Academy Blog Series - Battalion 42

Week 12  HazMat FRO, Venice Fire Case Study, Ventilation Review

An early morning Officers briefing was conducted Monday morning to divide apparatus and equipment maintenance assignments.  The activities of week 11 left a significant amount of wet hose positioned on the drying rack over the weekend.  Battalion 42's first weekly assignments were to return all apparatus to service immediately following workout, shower and report to the classroom in full uniform for the start of hazardous materials certification training . 

Hazardous materials are a part of everyday life in every city, county and state in the nation. There are millions of chemicals in existence, thousands classified as hazardous and hundreds as extremely hazardous. In California for 2012 alone, the tally for traffic accidents involving hazardous materials peeked at 1,300, the number of documented hazmat spills hit the 7,000 mark, businesses selling or using chemicals exceeded 140,000 and the volume of petroleum products, hazardous materials and waste shipped across the state weighed in over 1,000,000 tons. Because of its widespread presence, coupled with the human factor of error, hazardous materials training is a mandatory life and environmental safety component of firefighter academies. During week twelve, Battalion 42 experienced their first exposure to hazardous materials recognition and incident mitigation. 

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations categorize hazardous materials training into various levels, Awareness, Operational, Technician and Specialists. The Operational level served as the cadet focus this week.  Hazardous Materials First Responder Operational (HazMat FRO) training involves 24 hours of instruction to include lecture, interactive group activity, tabletop exercises and the participation in a simulated hazardous materials event or release.

The first day of FRO started and finished in the classroom.  An interactive lecture had the cadets first learning how to recognize potential and actual incidents during transportation and fixed facility storage.  The various classes of hazardous materials was covered as well as the containers those materials would either be stored or transported in. A little in class competition involving container recognition gave Delta bragging rights as Cadet Minyard solidified the win. Good job, winner, winner, HazMat dinner!

The ability to safely isolate a scene, make proper notifications and conduct an initial identification and assessment of a haz mat situation was discussed Monday afternoon. A book named, the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) was the tool of choice during this lesson. The ERG is a reference staple utilized during the initial phases of an incident and carried on just about every responding apparatus. The pages are colored and categorized allowing the user to quickly reference product information, perimeter control recommendations, first aid and protective actions to consider or implement. 

FRO day one ended with a worksheet group exercise.  Each squad divided a series of ERG related fill-in questions.  Crews were tasked with researching all answers using the ERG, documenting those answers on their worksheet, then sharing the answers with their individual groups.

The topic of discussion during the second day of FRO surrounded initiating command. Basic Incident Command System (ICS) guidelines related to Haz Mat emergencies were covered. A haz mat checklist containing information and action needs for first responding companies was distributed. Cadets referred to the checklist and their ERGs as they planned for their afternoon exercise.

Product identification, hazard assessment and action planning are part of every haz mat emergency. To offer the Battalion a greater perspective when managing their upcoming FRO exercise, a tour of the academy haz mat props was conducted. Their incident was to involve an active leak of a material dripping in a solid stream from a container in HazMat Land, with a plant worker down (unconscious) nearby. Weather real time, with winds at 30 mph and temperatures in the 80's.

To show the importance of wind and protective action distances, the group was escorted the the roof of the training center tower, 6 stories up.  With their ERGs and checklists in hand, each cadet scanned the area pondering the how to of public notification of surrounding businesses and schools, the possible evacuation of those employees and students, the traffic plan for evacuees or responders, wind shifts and the possible shut down of an airport, a freeway or shopping mall.  The longer they stood there together analyzing the events of incident management, the more reality set in with thoughts of a true emergency.

Upon returning to the classroom, cadets were shown how to gauge distances for setting control zones. These zones are designated areas during a haz mat emergency. The Exclusion Zone immediately surrounds the spill and is the most dangerous. Zones farther away become increasingly safer.  The middle zone where crews are cleaned free of contaminants is called the Contamination Reduction Zone and the farthest from the spill and safest zone for responders is the Support Zone.  The Support Zone is where crews dress and prep prior to making attempts at entering a hazardous area to perform victim rescue.  

This particular tabletop exercise was expanded to give the group a full view of haz mat incident operations. Assignments were randomly divided by squads. Engine company first responders, hazardous materials team responders, a haz mat group supervisor, crews to make the rescue (entry teams), authors of the action plan to be implemented, authors of the safety plan to be followed, researchers for the details related to the type of protective clothing to be worn and lastly staff assigned to assist the incident commander in dealing with the press and representatives from affected agencies. A significant amount of role play and performance.

Cadets Wiatt and Minyard served as the leaders of initial responding companies, with Wiatt taking the primary role. The two worked together with their crews to isolate the area, identify the leaking product number and request a haz mat response. Cadet Garcia arrived on scene taking command and functioning as Durley IC. Cadet Locke performed as the Haz Mat Group Supervisor, communicating between her entry team crews and Cadet Wiatt, now acting as Operations. Cadet Hill led the planning section, working with his crew to write the Incident Action Plan (IAP). Cadet Gratz took control with his group guiding them through referencing technical information related to product behavior and recommended rescuer clothing. Cadet Smith served as the Officer in charge of drafting the Site Safety Plan and message and Cadets Powell and Minicucci acted as the leads for agency notifications and press releases.

By the event's end, crews set incident perimeters and control zones, safely rescued the plant worker, researched the appropriate protective clothing and dressed accordingly, authored a Site Safety Plan and an IAP, documented all necessary potential notifications, medically monitored and documented entry team activity and conducted two press releases. Great job 42, FRO day 2 complete with day 3 scheduled for Thursday.

