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Train Training - 

A fellow safety associate of mine, Bill Barnholt was intrigued by a recent discussion on linked-in regarding what I refer to in my text “Practical Haz-Mat” as “what-do-I-do-when-I-get-off-the-Truck” Training. Most textbooks instruct you on “What” to do when you respond, but ignore the more important “How” to do it. “Practical Haz-Mat” demonstrates the “How” when you first arrive. It is formatted off the EPA 165.15 manual for hazardous material “Technicians.” This month we will establish parameters for “your” response, that you can adapt, based on exactly “what” your available resources are for your Departments Response to hazardous materials incidents. Since I am Teaming-up with Bill for his NEW railcar course for first responders, we shall focus on Train Incidents.

Operations Level is not enough –

The first of many discussions we had revolved around the Training level of many Haz-Mat Responders. While much of this has been commented on, Federal Regulations (which set the minimum for your safety) mandate that Emergency Responders for Haz-Mat (Firefighters) must be trained to the “Operations” level. The practical problem with this is simple; Operations level Training will NOT allow you to mitigate a hazardous material railcar incident. While this level is instructed in “most” State Fire Academies, the responder must realize two (2) important facts;

1] This level is for DEFENSIVE Operations ONLY! (Or non-hot zone activities)

2] In most (Train included) incidents you cannot “mitigate” the incident until you enter the “Hot Zone.”

1] DEFENSIVE Operations are NOT performed inside the Hot Zone/Exclusion Zone in an Offensive manner. Operations personnel are RESTRICTED to the Warm Zone and perform DEFENSIVE operations ONLY! These frequently are comprised of diverting, damming, and evacuation of non-“affected” victims as well as other non-offensive mitigation techniques. Operations personnel frequently are not Trained and do not have access to the proper level of CPC (Chemical Protective Clothing) for Offensive tactics.  Fire/Haz Mat Teams who respond to hazardous materials incidents should respond from the “Support” perspective to these incidents. They are NOT designated as mitigation Entry Teams, and should NOT take on that role. If “YOUR” Haz Mat response desires this role, “Technician” Training for your members is a must, BEFORE they begin responding offensively as a mitigation entry Team.

2] Because of the massive volume/contamination/explosion possibilities of working with railcar incidents, the most common technique to limit this disaster is to reduce the volume by shutting off the source, and safely removing the remaining contents AFTER the emergency is over and only then, transfers these remaining contents to an intrinsically safe transportation container. This of course, requires mandatory ENTRY into the Hot Zone. Thus, to accomplish this, Haz Mat “Technicians” must be part of your Railcar Response as Team members. Your mantra should be, “No Technicians, No Entry.”

Manpower vs. Equipment –

The second component discussed for a “professional response” is that of manpower vs. equipment. Regardless of your Department’s financial situation you must realize the correct balance for this equation. “IF” you have large funds and FEW responders, not much will get done. Likewise, “IF” you have HIGH manpower and little funds the same will be true. Balancing this equation is “the key” to a successful response and outcome. To begin this “balancing” determine your potential/actual manpower for a response scene. This may involve factors such as time of day, National vacations, day of week, or other factors specific to your location and regional area. Next; look at your equipment catch for hazardous materials response. What are you really outfitted for? Are you set-up for “affected persons” rescue? Are you set-up for defensive tactics? If these are your equipment priorities, then stay within that discipline. Do NOT extend your Team past these tactics simply because you are on the scene. If you do, you will NOT have the necessary infrastructure to support these operations and someone will invariably get injured. Just because you may purchase equipment does not mean you have the manpower or training to use it safely. If this is the case, always take this equipment temporarily out-of-service, until you build up the proper infrastructure within your Team. This includes “Technician” Training with practical drilling the specifically focuses on the use of this equipment.

Consider a comprehensive FOAM System –

Thirdly, without getting into an in-depth discussion on the benefits of FOAM, as this is a separate response tactic all in its own, please refer to the many articles in the archives regarding class “B” Foam at Class “B” flammable liquid firefighting Foam, when properly deployed also has the benefit of being an excellent vapor suppression system for uncontrolled hazardous materials releases. This system is of excellent use to Fire Departments as it uses many of the equipment elements that already exist in most Fire Departments. In many cases, all that is needed to create a “system” of operation is an eductor, nozzle, and the Foam reserves. When properly applied, the main benefit of hazardous vapor suppression is accomplished. This eliminates many major concerns for Fire/Haz Mat personnel. This system eliminates;

1] Large scale evacuation

2] Flammability

3] Toxic Vapors

These three reductions affect the response in huge ways, no longer is there a need to dedicate important manpower/time for a large evacuation, vehicles, or a site to transport the evacuees to. Due to the reduction of flammability, large scale disastrous fires are avoided as well as destruction of property and any disturbance to the infrastructure. Eliminating toxic vapors in many cases may greatly reduce environmental exposure/damages along with large scale chronic contamination that may follow a community for years to come. This can reduce victim inhalation exposures, negative health effects, drinking water contamination, and preventing a contaminated food chain exposure. For minimal investment, and minimal Training, FOAM systems should be in every equipment catch of every Fire Department/Haz Mat Team.

