Continuing Education: The Lifeblood of the Hazmat Responder

As a former Operations Chief, staying informed of the latest information was the most challenging aspect of my job. The training and building inspections were accomplished without trouble. However, in a small department setting, it was nearly impossible to keep up with the volume of new and constant information.

Frequently, people don't know what they don't know. This is not acceptable, especially in the fire service world. Keeping abreast of the latest information has become paramount and is necessary for running a successful firehouse and keeping your crew safe.

Leadership, most often, the Fire Chief, is responsible for creating a system or pathway for vital and relevant information to be delineated to the people under him or her. 

This was one of my former delegated responsibilities, and I joined as many membership organizations (e.g, IAFC) as I could and then further divided up areas of responsibility (i.e., Protective Clothing/Respiratory Protection, Hazardous Materials Research Library (i.e., CAMEO, ALOHA, MARPLOT, ERG Book, CHRIS Manual), Instrumentation (Meters/Combustible Gas Indicators), WMD, Technical Rescue, Medical, NFPA updates, Federal Entities, etc.). 

Not just with my Captains but, I made sure I empowered seasoned firefighter and newcomers within the ranks to have access to this information. Besides formal meetings/briefings, we shared emails (pre-Facebook and Twitter) and, with the Fire Chiefs support, went to conferences (IAFC and HazMat Conference), and training courses, each staying within their tracks and reporting back. 

For the fire chief, a written report was generated to keep him informed and to justify sending personnel to conferences or training courses. 

When applicable, the information was pertinent; it was disseminated to the rest of the personnel as SOPs/SOGs and equipment were all reviewed for necessary updates and changes.

Today there is still an overload of information. Instead of being mined, it is shared. Social media exploded after 9/11, so, in addition to snail mail and the websites, Facebook and Twitter, social media, and streaming disseminate information 24 hours a day. Now we are trying to turn the faucet off. But that said, information sharing today is an advancement over what I experienced. 

Recently, in June, I was at the IAFC's Hazmat Conference, and the advancement in equipment for Hazardous Material Response is simply amazing. Like social media, after 9/11, the clothing/equipment manufacturers have exploded with their wares. There is still a place for pH paper, but the capabilities of instrumentation today from my day is phenomenal. The capabilities of these instruments enhance the services that your local team can deliver. One must attend an exhibit and talk to the distributors.

Another advancement is apps for our phones and tablets.  The apps that I recommend you download are:

  • The National Library of Medicine (NLM), 
  • Chemical Hazard Emergency Medical Management (CHEMM), 
  • Wireless Information System for Emergency  Responders (WISER),
  • Toxicology Data Network (TOXNET), 
  • Radiation Emergency Medical Management (REMM), 
  • NIOSH Pocket Guide,
  • The 2016 Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG), 
  • and AskRail

Hazardous materials educational opportunities also abound. There are three national conferences. 

Also, many states oversee the certification process where Firefighter I and II training includes Hazmat Awareness and Operations-level training and certification. 

Through a grant, the International Assoc. of Fire Fighters (IAFF) also offers certified Hazmat Awareness and Operations training. Some states host annual hazmat conferences of their own. New York, Virginia, and Washington are examples. Though not as large as a national conference, these conferences are an excellent way to fulfill the individual 24-hour annual maintenance/refresher training requirement.

Let us not forget the hazmat educational opportunities offered at no charge at the National Fire Academy (see their catalog) and at state and local training academies. Some private companies (power companies and propane distributors are prime examples of some private companies who offer regional training. Look for announcements.

The IAFC, through grants and partnerships, also offers free training on Preparing for Pipeline and Rail Emergencies. Our presentations are based on a Whole Communities approach of pre-planning for not just Pipeline and Rail, but the concepts can be used for All-Hazard Incident Planning. Many times the IAFC partners with organizations such as the U.S. DOT-Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), U.S. DHS-FEMA-Fire Academy (USFA), TC Energy (formerly known as TransCanada), the seven largest railroads (Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and Kansas City Southern), the American Association of Railroads (AAR). 

Last year the IAFC conducted six rail pre-planning presentations in Alaska from Fairbanks to Seward as partners of the State of Alaska and the Alaska Railroad. 

Please monitor your information sources to see if the IAFC is in your area, but if interested in hosting a presentation, please contact Program Manager Ashley Moore, or me, Jim Rist.   
 
 
Jim Rist is a Hazmat Subject Matter Expert with the IAFC. 

 
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