It had started innocently enough.  At summer camp in Florida, a couple other counselors and I took some of the younger campers for an evening canoe ride along the shores and passageways of the lake.  While paddling single file through a narrow passageway, one the campers in my canoe hung her hand over the edge and let her fingers leisurely trail through the water.  I waited a couple of paddle strokes, and then asked her if she was trolling for alligators?  She snatched her hand back as if it had been burned, and the other girls in the canoe all giggled.  Encouraged by their laughter, I decided to try to continue to amuse them.

I told them that a “gator bait dog” would be much better for trolling for alligators than a human hand is.  And that trolling was the only good use I could think of for a “gator bait dog”.  I paused, and sure enough one them asked “what’s a gator bait dog?”   So, I told them that a gator bait dog is a tiny dog with an annoying bark the rarely shuts up.  I continued with describing it as the kind of dog that darts out from under the sofa when you’re not looking, bites you on the ankle, and darts back under the sofa before you can kick it in retaliation.  Steering a canoe requires paddling from the rear, so I couldn’t see any of the girls’ faces.  If I could have seen their faces, I probably wouldn’t have continued, but I couldn’t see them, so I kept on talking.

“Yeah”, I said, “about the only use I see for dogs like Chihuahuas and Yorkies and other ankle-biters is to be gator bait dogs and help me catch alligators”.  Of course, I was kidding, and only trying to get them to giggle a little more.  As I paused to consider where else I could take my spiel, I was informed that Molly’s dog was a Chihuahua, and worse, although I couldn’t see it, that Molly was starting to cry.

It’s not possible to die of embarrassment, because if it were I would have died right then.  What kind of counselor, supposed to be a protector and teacher and positive role model, drives campers to tears?  I was mortified, apologized profusely and repeatedly, and mothballed my gator bait dog comedy routine.  At least I kept it under wraps for a couple of decades.  And then, I needed it.

A student of mine was having trouble with the concept of Packing Group and how it indicates the degree of danger for some HazMat (dangerous goods). After a couple tries unsuccessfully explaining it in different ways, I retrieved part of my gator bait dog routine.  I pointed out that no one wants to be bitten by an animal, just as no one wants to be exposed to dangerous goods.  (Side note to those reading this:  If UN3065 just popped into your mind, you might be an alcoholic 🙂).  But if you absolutely had to be bitten by an animal, it would be much better to be bitten by a Chihuahua than by a tiger.  A tiger bite could snap our spine and kill you, while a Chihuahua would merely dart back under the couch before you could kick it in retaliation for the bite.  Taking the analogy to DG, a tiger bite is PG I, while the Chihuahua bite is PG III.  Animal bites aren’t good, and uncontained GD isn’t good, but some are worse than others, and PG is how we communicate the differences within a given class or division.  And it worked.  The student fully understood.

Today, my typical power point slides include one with two pictures, one of a snarling tiger and the other of a snarling Chihuahua, used to the illustrate the concept of degree of danger, especially regarding PG.  And students laugh at it, but get the concept.

Recently though, one of my favorite instructors (anonymous, but from Manchester with initials JS) caused me to realize how many different ways the DG regulations communicate degree of danger:

  • Packing Group, of course.
  • For radio-actives, we use red bars and vary label colors. A single bar White I though, is less dangerous than three bars, Yellow III, so the scale runs in the opposite direction of PG.
  • Explosives use Hazard Divisions. They all have the same property, they can blow up, but some are worse than others.  As ADR (or RID) shows, they don’t go from 1.1 to 1.6, nor from 1.6 to 1.1, in order of severity, but hop around for no readily apparent reason.
  • Infectious substances of 6.2 use categories. Category A is worse than Category B, which is worse than…, well there are no other categories, although another well-respected DG instructor that I know specializes in 6.2 and suggests that maybe we could use a Category E for excepted or exempted patient specimens.
  • Poison gases of 2.3, and certain liquids of 6.1 that rapidly evaporate into poison gases, have Hazard Zones. While 49CFR may be the only DG regulations that formally call them Hazard Zones, check out Proper Shipping Names and additional descriptive text for identification numbers such as UN3381 & UN3382 or UN3490 & UN3491. Call them Hazard Zones or just descriptive text, we certainly address differences in degree of danger for these 6.1, I substances.
  • Self reactive materials of 4.1 and organic peroxides of 5.2 have types, from A to G with Type A being forbidden for transport to Type G being too mild to be regulated.

So, not just PG, but bars, divisions, categories, Hazard Zones and Types communicate degree of danger.  I’m thinking I may need five more sets of my tiger and Chihuahua power point slides to cover all these different methods.

And I wonder if Molly still has a Chihuahua.

Written 6/22/2014 for HCB Magazine