Academy Blog Series - Battalion 42

Week 14  Hazardous Materials First Responder Operational - Decontamination FRO-D, Confined Space Awareness, Weapons of Mass Destruction WMD, Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior

This week, for the most part, continued with training surrounding hazardous material or space danger potential. Remember, the group began hazardous material training a couple of weeks ago during FRO. The sessions scheduled this week are an extension of their earlier training.

A 0715 Monday morning briefing started the week off. This would be the last leadership transition meeting of the semester with Battalion Officer Minicucci serving as a mentor to Acting Battalion Officer Gratz, Alpha Company Officer Hamilton, Bravo Company Officer Brinkman, Charlie Company Officer Gullo and Delta Company Officer Villavicenio all ready for their new role. Once the former officers explained daily duties, they were dismissed to join the Battalion in a group stretch while the new officers were briefed in detail of their end of semester assignments.

These leaders, for the first time in our academy operations, would be empowered with completing and documenting the academy demobilization process of their crews. The assignment is notable as all academy issued gear would be examined for continued service, then documented and stored accordingly as well as two academy engines being pulled from service with hose, tools and equipment removed and organized in a designated area on the apparatus bay floor. Demobe would be accomplished incrementally, avoiding the interruption of the normal day’s lessons and finished by Thursday, 5pm, December 4th.  This group had a job to get done.

Workout and apparatus maintenance followed the briefing. The cleanup phase at the end of week 13 left considerable hose, tools and equipment placed out to dry over the weekend. So Monday morning was all about returning this equipment to its rightful compartment or area on its engine or designated bunker. Additionally, the portable props utilized during Firefighter Survival training needed to be secured in a weather protected spot, as rain was in a near forecast.

FRO-D was scheduled to begin at 0900 in the classroom with the theory and concepts of decontamination being discussed. Earlier during FRO cadets learned how hazardous materials incidents are zoned off to protect rescuers, victims and the public. The Exclusion Zone immediately surrounding the incident, the Contamination Reduction Zone located a distance from the incident and moderately dangerous and lastly, the Support Zone where rescuers plan and manage operations and dress appropriately to mitigate the hazardous issue.

The term decontamination as defined by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services CAL-OES, is the process of removing contaminates from people, equipment, structures, the environment or anything that may be contaminated. It’s designed to minimize exposure to hazardous substances and limit the spread of contamination.  To prep you for reading farther into this week, I’ll give a quick view of a few types of decontamination; emergency decon, the urgent removal of product from a rescuer or victim having direct exposure; mass decon, the urgent removal of product from multiple victims in direct contact; precautionary decon used for civilians presenting with related signs and symptoms of exposure-who may have already been mass deconned and lastly, responder decon, the methods used to clean rescuers leaving the Exclusion Zone. FRO-D primarily covers responder decon, however, an event less than a day away will make history and headlines within Ventura County, as one of the largest hazardous materials incidents to date was about to unfold, resulting in the utilization of all decontamination types.

The field exercise for the Battalion was to set up for responder decontamination. The props located in Hazmat Land were utilized. The afternoon started off with a demonstration of how to set up a three pool system of cleaning exiting rescuers. The system is designed to allow the contaminated entry team to move through a series of washes until clean enough to remove protective clothing. A rescuer, dressed in fully encapsulated level A, clothing would step into the first pool. Other responders positioned outside the pool and also dress appropriately would scrub and rinse gross contaminants from the rescuer standing in the pool. A step into the second adjacent pool cleaned the rescuer of residue and the third pool process finished off with a thorough rinsing. Once the move through all pools was complete, the rescuer could then remove protective clothing and breathing apparatus, in that order. The assignments this afternoon had Bravo suiting in level A clothing, Charlie dressing in one grade down, level B clothing and Alpha and Delta constructing and breaking down the pool setup. The day ended with the entire Battalion decontaminating all equipment used and placing it in designated areas for thorough drying.

The Tuesday morning Officer’s briefing focus was slightly altered to pay attention to current event. The Mission Incident began in the early morning hours and was growing as the briefing was conducted. All Officers gathered around the desktop computer screen, Google Earth displayed offering a satellite view of the incident site, while active radio traffic from the incident resonated from the cell phone scanner. Officers were to listen to the transmissions while analyzing the map and discuss the real time impacts of orders actively being given, a great impromptu thought processing session. The cadets completed a pistol range run and hazmat equipment stowing after the briefing. I kept my phone with me all day, set in scan mode, monitoring the events of the disaster actively happening in our backyard.

Confined Space Awareness training was scheduled for 0900 in the classroom. This state mandated training is a part of every accredited academy curriculum. A confined space is an area large enough for a person to enter and work with limited or restricted entry and exit points and not designed to continuously occupy. Awareness training in areas such as this is important because of the potential danger to both workers and rescuers. Oxygen deficiency, exposure to flammable vapors or toxic gases, the potential to be engulfed in a solid or liquid stored or moving through the area, extreme temperatures and working in close proximity with heavy machinery all pose considerable risk.

The training kept the Battalion indoors with the exception of an hour session on the mat, talking cadets through the set-up of a basic A frame ladder rescue system commonly utilized for confined space victim rescue. The certification course ended with a review and visible display of various spaces projected on the screen with cadets calling out the nature and category of the space. The day ended and the Battalion released as the Mission Incident continued.

