How to Develop Stimulating Hazmat Training


By David Peterson  

Training sessions for hazmat response can become boring, monotonous and stale over time. This staleness can take its toll with a downturn in the team's morale and even resignations of members. If left alone, good operating hazmat teams can quickly become dysfunctional and difficult to correct. So what can be done to prevent a hazmat team's demise from a training perspective?

The answer lies in how training sessions are approached. With a small amount of imagination, they can be challenging and stimulating and even leave team members wanting more. Hazmat training should also be realistic with a focus on real-life situations that the team has faced in the past or could face in the future.

During a recent hazmat team training session we held, a vacant building was secured for Level A entries. The building is inside our city and served as a dairy during its active years. Fortunately, most of the pipes and valves and containers for the ammonia cooling system remained on the premises and consequently were ours to play with. The building also did not have electricity so was extremely dark inside even on a sunny day. It all bode well for a challenging training session.

Few restrictions
As the building is slated to be deconstructed, there were not many restrictions. Consequently a scenario was developed where a multi-purpose fire extinguisher would be used to create a yellowish cloud within a small room where a pipe leak had developed. The cloud would be proclaimed as a chlorine gas leak from a corroded pipe and entry teams would need to apply a leaking-pipe patch kit. To make the entries realistic, the extinguisher would be discharged just before the entry team members entered the room.

Also in the room with the yellow cloud would be a marked pipe to indicate the source of the leak. To make the leak realistic, an air cylinder was cracked open and left to slowly leak at the floor near the leaking pipe (see image #1). This would indicate to the entry team where the leak was located when they entered the room. The air cylinder also helped to "kick-up" the extinguishing agent as it started to fall out of the air.

Now that the setting for the "business end" of the session was completed, the team was briefed on the scenario and they were left to respond as they normally would. They were also informed of the layout of the building and the location of the valves and shutoffs by an anonymous building "employee." To tackle this problem, the team decided to make entry in Level A suits and first shut down all lines as directed by the responsible party (see image #2). Next they decided to use positive pressure ventilation to clear the room with the leaking pipe of the simulated chlorine gas (see image #3). Last, the entry team would apply a patch to the leaking pipe (see image #4).

Ways of approach
The team utilized their position vests, their position checklists, appropriate monitoring equipment, and decontamination in their approach to mitigating this scenario. They also researched the chemical and physical properties of chlorine in order to respond to the release effectively. Because of the information from the responsible party, the entry team also brought a small step ladder and hand lights in order to better navigate the dark rooms. To complete all of the tasks that were identified and planned, two entry teams were needed.

At the completion of the scenario, all team personnel were escorted into the building to see what the entry teams saw. This is an effective technique so everyone can benefit through the visualization of the business end of hazmat. This important tool also provides an opportunity to answer questions that may arise.

It is also an opportunity for team growth in that it builds confidence, lends to a better comfort level for entry personnel and also provides the team trainers and leaders of tomorrow with ideas for future training sessions.

As you can see, an effective and challenging training session is actually an easy task if you use your resources and your imagination. The only cost of this session was the recharging of the multi-purpose fire extinguisher.

For a minimal cost, a very realistic scenario was developed to prepare Level A entry personnel for the real thing. What is the sign that personnel enjoyed the training session and felt that their time was well-spent? The answer is found by listening to their banter afterward. If you hear them saying how much the scenario challenged them and how it exceeded their expectations, then you’ll know it was not boring, monotonous or stale!

About the author

David 'HazMat Petie' Peterson is a 29-year veteran firefighter and hazardous materials responder from Janesville, Wis. He is the lead fire and HazMat instructor for the Madison Fire Department and is also the training coordinator for the department's Level A regional hazardous materials response team. David is a long time HazMat specialist and has been a course designer, instructor and presenter for more than 20 years, training thousands of responders and numerous HazMat teams across the country.

He is currently a Master Instructor for the IAFF's Hazmat and Weapons of Mass Destruction Training Department and also a member of the Wisconsin FLAME Group, LLC which is a leadership and management training firm.

David has also been a National Fire Academy chemistry instructor and a presenter for Environmental Protection Agency regional conferences, Wisconsin Emergency Management, American Trauma Society, Fire Department Instructors Conference, Firehouse Expo, and annual conferences for the Wisconsin Association of Hazardous Materials Responders, Inc. (WAHMR). For more details on David go to Hazmatpetie.com, and to contact him e-mail David.Peterson@FireRescue1.com.

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