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Priority Based Personnel Assignment in HAZMAT Incidents

Accompanying Diagram Here

Many suburban and rural fire departments, and industrial emergency response teams, today face an interesting challenge in dealing with HAZMAT incidents. The challenge is how to allocate, sometimes scarce, first response HAZMAT team personnel resources until further aid can arrive.

This challenge is best answered by filling key positions with the most qualified personnel available in a specific order. All personnel must, of course, meet the requirements of 29CFR 1910.120 (NFPA 472) for the roles to which they are assigned.

It would be ideal to have a HAZMAT team amply staffed and with all members trained to the Specialist level. However, in many cases the initial HAZMAT team will be limited in personnel, comprised mainly of individuals who have been trained to the OSHA 1910.120 Technician level with few or no Specialists. They will rely heavily on the use of host department Operations level personnel.

If the response is to be managed safely and effectively, the Incident Command System must be immediately established and rigorously adhered to. This should be established by the host department's first responders, or an industrial site's emergency response team. Hopefully, recognition of the presence of hazardous materials, and the need for HAZMAT team resources, will be recognized fairly early by the site personnel and first responders, who will then call for the HAZMAT team. The HAZMAT team will be a specially trained and equipped group from within the overall department (in large departments) or a group assembled from several different departments (suburban and rural departments), possibly augmented by industrial specialists. In any case, the overall Incident Commander (IC) must initially rely on the expertise and resources of the HAZMAT team that is summoned to these typically long and personnel intensive incidents.

Enter the HAZMAT Control Officer (HMCO). This will be the first HAZMAT team member on the scene. He may or may not be part of the host department, and may or may not be on the scene when HAZMAT recognition occurs. Nevertheless, he is responsible to the overall Incident Commander (IC) for establishing the HAZMAT sector, and ensuring that his sector, in modular fashion, integrates with the overall Incident Command System.

To ensure this, his first official act at the scene is to report his presence to the IC or his designate. He assumes the position of HMCO and establishes his command post, preferably separate from the overall IC command post to avoid congestion. It is extremely important for HMCO to have a display board at his command post which lists personnel assignments in an ICS organization chart. This display board should also list other information such as radio frequency assignments, hazard data and weather conditions. Prominent identification of the HAZMAT command post and vests clearly signifying section officers in charge are also a particularly good idea.

HAZMAT teams, while a special resource, should still be considered a part of the overall ICS Operations Division. As such, the actual reporting structure would be:

HMCO ....-> Operations Division Officer ............-> IC

Based on the resources he has at hand, HMCO early actions will be organizational in nature. Until complete team staffing and functional capability is established, HMCO actions should be to reinforce and aid the host department's role of establishing a defensive posture. He, and all team members, should also be prepared to pass their duties, if necessary, to a subsequently arriving HAZMAT team member who has greater expertise.

He can survey the host department's capabilities to provide Operations level personnel, and can make very early requests, through the chain of command, for the IC to summon mutual aid to augment the Operations level personnel, including officers to handle the timekeeper functions in the Decon and Entry sections, and the logging of events. He can also gain critical first hancl perspective which will tell him if the incident is beyond the capabilities of his HAZMAT team, which may require mutual aid from a neighboring HAZMAT team and/or an industrial specialist Emergency Response team from the appropriate industrial firm. He can thus activate HAZMAT mutual aid early, gaining crucial time advantage.

One of his first requests must be for a separate, dedicated EMS squad (ambulance and at least 2 EMTS) to provide pre and post incident physical examination, monitoring and emergency treatment of HAZMAT team members only.

As HAZMAT team members continue to arrive at the scene, the HMCO begins to utilize a priority system to fill holes in the HAZMAT sector structure. Initially, the HMCO fills several HAZMAT sector positions himself, namely, HMCO, research officer (RO) and safety officer (SO). No other HAZMAT functions should yet be established until additional resources arrive.

At this point, it must be emphasized that, while all HAZMAT team members will have their own favorite function or role for which they are best qualified, HAZMAT personnel must be very versatile. They must be capable of fulfilling the duties of any HAZMAT position.

The first position delegated by HMCO, must be Research Officer (RO). This is because all actions at the scene, whether defensive or offensive, must be guided by a thorough understanding of the particular hazardous materials involved. All decisions must be consistent with the highest level of life safety. This cannot be done without good and thorough evaluation of products, chemical/physical/toxicological behavior, and scene weather/topography.

The RO should have the highest level of familiarity with the chemical resource literature of any team member. He has to scour the scene for experts (i.e. company chemist or truck driver) who may be sources of information (i.e. MSDS and shipping documents). He must also be able to access off-scene information services such as CHEMTREC. The RO has to be well versed and resourceful in information gathering from a variety of sources. He must be able to communicate his recommendations to the HMCO who, in conjunction with the RO, formulates strategy and tactics and communicates advice up through the command structure. If only one Specialist is available, he should be assigned the RO position.

