Locals Train to Safely Respond to HazMat, WMD Incidents

Locals Train to Safely Respond to HazMat, WMD Incidents

Students in the Operations Level Response to HazMat/WMD Incident course practice putting on protective suits.

PHOENIX, AZ--Wooden crates and metal cages full of personal protective equipment (PPE) meet National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center (NERRTC) instructor Billy Rhoads wherever he goes, which this month included a trip to the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) in Phoenix.


Rhoads and the 6,000 pounds of PPE were recently in Phoenix to lead a class of roughly 30 people through the Operations Level Response to HazMat/Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Incidents course. Students in the three-day course learn to assess a situation, identify types of HazMat containers, and properly get into and out of the PPE, including safety boots, protective suits and respirators.


“The course gives students the knowledge and abilities to make informed decisions when responding to or assisting at the scene of a HazMat incident or terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction,” said Rhoads. “We want our students to be able to keep themselves, other responders, and the public safe from harm while responding to an incident.”


“If the responders become part of the problem, they are not part of the solution,” he added. “Our goal is to keep the responders safe at all cost. They will not be able to assist anyone if they become injured or worse.


According to the NERRTC brochure, the Operational Level Response to HazMat/WMD Incidents curriculum was written to address “the unique personal protection challenges” of responding to a HazMat or WMD situation, which include environmental factors.


“The environment plays a major role in the effects of a chemical or agent release. For example, rain can affect the spill of a substance that is water reactive. Wind will move a vapor cloud,” Rhoades said. “Temperature is also a concern. Working in the chemical protective suits can place the wearer in a lot of stress due to the material the suits are constructed out of.”


The temperature is one item on a mental checklist of things that HazMat/WMD technicians must take into consideration. First responders are often thrust into situations where they must think on their feet and make decisions that could put themselves and their teams in danger.


“When working with HazMat or weapons of mass destruction, responders have to identify the chemical or agent involved, and choose the appropriate personal protective equipment that is suitable for the atmosphere” Rhoads said. “While operating at a terrorist attack, they must be aware of active shooters, explosive devices and additional attacks that may occur while they are mitigating an incident.”


Training ended with an opportunity for each member of the class to get some “suit time,” and an exercise during which the class assessed a simulated HazMat situation, responded and practiced the decontamination process.


The DEMA Training Branch supports the training needs of the Whole Community by facilitating local and tribal government requests for courses like Operational Level Response to HazMat/WMD Incident to Arizona.


Kathy Hassett, Training Coordinator at DEMA, said of all the courses designed by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, the HazMat/WMD Incidents course is the most popular in Arizona, particularly with rural jurisdictions and tribes. The course is offered an average of five or six times a year at different locations around the state.


The NERRTC at Texas A&M University is one of seven nationally-recognized organizations that support the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium (NDPC) mission to “develop and deliver enhanced all-hazards training to prepare the nation.”


The other six NDPC facilities are the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Ala.; the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training at Louisiana State University; the Center for Radiological/Nuclear Training at the Nevada National Security Site; the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center at New Mexico Tech; the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center at University of Hawaii; and the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colo.


Funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the NERRTC offers training in incident management, health and medical services, critical infrastructure protection, HazMat and search and rescue, sports and special events management, executive leadership and management, and cybersecurity.