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HEALTH Issues Safety Reminders for First Responders During Flood Response Activities

The Rhode lsland Department of Health (HEALTH) reminds anyone participating in flood response activities to 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.

Seek first aid or medical treatment if you experience the following symptoms after working in a contaminated area: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, muscle aches, fever, abdominal cramps, skin rashes, dizziness, or fatigue. 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. Please note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend an updated Tetanus vaccination every 5 years for healthcare providers and every 10 years for the general public. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends a 5-year vaccination interval for first responders.

First responders should take the following additional precautions during flood response activities:

Hand Washing

  • 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.

Protective Clothing

  • 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.
  • Other Hazards

    • If working in or around flooded homes or buildings, minimize exposure to mildew and mold by wearing N-95 masks, if available. If N-95 masks are not available, surgical masks can be worn. 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.

    For additional flood safety reminders, see For more information, visit or call 222-5960.

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