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What Chiefs Need to Know About Hazmat Preparedness

The primary area that chiefs should know about hazmat preparedness is the readiness of their personnel. Is your crew ready for a hazmat incident? As I outlined in my article on “Continuing Education: The Lifeblood of the Hazmat Responder,” not knowing what you don't know can sink your operation and even kill.  

A review of personnel training in accordance with 29 CFR 1910.120 App E "Training Guidelines" and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards should be done every year.  

Whatever is happening on the sidelines, whether it is turnover, retirements, etc., the first step to preparing for response is having a trained force with which to respond. 

Utilizing 29 CFR 1910.120 App E "Training Guidelines" as a guide, along with the 1000-series of the NFPA standards, a chief can ensure that his/her personnel and crews are adequately trained.  

At this point, personnel will be acknowledged as being competent[1] and proficient[2] and when properly equipped, that personnel can respond to incidents involving hazardous materials. 

The fire chief or a designee is responsible for each training program. They approve instructors and course material. Instructors are deemed competent based on previous documented experience in their area of instruction, successful completion of a "train-the-trainer" program specific to the topics they will teach, as well as an evaluation of instructional competence. 

Instructors should be required to maintain professional competence by participating in continuing education or professional development programs or by completing an annual refresher course and having an annual review. 

The annual review by the chief or designee should include observation of an instructor's delivery, a review of those observations with the trainer, and an analysis of any instructor or class evaluations completed by the students during the previous year.  

As part of the annual review is the course materials. The chief or designee should approve all course materials to be used by the training provider. Course materials should be reviewed and updated at least annually. Materials and equipment should be in good working order and maintained properly.  

All written and audio-visual materials in training curricula should be peer-reviewed by technically competent outside reviewers or by a standing advisory committee. 

Reviews should possess expertise in emergency response and other applicable disciplines. Some examples of the different disciplines are occupational health, industrial hygiene, and safety, chemical/environmental engineering, or employee education. One or more of the peer reviewers should be an employee experienced in the work activities to which the training is directed.  

Last should be the proficiency assessment. Proficiency should be evaluated and documented using a written assessment and a skill demonstration selected and developed by the chief or designee and trainers. The assessment and demonstration should evaluate the knowledge and individual skills developed in the course of training. The level of minimum achievement necessary for proficiency shall be specified in writing by the chief or designee. 

If a written test is used, there should be a minimum of 50 questions. If a written examination is used in conjunction with a skills demonstration, a minimum of 25 questions should be used. If a skills demonstration is used, the tasks are chosen, and the chief or designee should fully document the means to rate successful completion. 

The content of the written test or of the skill demonstration shall be relevant to the objectives of the course. The written test and skill demonstration should be updated as necessary to reflect changes in the curriculum, and the chief or designee should approve the update. 

The proficiency assessment methods, regardless of the approach or combination of approaches used, should be justified, documented, and approved by the chief or designee. 

The proficiency of those taking the additional courses for supervisors should be evaluated and documented by using proficiency assessment methods approved by the fire chief or designee. These proficiency assessment methods must reflect the other responsibilities borne by supervisory personnel in hazardous materials emergency response. 


[1] Competent – means possessing the skills, knowledge, experience, and judgment to perform assigned tasks or activities satisfactorily as determined by the employer. 

[2] Proficient – means meeting a stated level of achievement. 

Jim Rist is a retired fire chief and currently works as a subject matter expert for the IAFC. 

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