HazMat in the Trenches: Level A Training

Learn about an innovative method for training responders while in Level A hazardous materials suits. The games played provide a unique environment for responders to hone their needed skills in these restricting ensembles.


"Oh-no! not another Level A suit up!" Those words were commonly heard when my team personnel found out about an imminent Level A drill. I would have to remind them that the public we serve expects us to be proficient when our services are required and that means drilling so we get it right but more so we don't get it wrong. Occasional reminders that our state regional contract also requires that we are competent, confident, and comfortable (the three C's) with our Level A skills were also worth the time. The challenge, then, was to devise and present training sessions that were worth their time. A way that I have found to do just that is to weave equal amounts of fun, challenge, and efficiency into Level A training sessions.

Level A Olympics
A real fun session that even the most grim team members enjoy is where Level A personnel compete in several sporting events. While in Level A suits, along with associated boots and gloves, personnel undergo a series of events whereby their scores are recorded by their dressing partner. While in Level A personnel will be scored in the number of passes of a football they can achieve in two minutes, the number of Frisbee tosses in two minutes, the number of golf putts in two minutes, the number of baseball hits in two minutes, and the number of laps while dribbling a basketball on a slalom course. Distances between the Level A person and the recording partner are determined in order to make it a level playing field and the individual events are weighted because some take more time than others to complete.

After each suited person completes each of the five events they doff their suits and the recorder adds up their scores. After all personnel suit-up and compete, the top scores are rewarded with prizes that can be either significant (tangible rewards) or insignificant (candy). What I have found is that personnel like the recognition of winning these events and take pride when they come out on top. Obviously, the parallel reward is that personnel enjoyed themselves while they simultaneously maintained their Level A skills. They are also challenged because it is not uncommon for personnel to become fogged up while in the suits and then they have to deal with the loss of vision during the competition.

We try to conduct the Level A Olympics once a year while changing some of the events to prevent boredom and even challenge personnel more. Events such as shots on a hockey goal or even constructing nut, washer, and bolt combinations can be substituted or added into the competition. We even use the Olympics in initial training sessions for new team members with great success. It seems to be a great way to introduce personnel to Level A and the perceived difficulties that have to be overcome in order to be proficient.

The bottom line with this training approach is the fun personnel have while maintaining their Level A skills. To extend the idea, future sessions will include forming teams to compete in volleyball games, all while in Level A. Since no two team members breathe their air at the same rate the teams will lose their members the longer the game goes on. Therefore, the winner needs to be carefully considered between the score and the longevity of team members. At any rate, a fun time will be in store!

Challenge and Efficiency through Hands-on Drills
Another drill we have been using to maintain skills is sealing leaking pipes at an old dairy building. Our training site is an abandoned dairy that still has intact pipes, pumps, and reservoirs from an ammonia cooling system. While the active dairy was a source of numerous hazmat emergencies for our team due to an antiquated ammonia system, the ammonia has all been evacuated and the system has been rendered safe.

The challenge with this drill is sending Level A personnel deep into the building that has no electricity. Teams have to negotiate their way in with artificial light and then apply pre-made leak sealing devices to pipes that have simulated leaks. Personnel have to climb ladders and negotiate numerous pipes in order to apply the device and complete the evolution.

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