Back To The Basics: Part 1

According to OSHA 29 CFR 1910.120 (q), every emergency responder who responds to the scene of a hazardous materials incident must be trained to a minimum of the awareness level. This requirement has been around since the mid-1980s, yet to this day there...


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According to OSHA 29 CFR 1910.120 (q), every emergency responder who responds to the scene of a hazardous materials incident must be trained to a minimum of the awareness level. This requirement has been around since the mid-1980s, yet to this day there are emergency responders who do not have hazmat awareness training. That is equivalent to sending firefighters to fight a fire without self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) training; EMS personnel to a heart attack without CPR training; and police officers to an armed robbery without firearms training.

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Photo by Robert Burke
Fires, EMS incidents, motor vehicle accidents and other emergencies may also be hazardous materials incidents. It makes good sense to prepare emergency responders to deal with hazmat incidents.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations aside, it just makes good sense to prepare emergency responders to deal with hazardous materials. Responding to acts of terrorism has also become the focus of specialized awareness training for emergency responders. I mention terrorism preparedness in a hazmat column because I believe terrorism is a form of hazmat incident, with special circumstances.

Chemicals are chemicals, whether used by terrorists or involved in accidental releases. Many of the same emergency responders will be involved and hazmat procedures implemented at a terrorist incident. Response to terrorism requires training for first responders in addition to awareness training required to respond to hazmat incidents.

Chief John Eversole of the Chicago Fire Department and chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Hazardous Materials Committee, has always said, "If you can't do hazmat, you can't do terrorism." Gene Ryan, a hazmat team officer with the Chicago Fire Department, sums up chemical and biological agents as "hazmats with attitude." There is a lot of truth in both statements. Therefore, terrorism awareness competencies will be addressed in this column in addition to hazmat awareness.

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Photo by Robert Burke
First responders must be able to determine the types of hazardous materials found in a facility by the type of occupancy.

When the OSHA requirements were first issued, it was difficult to convince segments of the response community that the training was needed. There were chiefs who declared, "We won't respond to hazardous materials incidents, then we won't require the training." Well, think about it - how many hazmat incidents or other emergencies that have the potential for hazardous materials, are called in or dispatched as hazmat incidents? Many emergencies start out as fires, EMS responses, traffic accidents or crimes, but then involve hazardous materials as an additional problem.

Emergency responders are not always aware of what to look for in a potential hazmat situation. They may become victims of the hazardous materials and not know it until they experience injury, illness or death from the exposure. That is why ALL emergency response personnel, including fire, EMS, police, public works and certain others, should have a minimum of awareness-level training for both hazardous materials and terrorist incidents. Just as not all hazmat incidents are dispatched as such, not all acts of terrorism will be realized when the first call comes in.

Awareness-level hazmat training should include the competencies outlined in OSHA CFR 1910.120 (q) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 472. NFPA 472 also identifies competencies for first responders at acts of terrorism. OSHA regulations do not identify an amount of time responders must be exposed to awareness training, but rather they identify certain knowledge areas in which the responders must prove proficiency. As a result, awareness training that has been developed by various agencies ranges from four to 16 hours.

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