HAZMAT Leadership part IV: Shoot, Move, Communicate, Survive

Shooting is hard > Moving is harder > Communicating is hardest.

Without the above three, successful operations and survivability are now exponentially reduced.

Shoot, Move, Communicate, Survive; HAZMAT Leadership Part IV

(CATCH UP on this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

 

Survivability is the final installment of this series. 

  • Shooting is hard.
  • Moving is harder.
  • Communicating is hardest.
  • Without the above three, successful operations and survivability are now exponentially reduced.

“To fully contribute to the mission, Soldiers must be able to survive. There are three aspects to surviving: the enemy; the environment; and the Soldier’s body. Survival is both a personal responsibility and a unit responsibility. These aspects require Soldiers to discipline themselves in routine matters such as maintaining local security, maintaining field sanitation, caring for their bodies, and caring for their equipment. It also requires Soldiers to know how to respond to extraordinary circumstances such as dealing with casualties or functioning in a contaminated environment. Soldiers must know about the protective properties of their personal gear and combat vehicles, the effects of weapon systems and munitions, and how to build survivability positions. In short, Soldiers must do everything possible for the security and protection of themselves, their equipment, and their fellow Soldiers. In the same way, leaders must do everything possible to ensure the security and protection of their units.” (1)

The three aspects, as it pertains to HazMat, are the same:

  1. the enemy (hazardous material)
  2. the environment (internal/external)
  3. the responder (mental and physical health and wellness).

The Enemy

The enemy is the person, place or thing that is out there to “get” us. It can be external (product, building, people, ourselves) and it can be internal (basically anything that takes our heads out of the game).

The one thing about the enemy, regardless of who or what the enemy is, is predictability. Sun Tzu wrote, “To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” (2)

HazMat is predictable in that if it’s moving through your area, and the human element is involved (which it is), something will happen. So…

It’s all about planning ahead.

You need to develop a realistic picture of the potential for a hazardous materials incident to occur in your community and conducting a hazards analysis will help. There are three steps involved with a hazards analysis:

  1. Hazards identification – What is it? How much of it is there? Where is it? How is it stored? Where does it come from/where is it going? What harm can it do?
  2. Vulnerability analysis – Have there been past events in my community where HazMat was an issue? Are there vulnerable populations (i.e., day cares, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, etc.).
  3. Risk analysis – An assessment by the community of the likelihood (probability) of an accidental release of a hazardous material and the actual consequences that might occur based on the estimated vulnerable zones. The risk analysis is a judgement of the probability & severity of consequences based on the history of previous incidents, local experience, and the best available current technological information.

Another author worth reading is Frederick the Great. On preplanning, he wrote in Instructions to His Generals, “We must seriously reflect on every operation that may take place, so that by being prepared beforehand with a plan of arrangements, we may not be embarrassed when called into action.” (3)

None of us want to look like a bunch of jerks when we show up on scene. In the words of the great Chief John Eversole, 

“Our department takes 1,120 calls every day. Do you know how many of the calls the public expects perfection on? 1,120. Nobody calls the fire department and says, ‘Send me two dumb-ass firemen in a pickup truck.’ In three minutes they want five brain-surgeon decathlon champions to come and solve all their problems.”

In order to defeat the enemy, we must know the enemy. How can we better prepare through intelligence gathering and what tools do we have at our disposal? Here’s a non-exhaustive list to get the creative wheels turning.

  • Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG)
  • NIOSH Pocket Guide (NPG)
  • Tier II data
  • Askrail (application)
  • WISER
  • CAMEO
  • Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG)
  • NIOSH Pocket Guide (NPG)
  • Tier II data
  • Askrail (application)
  • WISER
  • CAMEO

The Environment

How do we manage and manipulate our environment? Just as we need to prepare and plan to engage our enemy, the environment warrants just as much attention to preplanning.

As we respond to an emergency scene, we are inundated with information as we begin our tactical movement (see article 2, Move). It is during this time that we are gathering and compiling information on the environment based on the nature of the call, the history of past events regarding the location and hazards involved, and the consequences that came from those incidents.

Strategy and tactics are crucial at this point in that a decision will need to be made:

Do we intervene or let the HazMat do it’s thing?

For the most part, the latter is not an option. We were called because there was a problem and by nature, we ARE problem solvers.

Another aspect of the environment that we must be mindful of is our equipment. Our equipment, for the most part, protects us from the environment (PPE) and gives us much needed information regarding our environment (monitoring).

The selection of PPE should be based on the hazardous materials and conditions present. It would be unrealistic to equip your team for every possible scenario, so narrow it down to your community and the likely problems you may encounter. By preplanning (there’s that word again), you should outfit your program and personnel to those ends.

