Quite often we — the collective “we” meaning public sector hazmat responders — become ensconced in our own hazmat response worlds and therefore also become somewhat isolated from the entire “big picture” of hazmat response in that we forget about the necessity of building relationships with our private sector counterparts. Such relationships often predicate successful outcomes at hazmat scenes; and ensure the safety and efficiency of all involved. Such relationships should be built not only with fixed facility representatives, but also with our counterparts in the transportation realm.
One of the most important facets of our relationship with private sector personnel is the development in their eyes of our credibility.
We will begin our discussion by delving into public/private sector relationships in the fixed facility setting. While public sector and private sector hazmat responders may approach an incident from slightly different perspectives, we can, and should, learn from each other by capitalizing on those slightly differing viewpoints. In fact, the hazmat classes in which I have learned the most have been those in which private sector representatives were in attendance with public sector students. In those classes, the mutual learning that took place on both “sides” was unparalleled. Such training and the development of relationships with our private sector representatives are essential in that the first time we meet one another should not be on the incident scene. We should take the time to not only pre-plan our hazardous materials facilities, but also to interact with their personnel to learn their capabilities, the equipment they possess, and their level of training. Hazmat facilities may have personnel that can assist at levels ranging from providing technical expertise or specific knowledge of their facility; to making joint entries into the hot zone with public sector personnel. Likewise, their personnel can learn the same regarding us.
One of the most important facets of our relationship with private sector personnel is the development in their eyes of our credibility. As credibility is something that takes time and effort to build; but takes only a split second to lose, much is at stake in the credibility building process. A tangible example of this process is the requirement for emergency responders to complete an 80-hour chemistry of hazmat class in the State of North Carolina as a prerequisite for attending the hazmat technician class for certification. While some have questioned this requirement, think of how our credibility could be damaged if we were to show up on a hazmat scene at a fixed facility and could not effectively communicate with a chemical engineer or other facility representative on at least a rudimentary level in the area of chemistry.
Another difference that exists between the public and private sector worlds is in training. Private sector personnel often serve on a hazmat team as an ancillary duty to their normal work. Under OSHA’s Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Standard, private sector personnel can become certified as hazmat technicians following 24 hours of hazmat training. As an instructor who sometimes provides training for private sector personnel, it is genuinely rewarding to see personnel — that sometimes have very little hazmat experience — finish the 24-hour technician class as hazmat responders that are confident of their hazmat response capabilities. While public sector responders in North Carolina are required to complete the aforementioned chemistry of hazmat class and a two-week technician class to become certified hazmat technicians, we can learn much from our private sector hazmat team brethren in that they also bring not only hazmat experience with them, but also experience with specific products, processes and machinery. If we have taken the time to train with such properly trained and equipped personnel prior to the occurrence of an incident, we can integrate them into our entries into the hot zone and should definitely include appropriate facility personnel as technical specialists and into our unified command structure within the incident command system.
Now that we have discussed relationship building with fixed facility representatives, let us now turn our focus to building similar relationships with representatives of private sector transportation carriers in our area. Representatives of transportation companies can assist us greatly with our training needs. As hazmat teams, it is normally impossible for us to possess an actual highway transportation tank trailer to train on. We can, however, build up relationships with highway transportation companies so that we can visit their facility to train on an actual tank trailer. I have coordinated such training activities in the past, and such companies are normally more than happy to oblige our requests. In some settings we have actually had tank trailer construction/repair specialists provide some of the training. How better to learn than from the true experts?
Just as with highway transportation carriers, we should build relationships with the railroads that traverse our jurisdictions. Railroads usually employ regional hazardous materials managers that respond to the scene of railroad incidents to coordinate the railroad side of responses. Such personnel also often coordinate training opportunities for hazardous materials responders. In addition, they serve as the vital bridge between public sector responders and the railroad company. We can also build relationships with our local railyard personnel, such as the trainmasters that coordinate train movements and yard traffic. If you have a railyard within your jurisdiction, possibilities exist for training opportunities on actual rolling stock at off-peak activity times.
In a rail setting, we should also possess the appropriate contact information to allow us to immediately speak with a railroad representative. If we are working on or even near railroad tracks, we should of course relay the need for stopping all rail traffic to our dispatch center so that they can then contact the railroad to affect a stoppage of traffic. With no disrespect meant to our hard-working telecommunicators, I personally also call the railroad directly to ensure that they are aware of our presence and to confirm that rail traffic has stopped. Such a call is normally placed to the Railroad Police Dispatch Center, and during my hazmat career I have kept that number as a priority number in my cell phone contact list. If the number is not close at hand, you can look at any rail crossing and the number should be on a sign posted on the crossing sign posts.
When contacting the railroad, you should be able to state the exact location in terms of crossing numbers and/or milepost numbers, as railroads are more versed with those such location identifiers than local street names. In a jurisdiction I previously worked in, we developed railroad diagrams that listed all crossings and related crossing data in hard copy and electronic/GIS formats. Just as with our relationships with fixed facility personnel, our relationships with railroad representatives allow both sides to learn effectively about the response environment, discover one another’s capabilities and enhance our on-scene effectiveness. As it is sometimes said, it isn’t necessarily knowing what to do in a hazmat situation; but rather who to talk to that does know.
As can be seen above, it is imperative that public sector hazmat responders form relationships with our private sector counterparts prior to the occurrence of an incident. Such time investments pay off in huge on-scene dividends on incident scenes. We can learn much from one another and ensure that the safety of ourselves and the public is maintained at hazardous materials incident scenes. As always, stay safe out there and be sure to visit the North Carolina Association of Hazardous Materials Responders website at www.nchazmat.com.