Drone reveals trouble brewing in ‘harmless’ drum during Florida hazmat scare

hazmat drone

Residents and businesses in the 4000 block of Louis Avenue in Holiday, Florida, knew things were serious when Pasco County Fire Rescue issued evacuation orders last week. But just “how serious” is something that even first responders didn’t fully understand until they had a thermal drone up in the air to monitor what was initially considered a “small fire?”

The hazmat incident occurred on the afternoon of August 19. Pasco County Fire Rescue’s Engine 12 arrived on the scene and found a 55-gallon barrel of sodium hydrosulfite that was causing a toxic cloud of smoke to blow across the street. While extinguishing a small fire coming from the drum, firefighters created a 500-feet safety zone and evacuated nearby homes and businesses.

In powder form, sodium hydrosulfite is hazardous to handle. But mix the powder with water, and the chemical becomes even more volatile. With this in mind, when firefighters from Pasco County Fire Rescue performed further reconnaissance, they suspected a violent chemical reaction was taking place inside the barrel containing the substance.

Also read: Can drones prevent drownings at Lake Michigan, the deadliest Great Lake?

It was then that they launched a thermal drone to check the temperature of the barrel containing the chemical. Drone data told them that the barrel was stable but holding high heat. Local hazmat and environmental cleanup crews were called to the scene, and they were able to remove the barrel from the business around 2 a.m.

Drones makes the invisible visible with thermal sensors

The video below shows a side-by-side comparison of the thermal images and the visual images the drone took. Note that objects appear whiter as they get hotter in the thermal image. The team from Pasco County Fire Rescue highlights in their report:

The barrel appears harmless in the visual image, but under the thermal image, the chemical reaction of the sodium hydrosulfite is clearly visible. Hazmat crews took great care to keep the chemical stable until cleanup crews could arrive. We are thankful that everyone in the surrounding residents and businesses evacuated quickly and that no one was hurt.

Hazmat drones are a gamechanger

As any first responder would tell you, drones are amazing and useful tools in emergency situations. Having a drone in the air is very different from looking at something with binoculars from a distance. Moreover, with thermal drones, firefighters get an unprecedented level of situational awareness, with the biggest advantage being that no person needs to be put in harm’s way.

Read more: Houston firm launches autonomous drone platform for 911 calls

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