Wednesday served as a day break away from FRO. LAFD Captain Ketaily was onsite to discuss case study of a fire his crew and city had recently responded to. The Venice Fire was an incident in Los Angeles where a storage facility erupted in fire and burned throughout the night, injuring eight firefighters. The fire is still under investigation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Cadets listened intently as Captain Ketaily described the incident as it grew.  Dispatching, responding company actions, building description, challenges of forcible entry and gaining access to burning areas, the intense heat and fire's behavior held every cadets attention. Following the interactive discussion of Venice Incident events, Captain Ketaily relocated the Battalion to the Fire Tech Simulation Room where an electronic simulation of the fire was displayed on the projection screen.  

The Fire Tech Simulation Room is a technical oriented room set up to show active moving footage of self created scenarios.  A given address is utilized, then smoke, fire and fireground sounds are added. A simulation of the Venice storage facility fire was created so Battalion 42 could practice their incident management and radio communication skills.

The Sim Room has two areas, the classroom and a radio and control room. Cadets sat in the classroom and monitored operations as Cadet Gratz and his crew members acted as the Incident Commanders, with Cadets Powell, Minicucci and Wiatt acting as the incident scribes. In the control room stood Cadets Giovinazzo, Hill, Koehler and Hamilton with Whitby serving as scribe.  Venice IC, Gratz, would relay radio orders as cadets in the control room responded with incident related radio transmissions. An incredibly valuable case study, as narrated by an on scene Fire Captain, of a real time fire ground situation in which eight LAFD firefighters were injured. It doesn't come truer than that. Thank you Captain Ketaily.

An impromptu visit by Ed French, the founder of Oxnard College Regional Fire Academy drew everyone's attention. Mr. French was forward thinking with his efforts in building our program and personally recruited Captain Ketaily as an inaugural instructor. Reminiscing stories of the true early days, as in the Academy literal week 1 were shared with the Battalion.

Wednesday afternoon was a review of ventilation techniques conducted at the roof prop. Squads assisted one another as they rotated through chain saw cutting operations.  One cadet would sound the roof to ensure its structural integrity while another carrying a chain saw followed.  The two would arrive to the designated area to be cut, perform the task of opening the roof, turn around, sound and exit the roof. A very productive session of cadets learning by doing and learning by teaching.

A homework assignment was given days before and due on FRO day three.  Cadets were charged with taking a photograph of a hazardous material during transport.  The vehicle transporting the material could be photographed anywhere, in a parking lot, at a delivery dock, on a roadway rolling or parked. The photos would serve as the focus Thursday morning.

Cadets brought their photographs and internet capable devices to class for the last morning of FRO. Checklists were utilized as the photos were projected on the screen.  Google earth was used to go to a given location to pre-plan a hazardous material incident with the photographed vehicle as the focus. A number of cadets had varying angles of a gasoline tanker dispensing fuel at a gas station in close proximity to the academy.

Ironically Google Earth had a similar photo, making for real world planning for an event at this fuel station. The scenario had the tanker cutting a corner too tight and contacting a metal yellow painted pole and causing damage to his fuel filled container.  Cadets problem solved their way through what to do when 4,500 gallons of fuel has the potential to spill out. How do they close off the station, manage the fast food restaurant across the driveway, deal with drivers entering the parking lot, suppress the vapors, contain the runoff......and the list goes on. Group work completed the lesson with pre-planning mitigation efforts of each squad's photos. Certification paperwork, roster completion and the FRO written exam finished the morning.

After lunch, the Battalion worked to set up the second FRO exercise.  An obstacle course consisting of a number of stations was to be completed by each cadet.  Specialized clothing was required for the event. Clothing types used during haz mat incident mitigation vary in levels. Structural turnouts used for firefighting is considered level D, splash protection jumpsuits with the wearer using an air purifying respirator is level C and that same splash protection using self-contained-breathing-apparatus (SCBA) is level B. However, none of the aforementioned attire was acceptable for this obstacle course.

Only level A clothing could be worn during this particular exercise.  Level A attire is a fully encapsulated suit with the wearer breathing through an SCBA.  The environment within the suit can be harsh as the rescuer holds the potential to overheat or become dehydrated from profuse sweating while performing in the suit.  Medical monitoring before and after use and constant communications during use is of high priority. Each cadet was escorted by another cadet as they made their way through the course.

Performing skills in an over-sized suit and gloves while sweating enough to drop a fast few pounds is no easy task. The objectives throughout the course consisted of unscrewing the lid of an over-sized plastic drum, placing it on its side, then rolling the adjacent leaking drum into it. From there the cadet would walk towards a bucket of tools, tie a hoisting knot to the handle then walk to an upstairs level and hoist the bucket to a metal catwalk landing. After removing the rope, the cadet would carry that bucket to a bolted metal connector, tighten those bolts, place the bucket in a designated area and walk to the next objective.

An uneven surface of rocks was used as a path to the stairs leading to a valve to be turned 90 degrees. The cadet would turn the valve, then turn around, travel down the stairs, walk over to a series of other valves actively spraying water and make the best attempts at controlling the spray. From there they would walk a short distance, stop and give a radio update on the status of the bottled air pressure and continue to the next task. Across the road each cadet had to dig a dirt berm, shovel dirt into a bucket, empty the bucket and strike a telephone pole 5 times using a sledge hammer. A team awaited at the finish line to assist each cadet with clothing removal, water replacement and vital sign updating. Once the entire Battalion completed the series of tasks the group jumped in to decontaminate and wash all suits and boots, stow all equipment and document all monitoring.

Quite an eventful week with the best efforts at keeping the dry topic of hazardous materials interesting and interactive. Great job 42. Your role playing and desire to learn and participate in activities is exceptional. Your team building continues to grow and show, leaving much to speak of. Thank you.

Captain Crudo