HMCO must next establish the HAZMAT EMS Officer (EMSO) to ensure that full EMS is available for pre and post physical examination, monitoring and emergency treatment of HAZMAT personnel. HAZMAT EMSO and RO must maintain dialogue on the products so that HAZMAT EMS can communicate with a hospital or medical control. EMSO must receive treatment procedures and prepare the hospital to receive any team members or victims requiring transport.

All HAZMAT EMS personnel must be trained to, at least, Operations level. The optimum EMSO would be a paramedic trained to Technician level, however, the level of medical training is more important than Technician training in the HAZMAT EMS section.

HAZMAT EMSO must also establish and maintain communication with the host department EMS, since the host department EMS would be responsible for all transport, and may require mutual aid for additional EMS resources. HAZMAT EMSO cannot release his personnel or ambulance until the incident terminates, due to his HAZMAT team monitoring duties. This communications link between all EMS on the scene is absolutely critical. All departments should actively seek to have their EMS personnel at least observe nearby HAZMAT team drills, to gain experience with HAZMAT EMS duties.

The next position HMCO fills should be Decontamination Officer (DO). The DO will, depending on the particular products involved, begin to staff his section with Operations level personnel from the host department. Note that this is possible only if RO determines that level C (turnout gear/SCBA) is sufficient protection for Decon personnel. If level B is required, then HMCO knows immediately that additional Technicians will probably be necessary, and mutual aid from a neighboring HAZMAT team may be required to meet the demand for sufficient Technicians.

Whether staffing with Operations level or Technician level personnel, DECON must be fully staffed before filling any other positions. This is because first responders, inadvertently contaminated, and victims, may require rapid emergency decontamination. DO and EMSO must coordinate,
because all DECON personnel require pre and post incident physical examinations, and monitoring for conditions such as heat stress.

When, and only when HMCO, RO, EMSO, DO are in place and their sections are staffed does HMCO fill the ENTRY OFFICER (EO) position. EO, because of OSHA 1910.120, must staff his primary and backup units with Technicians. It is desirable, but not absolutely essential, depending on the experience and expertise of the EO, to also staff the suit tenders (who dress the entry units) with Technicians.

As soon as minimum staffing has been established, HMCO should make every attempt to relinquish his Safety Officer (SO) position to a qualified person. Specific efforts should be made, through the chain of command to relieve HMCO of this duty as soon as possible, and actual entry should not be made without a dedicated HAZMAT SO. HAZMAT SO can also aid HMCO in maintaining the log of incident events.

RO briefs the HMCO, SO, EMSO, DO and EO on the results of his research. From these results, the following are now possible to establish:

-Chemical/physical/toxicological behavior of the product

-EMS treatment of exposed personnel/victims

-Initial zone and evacuation perimeters reevaluation

-Decontamination procedures

-Reasonable Risks/and Objectives

-Personal protective equipment

-Reconnaissance risks/and objectives

-Mitigation techniques

-Actual hot zone entry (if feasible)

-Chemical monitoring procedures

HMCO has thus used a prioritization system to establish his minimum staffing in an optimal fashion, using nine HAZMAT Technicians, three Operations level EMTs and eleven Operations level personnel. The overall IC has received a modular, functional HAZMAT sector and offensive action can now commence (depending on the incident scope, products, scene, weather, etc.). The actions taken by the HAZMAT sector will obviously be governed by what is actually feasible, but this sector can now be expanded to integrate any incoming HAZMAT resources, such as neighboring HAZMAT teams and individual, or teams of, technical specialists from the industry WhOSe products are involved. This includes positions upgrades as Technicians become available to replace Operations level personnel. The ICS organization, manpower assignment priority order and manpower training levels are set forth in the following chart.

Summary: Prior to any offensive action, the HAZMAT Control Officer
(HMCO) must staff the key or officer roles with Technicians and fill in the
section staff with qualified personnel per OSHA 1910.120. The section
officers should be Technicians, as should be all direct entry and backup
entry personnel. If only one Specialist is available, he should be assigned
the RO position. The possible exception is HAZMAT Emergency Medical
Service Officer (HAZMAT EMSO) who may be Operations level. In this
exception, a paramedic with Operations level training is preferable to an
EMT with Technician level training. All HAZMAT sector officers must be
in possession of pre-prepared checklist and forms packets which will
guide them in their roles. The priority order for sector staffing which
nominally requires Technicians is:

HAZMAT Control Officer (HMCO)
Research Officer (RO)
HAZMAT Emergency Medical Services Officer (HAZMAT EMSO)
Decontamination Officer (DO)
Entry Officer (EO)
Entry and back up teams.

The remainder of staffing can be filled in with Operations Level personnel
unless entry is in Level A, which means Decon would be Level B, thus
requiring Technicians in Decon.

All Rights Reserved James R. MacNeal 10/24/91