The Officer’s briefing the next morning focused on academy demobilization. Each officer was asked to explain how they would collect, examine, organize and return their crew’s academy issued turnouts to the designated bunkers. With all answers well spoken, the officers were tasked with implementing everything just described.

The last hazardous materials related course of the semester was Weapons of Mass Destruction WMD. Questions surrounding the Mission Incident started the lesson off. What happened? In the early morning hours on November 18th, a vacuum truck exploded at a waste water treatment facility in the City of Santa Paula, the release of a combustion supporting chemical material spread. As the fire continued to burn, toxic smoke contaminated the skies, pushing west by natural wind. Only a few injuries reported initially, but as the incident grew, rescuers, workers and civilians became exposed, needing decontamination and hospital attention. A subsequent and separate incident resulted at Ventura County Medical Center VCMC, out of immediate need to decontaminate incoming patients and areas of the Emergency Department. The decontamination methods written earlier were in full force as VCMC did their best, utilizing outdoor tents and decon areas to manage the resulting 44 patients. In Santa Paula, freeway and road closures, evacuations and orders for sheltering in place were inforce. The incident was active for countless hours and is still under investigation. Interesting conservation with cadets asking and discussing absolutely relevant questions and topics, showing their comprehension of material previously covered. Good job 42.

The WMD lesson moved forward. The frequency of high-profile acts of terrorism has increased following the events of 9/11.  As a result, the topic was added to the Firefighter 1 curriculum. A weapon of mass destruction is a device made up of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive components and used as a weapon with the intent of large-scale impact on people, property and/or infrastructure. These events can be all too close to home, with the potential for rescuer injury or death during response extremely relevant. Cadets followed the material as it was covered, doing their best to manage another all day classroom session. The course ended with review and subsequent written certification test.

Upon release from WMD, the Officer’s continued with their demobe assignments of securing all structural clothing to its designated areas. Everything was to be documented thoroughly, signed then submitted for filing. The process was bitter sweet for many of them, as now the excitement of academy completion and the reality of leaving the camaraderie was setting in. The new officers did well by delegating assignments and thus completing the tasks prior to an on time departure for the day.

The last day of Week 14 was the first day of Wildland Fire Training. Prior to the start of class there was considerable work to accomplish, as the morning was slated for stripping Engine 4. The City of Los Angeles has generously donated two triple combination pumpers, 1990 Seagraves fire engines with enclosed cabs. These engines will be put into service and used by the next battalion. Making room for these engines requires the removal of two older model apparatus, Engine 4 and Engine 1.

During the Officer’s briefing, Battalion Officer Minicucci drew his vision of an inventory storage footprint on the white board. The storage area was to be set up on the apparatus bay floor and compartmentalized as if it depicted Engine 4. With all officers interpreting the drawing alike, company assignments by engine area were identified. When asked how long they predicted the job would take, durations of 40-45 minutes were estimated.  Too long, they were given 25 minutes to complete the work immediately following physical fitness.

Acting Battalion Officer Gratz was in charge of ensuring all hose was pulled, rolled and stacked by size. He posted a drawing of the assigned equipment areas on the back wall of the apparatus bay to serve as a reference for crews trying to determine where inventory was to be placed. Alpha Company Officer Hamilton guided his crew as they removed the tools and equipment from the driver’s side, Delta Company Officer Villavicenio with his crew working on inventory from the passenger’s side and Bravo and Charlie Company Officers Brinkman and Gullo with their crews pulling and rolling all hose and removing equipment from the topside and cab. Everyone moved with purpose, as the clock was ticking. The objective was met with minutes to spare. To utilize valuable time prior to class, a group photo was taken in front with the now out of service engine in the background.  Well done 42.

Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior began at 0900. This National Wildland Coordinating Group NWCG, certification course covers the basics of terminology regarding topography, fire description as it burns across that topography, fire rate of spread and general methods of fire suppression. Captain Bouska, retired CalFire, was quick to implement the use of handie-talkies during the session. Cadets would learn of the topography or given fire situation and relay their perception over the HT as others listened. The ability to describe what you see over the radio is crucial for on scene reporting and incident management. The speaker must paint an accurate picture in the listener’s mind of what’s actively transpiring so all responding companies and personnel are on the same page and thus the same fire attack thought process. The introduction training continued into the afternoon and was complete by 4:00 pm.

Earlier during the week, the Battalion was polled to identify engine numbering suggestions for the two Seagraves coming in. Several options were mentioned, a few with merit. The final consensus was to follow the numbering system already started by Battalion 38, numbering Engine 38. The first of the new engines would be numbered Engine 39. This would salute Captain Jim Petersen’s last Battalion and his retirement. The second would be numbered Engine 42 for obvious reason. Any engines additionally donated by supporting agencies would be numbered to fill in the gap. A formal letter was drafted and sent forward identifying the requests with the group photo taken earlier integrated. The request will stand and Engines 39 and 42 will be put into service in just a few short weeks. The Battalion was notified at the day’s summary session, all smiles. Prior to the group’s dismissal, all Officers were to submit the documentation of inventory removed. Both written and photographic documentation was recommended and collected.

42, your support of new officers and your drive to accomplish the tasks at hand are remarkable. Your performance remains focused and will represent you well. Wildland training is the only subject left on the calendar. You’re almost there, stay the course.

Captain Crudo