Term Paper: Clandestine Drug Labs

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[. . .] When these various agencies arrive at the scene, "The goal should be for all personnel to operate within a unified command system" with no conflict in terms of who is in charge and what should be done. Every one of the groups, including firefighters, has a particular "mission" in such an instance, Lindsey continues; moreover, each member of each group should know that he or she is working in a crime scene, and take the necessary precautions to protect evidence (Lindsey, 1).

The kind of coordination that firefighters and other law enforcement agencies need to approach can be accomplished by training prior to any emergency events. With good foresight and training sessions, there should be no confusion at all when a meth lab is discovered and emergency calls go out, Lindsey continues.

What are the initial considerations that firefighters should embrace? On page 2 Lindsey discusses standards, objectives and goals (SOGs). All personnel in any way linked to an emergency response call (including firefighters) should have good knowledge of the following points: a) a clandestine meth lab is a crime scene -- and if police aren't there because there was a fire and only the firefighters responded initially, they should be called immediately; b) the scene should be treated as a hazmat event (hazardous materials are on hand); c) protective zones should be established and emergency personnel should be kept at a safe distance; d) any unauthorized individuals are to be denied entry to the premises; e) unless there is a fire, law enforcement must first search and secure the building where the meth lab was discovered; and f) "fight fires upwind from a defensive position" (Lindsey, 2).

Even if the lab is a small mobile lab in a vehicle, the same hazards are present as are to be found in a "full-blown lab created for the mass production of methamphetamine"; and indeed that mobile lab can cause serious injury and even death if handled clumsily (Lindsey, 2). In some of the meth labs that Lindsey and DeNicola have witnessed, meth cooks are attempting to produce bigger quantities of "anhydrous ammonia by mixing fertilizer and crystal drain opener in large cylinders." When heat is applied to this mixture, an explosion can result with surprising force and immediacy; in fact Lindsey asserts that "several cooks who used this method were killed over the last several years" (2).

The South Carolina situation with meth labs is changing, according to an article in the Times and Democrat newspaper. Officers with the Lexington County Sheriff's office gave the Calhoun County Firefighters Association an update in the way meth labs are being set up and operated. Lieutenant Thomas Hamilton of the narcotics division spoke to the firefighters and emphasized that while incidents of meth labs "peaked" in the county in 2003 (41 labs shut down), there are still new ones popping up. In fact in 2009 there were 30 labs busted and in 2010 the law enforcement efforts knocked down 43 labs of various sizes.

What was interesting in this report is that the sheriff spokesman said firefighters should "…never go inside a meth lab unless they are trying to save someone inside" (Jordan, 2011). In Calhoun County meth labs are being discovered and shut down but they are more difficult to locate than in the past, Jordan writes, because the labs are smaller and more secluded.

In fact, the "…paraphernalia required to make meth can be carried in a plastic tub and cooked in a three-liter soft drink bottle," the firefighters were told (Jordan, p. 1). "Meth lab equipment and materials have even been found in a backpack" recently, Jordan explained, reporting on the meeting.


In conclusion, because there always seems to be a continuing demand for meth, that means there will continue to be those setting up labs (small or large) and profiting from this scourge. The message for firefighters is clear: when called to a scene with a meth lab, whether there is a fire or just a small explosion, caution and preparation and knowledge and training are vitally important to safety for themselves and for the community. It is extremely dangerous to be near a meth lab when there is fire, and as long as firefighters are trained and alert, they should be able to stay out of harm's way.

Works Cited

Hadlock, Tim. (2010). Clandestine Drug Labs Present Hidden Dangers for Firefighters.

Fire Engineering. Retrieved September 14, 2012, from http://www.fireengineering.com.

Jordan, Larry P. (2011). Calhoun firefighters lean about dangers of meth labs. The Times and Democrat. Retrieved September 15, 2012, from http://thetandd.com.

Lindsey, William, and DeNicola, Michael. (2010). Trust Your Instincts. Fire Chief. Retrieved September 15, 2012, from http://firechief.com.

North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services / Division of Public Health. (2002).

Clandestine Methamphetamine Laboratories Information & Safety Sheet. Retrieved September 15, 2012, from http://www.schs.state.nc.us/epi/oii/hsees.html.

United States Department of Justice / U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. (2012).

Methamphetamine Lab… [END OF PREVIEW]

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