Dispatch/Direction –

The impact of the initial dispatch information is critical. All Departments should use this as a precursor for their initial response. Once arrived, it may be very difficult to communicate additional needs to on-coming responders arriving later to your central Fire Hall/Base of Operations. Depending on the type of response given, you can pick and choose the EXACT equipment needed from your Team’s equipment catch. This affords two (2) benefits;

1] The proper equipment is on-scene

2] Response has no equipment delay

Secondly; it’s imperative for Operations personnel to respond FROM the appropriate “upwind” direction. This is critical to the survival of the entire Team, personnel safety, and incident. One response downwind or crosswind to an unknown hazardous material release can be fatal to the entire organization. A little extra time to drive around the spill for an upwind response can save everyone’s life. Responding across or through unknown plume releases is absolutely unacceptable! Be sure you have SOME way of determining wind direction BEFORE you leave the building! Remember; the identification of the released product tells you what you can do. Unknowns can kill you before you begin!

Trailer vs. Truck – how do I get there?

How will you support extended operations once on-scene? There are many opinions on this and sometimes I feel they may all be both right and wrong. But, ultimately everyone has to choose one, so make sure your choice functions best for you type of Team. When you re-fit a response vehicle there are a number of considerations you should evaluate for extended operations. Those of us who work outdoors know that you will get the job done, but you can either be miserable or comfortable while the work is being completed. Having the ability for some type of R&R during an extended operation makes the difference between a miserable night and an acceptable one. Your response vehicle is the main element for this difference. A truck may have limited space but is self-powered so this makes up for many response issues. A trailer may have more room, but now needs a unit ready to drag it to the site. Independent generators for power can be carried with a trailer, but a substantial fuel supply for this unit must be contended with. Whichever you decide, be sure to incorporate as many contingents before making your final choice.

Good contractor relationships –

If your Department is like most, remember, once the emergency response for life safety has been completed, time is on your side. Most of us neither have the inventory for hazardous waste or the 90 day short-term storage permit as do most Environmental Response Companies. Here, we begin to enter into the world of ICS as far as the initial determination between “emergency” and “clean-up.” Basically, when the emergency ends the clean-up begins. Making the determination switches your Haz Mat Response from lead agency operations to back-up safety. This is huge for all personnel, equipment, future other responses, along with the other elements we have thus far considered. Forming good relationships with competent contractors for Environmental Response affords your Emergency Response Team the confidence in the next “phase” of the response. Extended times can be dealt with when you can rely on the proper clean-up response. There are many arrangements that local Fire Service Departments can enter into with Environmental Contractors, and it pays to become involved with these responders to be sure your Department needs are met in a relative timely manner.

ICS – is Responsible!

Lastly, your ICS structure is still responsible for any decisions being made on-site as long as you are there. While you may not have the “lead” in the latter clean-up stages, YOU are still a large part of the ICS. In this “phase” your input should shift from “Emergency Concerns” to “Municipal” concerns. If, due to your structure you are uncomfortable with making municipal decisions, this is exactly the time to call upon your City Manager (or like) to contribute to the system of command decision making. There is nothing that states you cannot have a consultation staff for decision input coming from the FD/HMT in charge. Build these relationships before the Emergency Response; this will cushion the 0300hrs phone call to your City Manager. If clean-up operations experience a problem or injury, you must be sure that as the Emergency IC your input was acknowledged. By this time, you may find that placing Emergency vehicles back-in-service is acceptable while keeping a FD/HMT representative on-site to relay information back to you during the remainder of the incident. This information should be included your final incident report.

Finally; let’s review the high points to an Emergency Response at the Awareness/Operations level. Some of these may be minimal or major to you organization while some may expand as your organization develops with time. Whichever the case may be, if you have any questions/concerns or just want outside input, please do not hesitate to contact me at

To review our seven points of discussion, remember and consider these concepts while developing your Fire Department/ HazMat Team;

1] Operations is not enough –

2] Manpower vs. Equipment –

3] Consider a Comprehensive FOAM System –

4] Dispatch –

5] Trailer vs. Truck – How do I get there?

6] Good contractor Relationships –

7] ICS – is Responsible!

                                         Haz Mat Mike



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