Public Baths as Poison Gas Decontamination Centres

Baths and Bath Engineering The Official journal of the National Association of Baths Superintendents No.51 May 1938 Vol.5 p.104 to 105

Public Baths as Poison Gas Decontamination Centres

By E. H. WHITTLE (Holborn)

UNDER this title, the object of this article is to provide a ready means of reference and mode of procedure for the use of baths officers who may be called upon in their respective localities to prepare their establishments for adaptation to poison gas decontamination centres at extremely short notice.

The order in which this adaptation process will invariably take shape will follow three phases, namely :­

(1)  Co-operation with Local A.R.P. Organisation.

Preliminary survey of baths premises. Obtaining necessary materials and fitting same on site.

Training of baths staff, together with the additional volunteers allocated for the “centre.”

Periodical refresher rehearsals.

(2) State o f Emergency.

Immediate cessation of public bath services.

Fitting up of premises, gas-proofing and splinter protection.

Building black-out.

Staff on “stand by” basis.

(3) Action Stations.,

Staff on three-watch system.

Phase (1) can now be regarded as the “immediate” problem, dependent in the main upon the present state of the local A.R.P. organisation, and whilst localities may differ somewhat in details, the baths establishments to be adapted for this particular service will be seen to possess a great similarity in the essentials, and are in a general sense the most readily adapted of all buildings.

Let us first see, then, what are the peculiar requirements of a poison gas decontamination centre and, later, to adapt a public bath to this service, thus allowing baths officers to form their own conclusion as to the suitability of their premises for this service.

The ideal poison gas decontamination centre must provide means (at• very short notice) whereby hundreds of men, «-amen and children may be dealt with who have been either:-­

(1) Gassed,

(2) Gassed and wounded,

(3) Wounded and contaminated, or

(4) Contaminated.

It has been thought in some air raid precaution circles that decontamination centres will not be expected to deal with the first two classes, but, at the immediate present, I cannot see automatic segregation taking place out in the streets during air raid conditions. Therefore, some of the first two classes are bound to arrive at the decontamina­tion centre and, as they cannot be turned away, then provision must be made for their accom­modation and treatment.

The “centre must, therefore, provide ready access to all classes of poison gas casualties, with means of reception, record, classification and, what may be termed, simultaneous sex segregation.”

To avoid confusing readers with details of treatment or the action of various persistent and non-persistent gases, I will keep as near as possible to the building proper and services.

All floors, walls, doors, stairs, etc., should be of impervious finish and, wherever porous materials occur in interiors, these should be treated with sodium silicate solution (dilute waterglass). Soft wood floors should be covered with new linoleum, but as these are rare in public baths, such details may be disregarded here.

An unlimited supply of hot water should be available at all times, with such supply capable of being maintained over prolonged periods and to many points of the building. Wherever possible, the ability to keep huge quantities of water in storage independent of water mains supply may be regarded as an immense advantage, as water is an absolute necessity to the decontamination service and the possibility of water mains being put out of action roust not be lost sight of.

Furnaces, in which to burn quantities of con­taminated clothes, boots and materials, will be essential to the ideal centre, as to have to ,accumulate a quantity of such refuse will constitute a danger in itself.

A system of mechanical ventilation, where the intake for air can be fitted with baffled decontam control, together with a secondary lighting system, live steam and mechanical power, are all invalu­able services and seldom found contained all in one building excepting public baths, very few of which have not got them all.

Having outlined what may be called the “essentials” we will proceed to adapt a public bath building as a poison gas decontamination centre both for personnel and also for materials auxiliary to such.

The specimen lay-out may be taken as indica­tive of the general principles only; details as to dimensions, exact positions of entrances, exits, records offices, clothing and chemical stores, and staff accommodation must of necessity be governed by the construction and lot-out of the building to be adapted.

The “decontam centre” should be provided with outside verandah, extending well to the sides of the entrances. This may be constructed of temporary and renewable materials. Under the verandah, over the whole length of the sheltered pavement are placed shallow trays containing bleach powder. These trays should be placed so that persons entering the building must walk through the “bleach.”

