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How firefighters can train for hazmat transport incidents

Often the smallest fire departments face the greatest risks when it comes to transported hazardous materials; here’s one free resource that can help


By William E. Offerman

Preparedness means a lot of different things depending on who you talk to. For many communities and emergency responders, a critical part of being prepared is being ready to respond to an incident involving hazardous materials.

As we have seen with several high-profile incidents over this past year, being prepared for these types of disasters is extremely important to protecting the people that live in your community.

For me, every day is about helping people be prepared. Over the past year, I have represented the National Volunteer Fire Council on the National TRANSCAER Task Group. TRANSCAER (Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response) is a voluntary national outreach effort that focuses on assisting communities to prepare for and respond to a possible hazardous material transportation incident.

TRANSCAER members, including companies that manufacture, distribute, store and transport hazardous materials, provide free training to emergency responders across the country.

NVFC routinely hears from our members that they need better access to training. So, the partnership between TRANSCAER and NVFC is pretty straightforward: they put on training events and we promote the events to the volunteer fire and emergency services.

Anyone in the fire service who is not familiar with TRANSCAER should be. TRANSCAER resources, available at no charge to emergency services personnel, include classroom and hands-on training, emergency planning assistance, support for community drills and exercises, technical information, reference and training materials, and national conferences and workshops for sharing best practices and networking.

To celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2016, TRANSCAER held 70 training events in May on a variety of topics. Those included tank car awareness, advanced tank car specialist, rail safety and hazmat emergency response, ethanol response train the trainer, railway crude by rail response, chlorine emergency response, fire considerations and foam tactics for rail emergency response and methanol safe handling.

Getting trained

I attended one of the events in Newark, N.J., held as part of the Dow Chemical North East TRANSCAER training tour.

There, first responders were trained using the new API/Association of American Railroad’s Crude by Rail Safety program, railcar and locomotive anatomy, chlorine emergencies, Indian Springs A, B, C capping kits, Midland capping kit, hands-on leak mitigation and tank truck emergencies.

TRANSCAER’s goal is to provide improved community awareness and emergency preparedness along highly hazardous chemical transportation routes with significantly enhanced outreach, education, and training in coordination with national, regional and state TRANSCAER programs.

The amount of hazardous materials being produced and transported throughout the country has increased dramatically in recent decades. Since 2008, NFPA 1001: Standard for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications has included hazmat awareness and operations training.

Increasingly, hazardous materials emergency response is becoming a core service provided by fire departments. This presents many challenges, particularly in rural areas where resources are scarce and advanced or specialized training can be difficult to access.

By using TRANSCAER resources, fire departments can train and prepare their members to deal with critical hazardous materials threats facing their community at no-cost to the agency.

Visit to register for a nearby TRANSCER training event.

About the author
William E. Offerman joined the fire service in 1981 and is employed by Elwood Fire Protection District, where has served as fire chief since 1996. William is a director with the Illinois Firefighters Association, serves as Illinois director for the National Volunteer Fire Council and works with the National TRANSCAER Task Group. In addition, he has served as Elwood’s mayor since 2009. He has served with the Will County Board of Health and worked as an adjunct professor for Loyola University. William holds a master of science degree in public safety administration.

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