When it comes to monitoring equipment, there is no set requirement as to what you should or shouldn’t have on your truck. (4)

Some equipment that must be considered:

  • a combustible gas indicator
  • an O2 indicator
  • colorimetric tubes
  • pH paper
  • FID/PID

Regarding PPE, how well is your team trained? Is it “Level A, All the Way” or do your members actually consider the most effective PPE for the job? What about the operability and use of your monitoring equipment. Do your HMRT members know how to use it, or just turn it on?

The Responder

Lastly, although of extreme importance is the health an wellness of your personnel. We are and always will be our own worst enemy. By our very nature, we are good, no, we are exceptional in caring for the wellness of others. That is what we do – we serve.

Caring for ourselves, well, that’s where we have trouble. As servants, we place the well being of everyone around us above our own. What we tend to forget is that we are no good to anyone should our own health and wellness fail.

Science and data are beginning to prove that we are killing ourselves – physically and mentally. What has to change is the fire service culture and it begins one member at a time. Through proper training and education, it is our responsibility to lead change when it comes to our day-to-day operations. The “we’ve always done it this way” mentality must be eliminated in order to progress.

We don’t have to have group hugs or stress cards. What we need is to recognize the signs and symptoms of an underlying condition whether it be physical or psychological. We do an awesome job at saving others. But it all becomes futile if we cannot save our own.

Get off the couch.

Train.

Talk to someone.

Get yourself checked.

Remember, when it comes to physical and mental wellness, you’re not doing it for yourself.  You’re doing it for those that have to call you on their worst day. You’re doing it for those waiting for you when you get off shift.

Conclusion

These concluding remarks are a summary of four-part series in its entirety.

  • a combustible gas indicator
  • an O2 indicator
  • colorimetric tubes
  • pH paper
  • FID/PID

SHOOT

Leaders:

  • Are your HMRT members ready for the next incident?
    • Are they well trained and proficient in their respective skill set (i.e., have they trained to the point to where they cannot get “it” wrong)?
    • Similarly, are your support personnel up to speed on what is expected of them while on a HazMat scene?
  • Are you training with all agencies involved?
    • The time to learn the players is not in the middle of an incident.
  • Have you clearly and accurately communicated to all involved (internally and externally)?
    • Are your expectations for your team members and support staff explicit or implicit?
    • Do not communicate so that you are understood. Communicate so that you cannot be misunderstood.

MOVE

  • What have I done to become better? What have I done to make my team better?
  • Are my team members capable of moving tactically while en route to a call?
  • How’s my maintenance program (personnel and equipment)?
    • Are my personnel mentally and physically capable of performing HazMat operations safely?
  • How’s my leadership pipeline?
    • Do I have leaders on the bench ready to move up when called upon and capable of making the decisions to move operationally?
  • Are we logistically capable of handling large scale events or multiple small ones?
    • What contingency plans are in place (i.e., mutual aid)?
    • Are adequate SOPs/SOGs in place for our dispatch personnel to initially move our resources strategically?
    • Are the HazMat-ICs capable and trained to take command on arrival and think strategically?

COMMUNICATE

  • Are you communicating to be heard or to be understood?
    • Does this really need an explanation?
  • How effectively do you listen?
    • Two ears, one mouth; remember?
  • Would those you lead consider you to be an effective communicator?
    • If the answer’s yes, sharpen your skills.
    • If the answer’s no, sharpen your skills.

SURVIVE

  • Do you know your enemy?
    • If not, get to know your enemy… intimately.
  • Are you familiar with your environment?
    • internally and externally
  • Are you in tune with the well being of your personnel and yourself?
    • Remember, if you’re not on your “A” game, you’re useless to everyone involved.

Shooting is hard > Moving is harder > Communicating is hardest.

Without the above three, successful operations and survivability are now exponentially reduced.

1 – Headquarters, Department of the Army, FM 3-21.8, The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad. US ARMY; March, 2007.
2 – Moore, Marc A., The Art of War: The complete text of Sun Tzu’s classic compiled in this special edition with Frederick the Great’s Instructions to His Generals and Machiavelli’s The Prince. Sun Tzu, The Art of War. US: Sweetwater Press, 2004, p. 30. Print.
3 – Moore, Marc A., The Art of War: The complete text of Sun Tzu’s classic compiled in this special edition with Frederick the Great’s Instructions to His Generals and Machiavelli’s The Prince. Frederick the Great, Letters to His Generals. US: Sweetwater Press, 2004, p. 259. Print.
4 – OSHA 29 CFR 1910.120(h) does offer a minimum recommendation and NFPA 472 and 1072 outline training requirements HMRT personnel should be able to demonstrate.


About The Author


Josh Fowler is the District Chief of Beaumont Fire/Rescue’s 52 district in Beaumont, Texas. He is the program manager for the department’s HAZMAT team and Technical Response/Recovery Group. He has 18 years on the job and has served as a rescue specialist and technical information specialist with Texas Task Force 1 since 2006. Josh has been married to his best friend, Courtney, for 19 years and together, they have 6 children

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