To conduct a proper Entry Briefing, it is important to understand what information must be covered and why.
A proper Entry Briefing, like any good news article in journalism answers the especially important questions; Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? In an ideal situation, all the answers are known before the Entry Briefing is given. If all the answers are not known, then as much information as possible must be presented while the rest of the answers are being discovered.
Who identifies most of the major players in the Hazardous Materials Branch including the members of the Entry and Back-Up Teams, Entry Officer, Decon Officer and Research Officer. Personnel staffing the Decon Corridor and Medical Monitoring are also identified. Any other persons such as property representatives, technical specialists or responsible parties are also identified at this time.
What encompasses many questions and will depend on the size and scope of the incident. The chemicals involved and their hazards are identified. The container or containers are discussed as is the weather forecast for the incident. The tactical objectives are explained as are the means on how to achieve them. What tools, kits, monitoring equipment, personal protective and respiratory equipment being worn and anything else to be used during the entry are listed. If decontamination is to be something other that the usual wet decontamination, it is also explained here. Radio communications and emergency signals must also be covered.
Where exactly is the Entry Team going? In some cases, this will be self-explanatory if the incident occurs outside. If the incident is occurring inside of a structure, detailed instructions need to be laid out. This is not only for the benefit of the Entry Team, but also for the Back-Up or RIT Teams as well. Interior operations can be extremely complicated depending on the overall size of the structure and elevation differences such as multiple floors above grade or basements or vaults below grade. The locations of the Decon Corridor and Area of Safe Refuge are also indicated.
When did the incident occur? Is it still occurring — such as an active leak — or did it occur several hours ago and now just involves a spill? What is the projected time that the Entry Team will operate down range? If this is a large-scale incident that will take place over several hours or Operational Periods, when will the personnel staffing the Decon Corridor be rotated out? If the incident is expected to last over several Operational Periods, what is the best estimate for time required to successfully mitigate the incident?
This is the opportunity for anyone involved, but especially the Entry and Back-Up Teams to ask any questions that they may have. These questions may ask for clarification of existing information or new information altogether. It is much easier for questions to be asked now as opposed to wasting precious air while the Entry Team awaits answers while down range in personnel protective equipment.
How is this incident going to be mitigated? Depending on the incident, the answer to this question may not become totally clear until the Entry Team goes down range. In other cases, a Recon Team has already been down range and gathered information. This information was then analyzed, and a plan of action established (Plan A). While Plan A is always the preferred option, someone should be working on a Plan B, C and D just in case the incident parameters should change.
An Entry Briefing must be conducted prior to any team being sent down range. If Team Two is replacing Team One, then Team One should be made available to conduct part of the briefing. Who better to explain what conditions are down range than the team that just came out of the Hot Zone? Even if the Back-Up/Rapid Intervention Team is being deployed in the event of an emergency, they must be given the most up-to-date information available. They must not be sent down range unless they have some idea of what happened, where they are going and what kind of conditions they can expect to find.
The Entry Briefing is by no means difficult to conduct. Its length will depend on the complexity of the incident. Entry Briefings can easily be practiced in quarters just like incident size-ups. Officers can make up an incident or choose one from the headlines. Assignments can then be made — Entry Officer, Research Officer, etc. — and the briefing can be prepared and presented. It is much easier to practice beforehand and work the bugs out as opposed to making mistakes in the field when an Entry Team is depending on you for the information, they need to not only successfully mitigate the incident, but also make it safely back from the Hot Zone.
Until next time, stay safe out there.
Mark Schmitt is a Captain/HazMat Specialist for the Greensboro Fire Department assigned to the Foam/ARFF Task Force and a veteran of 25 years in the fire service. The majority of his career has been spent in Special Operations. He holds a Master of Public Administration in Emergency Management and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. He has taught numerous hazardous materials courses for the Greensboro Fire Department, local community colleges and the North Carolina Office of the State Fire Marshal in addition to serving as a contract instructor with the National Fire Academy.