The entrance should be fitted with an “air­lock” and this may be constructed easily with metal tubing over which is stretched and secured American cloth or oil sheeting. Sufficient space must be allowed between the doors or hanging curtains (oil sheeted, too), to allow the passage of persons or stretchers without both the inner and outer doors and curtains being open at the same time.

The entrance hall should contain a records office (possibly the pay-box suitably adapted), seats, and a partitioned space for waiting stretcher cases classification and segregation should be done in the reception hall if possible.

It is presumed that the greater number of people will be just “contaminated” that is sprayed or splashed with a vesicant (blister causing agent) such as mustard gas or lewisite. We will now, therefore, dispose of these first, although they may not be the most urgent cases.

The “unwounded contaminated” would proceed to undressing rooms where they would discard all clothing into airtight bins, preferably placed outside a window or area. They now pass into the shower or washing rooms, t`-here showers of warm water, soap and flesh and nail brushes provide the essentials for general decontamination, all used water being run to waste. Clean towels for each person complete the operation and the now decontaminated person passes on in ” a one-way traffic stream ” to the clean cloth­ing store where he obtains in the way of clothing what will enable him to reach home.

Any person who has been splashed with liquid mustard gas may require to apply bleach ointment to the affected or suspected parts. This may be done during the washing process and the ointment allowed to remain on the part for one minute, when it is washed off and the ordinary routine proceeded with.

It will be seen from the foregoing that an ideal system for decontaminating large numbers of people is available on both bath and basement levels and that adjacent ancillary rooms may be put into service as dressing rooms, undressing rooms, clothing stores, etc.

The treatment of ” ‘wounded and contamin­ated ” casualties appears to lend itself well to the warm bath section, as each cubicle provides the essentials necessary to this difficult class, requiring as it does individual attention and help. The bath itself, walls and floor can be cleaned easily and put to use again without any undue delay. The arrangement of a separate exit from this section is one for local provision and adaptation.

Before leaving the personnel section, I would emphasise that, in order to ensure that the most urgent cases are dealt with first, special atten­tion should be paid to the ” reception “lay-out in which all cases are classified by those qualified to do so. It will be well, therefore, to seek co-operation when planning this important section, as delay in segregation and treatment may have serious results.

Gassed uncontaminated cases (those suffering from the effects of chlorine, phosgene, etc.), will require provision being made for rest, warmth, and fresh air. Any club room adaptable to this use may be planned to provide these, care being taken to place them well away from contaminated air.

The decontamination of materials can be carried out readily in the public wash-house, where stretchers, protective clothing, rubber boots, utensils, and articles of common usage in first-aid work can be decontaminated and dried.

The existing establishment laundry can be made to maintain the whole ” centre ” with clean sterile towels, sheets and blankets, an important provision very often overlooked in preliminary planning.

It will be seen from the foregoing ” specimen lay-out ” that much of the preliminary prepara­tion for conversion can be put into operation without delay, and certainly without any inter­ference with the peace time activities of the establishments concerned.

Active and willing co-operation with the local A.R.P. organisation will ensure assistance being given in all local problems of making the decon­tamination centre gas proof, also splinter proof as far as possible, with due regard being paid to the protection and blacking out of swimming bath glass roofs.

The efficiency of this latter measure can be ascertained by test observations carried out during the localities’ “mock raids,’-‘ during which a special lookout is usually made for ” reflecting targets. “

It will be found that if careful thought be given to the preparation of a baths building, and every possible provision be made in accordance with Home Office A.R.P. publications during peace time, should a ” state of emergency ” be declared it will be possible to convert the baths establish­ment to that of a poison gas decontam centre in a few hours, and further if such provision has been wisely carried out and the staff of the establishment trained in their duties for A.R.P. work, the period of transition will be shortened considerably.

To complete the whole operation of conversion in the form of a ” dress rehearsal ” from time to time will prove very sound practice especially if the “rehearsal” be held in conjunction with the local “mock raid.”

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