidents. Since most fire and rescue departments cannot afford to discard protective clothing and equipment, they must be decontaminated before leaving the scene.

The report consolidates decontamination guidelines and procedures from a wide range of sources, including fiber and protective equipment manufacturers, fire departments, and U.S. government laboratories specializing in chemical, biological and radiological research. It includes information on decontamination basics and specific information on decontamination following either a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident or "worst-case" attacks with multiple agents. Detailed information on common CBRN agents is provided along with decontamination methods specific for each agent.

The report, Aid for Decontamination of Fire and Rescue Service Protective Clothing and Equipment After Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Exposures (NIST Special Publication 981), was co-authored by Theodore L. Jarboe, a Montgomery County, Md., Fire and Rescue Service bureau chief and fire marshal, and J. Randall Lawson, a scientist in the NIST Building and Fire Research Laboratory.

The U.S. Fire Administration funded and provided technical assistance in the development of the report.

NIST will distribute the report to several hundred of the nation's largest fire departments. The information in the report may be downloaded from A limited number of reports are available by faxing or e-mailing a request to Ellen Altman, ellen.altman [at] (ellen[dot]altman[at]nist[dot]gov); fax: (301) 975-4052. Copies also will be available shortly from the National Technical Information Service (order number PB2003-100130),, (703) 605-6585; and the U.S. Government Printing Office (order number SN003-003-03752-4),, (866) 512-1800.

As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration, NIST develops and promotes measurement, standards and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade and improve the quality of life.

Released September 19, 2002, Updated January 25, 2023