Hazmat in the Trenches: The HazMat IQ Revolution

In the world of hazardous materials response and especially involving hazmat chemistry, there is a revolution occurring. It is not just a quiet revolution; in fact, it is an up-roar. Responders across the country are singing the praises of a new way to...


In the world of hazardous materials response and especially involving hazmat chemistry, there is a revolution occurring. It is not just a quiet revolution; in fact, it is an up-roar. Responders across the country are singing the praises of a new way to look at hazmat chemistry that is called the "HazMat IQ" system. The reason is simple; responders can see immediate application of the material to their response world. Essentially, the HazMat IQ system has broken highly complex chemistry down to only what is needed to safely function in the field.

The brainchild of two experienced fire and hazmat responders, Cris Aguirre and Joe Gorman (see Photo 1), the HazMat IQ system has been time-tested and proven to be effective on emergency hazardous materials response. The learning concept is built around empowering a responder to understand how chemistry information can be used to think through tactical decision making. It is similar to what Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese sage, once stated; "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." This distinction is vitally important; the former is reliant on others, the latter is self-reliant. In essence the system does not teach what to think but how to think and then, how to act on one's own. By the end of just one class session responders are taught how to use the system and how to think utilizing the Smart Charts that are provided to each learner.

The one-day training session covers chemistry in a basic way along with how to use the Smart Charts, 3 laminated charts with "how-to" information on both sides. In a mere morning class period students usually understand how the system works including how to select personal protective equipment (PPE) and air monitoring instruments (meters). The system begins with being alerted by your dispatch, just like being toned out in a fire station for a fire call. Quite often, responders get clues of what has been released through on-location sources or callers. Based on a chemical name or ID number they can then make decisions within this system.

By the chemical name alone responders can decide if the material is an "Above-the-Line" chemical or a "Below-the-Line" chemical. This simple categorization helps determine the basic and definitive hazards of the material. In a total time of less than 10 to 20 seconds responders can make this distinction and then begin to follow a standard operating guideline (SOG) based on the chemical and physical hazards of the material. In this first step, all of this is done with the basic chemistry principles intertwined in the system. The SOG also includes the appropriate PPE and meters to use for entry.

After the first step determination is made responders then move to verifying the information in Step 2. Over approximately two minutes and through research sources, responders can tweak their initial determination or size-up. This step is important to make sure the size-up is accurate. With Step 2 responders also verify the personal protective equipment (PPE) and meters to use for their response through the use of the Smart Charts. And, most of Step 2 is completed while responders are enroute.

Once arriving on location responders should be well prepared to go to work. In Step 3 responders gather the identified PPE and meters and get ready for their entry. The last step, number 4, responders make entry to either affect a rescue or for reconnaissance. Information gathered from the initial entry can help decide response actions needed to resolve the release. All of this material, and all six "Smart Chart" pages, are covered completely in the morning classroom session. The afternoon session covers a few more pertinent response considerations but responders also get to practice the system on their own through response scenarios (see Photo 2).

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