Company Officer Leadership - Applied Research and Hazmat Issues

Applied research is a form of systematic inquiry involving the practical application of science; it refers to the scientific study and research that seeks to solve practical problems. Those of us that are enrolled in or have graduated from the NFA’s Executive Fire Officer Program are well versed in the definition of applied research and its practical use to the fire service. By conducting research, authors seek to prove or disprove their theories as they apply to their organizations or departments in the hopes of closing an identified gap.

Applied research as it pertains to hazmat issues is one that many organizations who don’t provide a hazmat response team may take for granted. Every community across the globe, from the largest urban area to the smallest rural community, has hazardous materials in their response area. Whether they’re in a grain elevator or traveling along the local interstate highway, hazardous materials are everywhere, and reviewing the available applied research will help incident commanders (ICs) be more prepared.

According to the NFPA, in 2010, fire departments across the United States responded to 402,000 hazmat calls. While these ranged from minor fluid spills to major multi-agency events, the preparation done by response agencies in anticipation of the events were key to their mitigation.

Preplanning is key to mitigating all hazards, especially during a hazmat response. Fortunately, several electronic sources are available to help the hazmat IC with timely, research-based solutions. WISER (Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders), CHEMM (Chemical Hazards Emergency Medical Management) and REMM (Radiation Emergency Medical Management) are three of the most commonly used applications available on any computer or smartphone for help during hazmat/CBRNE events.

Applied research, web-based applications, conferences and preplanning are four tools all fire officers need in their toolbox to achieve the safe and effective mitigation of a hazmat incident, regardless of size and complexity.

Applied research will help the IC and command staff by limiting the amount of research that will be needed as an incident unfolds. By delving into existing databases and data elements that have been gathered and organized, the IC will be better prepared, once information about an incident are observed and verified.

Web-based applications have become an invaluable tool to not only the IC, but also to any member of a hazmat team. In many instances, information collection and management must be done before any attempt at entry or mitigation in order to keep an entry team safe.

Extenuating circumstances exist that may prevent information collection from occurring before entry is made, but someone needs to be in charge of information management from the onset of each incident.

Conferences allow team members and team leaders to network peers to exchange ideas and to share operational ideas on what works and what doesn’t in various situations They also allow for the coordination of information across geographical areas that otherwise would not have existed.

Preplanning means not only conducting site visits and documenting your response area, but also setting up your hazmat inventory and hazmat group functions before an event. Showing up at a hazmat event with a vehicle full of expired supplies and equipment that isn’t calibrated, not working or simply missing will only lengthen the response time and prolong mitigation, possibly with drastic effects on lives, property and the environment.

Continually holding hazmat-team drills, in which the roles and responsibilities of each member are defined, will go a long way to ensuring that not only is the team fit and ready when the time for action arises, but also that the information management aspect of the response is prepared for whatever may come.

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