4 Tips to Keep Your Hazmat Team from Being Cancelled

Hazmat teams are in constant danger of being taken out by the really bad stuff that no one else is prepared to handle — that’s why we train and equip ourselves so well. Sometimes the biggest threat to a hazmat team’s existence doesn’t come from an oozing barrel or hissing pressurized tank. Sometimes the threat comes from within.

That’s exactly what the team in Muskegon County Michigan has been dealing with lately. After more than 30 years of operation, the county’s hazmat team was on the brink of being liquidated by county elected officials. WZZM13 reports that although the move died by 6-2 vote, it required local fire chiefs to mobilize and rush to the aid of the 20-member team.

The annual cost to run the team is only $62,000, and the county is only on the hook for half that due to money coming in from private companies that handle hazardous materials. The team has responded to 25 calls over the past 48 months, and trains twice per month.

The problem seems to stem from both the team’s existence not being mandated by county rule or state law and that its equipment is taking up space at an airport. Because the effort to shut down the team and give away its assets died in the Ways and Means Committee vote, the issue will not move forward to a full county commission vote. However, there’s no guarantee the issue will not resurface, and the team may still face problems with keeping equipment at the airport.

If a volunteer-staffed, low operating cost team that bought its equipment with grant funding came under fire and nearly got wiped out, how safe is your team? Anyone who has worked long enough in the public sector knows that no matter how valuable the service, someone will be there to oppose it.

Here are four tips to help keep your hazmat team from being defunded, liquidated and cancelled.

ONE

Stay abreast of who holds power and what their pet projects and pet peeves are. Channel your inner Godfather by keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. Engaging often with friend and foe will help you build support before it is needed and possibly head off problems while they are still small. Letting potential adversaries see you as professional, caring and human can take some of the wind out of their sails. And get people on your side who can advocate on your behalf.

TWO

Be your own best advocate. Opposition often arises out of ignorance. Keep elected and appointed officials, as well as the general public, up to date on the need for the team and its accomplishments — great and small. Use social and traditional media and word of mouth to highlight wins, team member’s individual accomplishments and incidents elsewhere that could be a threat to your community. In short, make sure people see the good that you do.

THREE

Be data driven. There will likely come a time when you need cold, hard numbers to justify your team’s worth. Build that data profile now. Track everything you do that benefits the community, and where possible, attach dollar figures to it. Calculate how much was saved in potential damage had your team not been on scene taking action. Also, find national data or data from a similarly sized community to contrast the good work your team is doing. Once you have solid data, put it in terms that is easy to digest. For example, in Muskegon County, the county’s portion of the hazmat team’s operational budget is nearly half the cost of one police officer’s base salary.

FOUR

Be sure your team actually is doing good work for a good value. If there are problems with spending, staffing, training, etc., that is only known internally, fix them now. There may not be a county commissioner actively looking to shut down your team, but expect one will be coming someday soon. It is best to get your house in order before the team is put under a microscope. Getting in front of problems allows you to address them on your terms and takes away ammo for those looking to pull the plug on your team.


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