Flood Information for First Responders
People participating in flood response activities should take precautions when working in floodwater. Floodwaters may contain raw sewage or other hazardous substances that can cause infections such as E. coli, Hepatitis A, or Tetanus.
What you should do
First responders should take the following precautions during flood response activities:
To avoid exposure to waterborne illness, wash your hands with soap and clean, running water or use alcohol-based hand gels before work and meal breaks, at the end of work shifts, and after handling contaminated clothing or equipment.
- If you will be working in or near a flooded area, wear chemical-resistant outer clothing, boots, protective eye goggles, and plastic or rubber gloves. Protective clothing is especially necessary when working in flooded areas with known chemical storage or chemical release hazards.
- If possible, layer latex disposable gloves over cut-resistant gloves. Avoid touching your face with contaminated gloves and properly discard or disinfect gloves after use.
- Do not place equipment or clothing that has come into contact with contaminated floodwater in personal vehicles.
- If possible, shower and launder contaminated clothing before returning home.
- If working in or around flooded homes or buildings, minimize exposure to mildew and mold by wearing N-95 masks, available at building supply stores, safety supply stores and hardware stores. Dust masks and surgical masks are not recommended because mold and other particles can pass through them. Wear gloves and eye protection as well.
- Discard mold-damaged materials in plastic bags and clean wet items and surfaces with detergent and water.
- Be aware of exposure to potential chemical or electrical hazards when participating in flood response activities. If working with portable generators, keep them dry and follow instructions for proper handling and safety. Never use a generator indoors or in poorly ventilated areas, due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Place portable generators outdoors and away from doors, windows, and vents.
- If working near roads or highways, remain aware of work zones and traffic control plans and the locations of signs, cones, barrels, and barriers.
- Ground may become saturated with water during heavy flooding, causing sinkholes and unstable terrain. Be aware of these hazards when working in water trenching operations or flooded areas.
When to seek medical care
Seek first aid or medical treatment if you experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, muscle aches, fever, abdominal cramps, skin rashes, dizziness, or fatigue after working in a contaminated area.
If skin is broken and has come into contact with contaminated material and it has been five years since your last Tetanus shot, you should talk to your healthcare provider about receiving another Tetanus vaccination. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends a 5-year vaccination interval for first responders.
Hepatitis A virus infections are not common in Rhode Island and the risk of spread through contaminated floodwaters is very low. A vaccine against Hepatitis A is available and is administered in two doses 6 months apart.