Hazardous Materials Course Changes at the National Fire Academy

In March 2018, a Hazardous Materials Curriculum Review was held at the National Fire Academy (NFA). 


This review included the following resident courses: Hazardous Materials Operating Site Practices, Hazardous Materials Incident Management, Hazardous Materials Code Enforcement, Special Operations Program Management, Chemistry for Emergency Response and Advanced Life Support Response to Hazardous Materials Incidents and Advanced Science of Hazardous Materials Response.

During the Curriculum Review, each course was examined in detail by NFA staff and a panel of hazardous materials Subject Matter Experts (SME). Courses were examined for relevancy, course content and alignment with the mission of the NFA. Also examined were each student comment for each of the above courses for the last five years. Some courses were deemed to be without the need for updating. The Advanced Science of Hazardous Materials Response was a brand-new course for example. Other courses were deemed in need of revision (such as Hazardous Materials Code Enforcement). Other courses were deemed in need of retirement and (Hazardous Materials Operating Site Practices).

This article will focus on the Hazardous Materials Code Enforcement and Hazardous Materials Operating Practices as those courses are currently undergoing revision and replacement, respectively.

As part of the revision/rewrite process, a contract is awarded to a consulting firm to oversee the project. The consulting firm hires SME to assist with the project along with representatives from the NFA. A Course Design Meeting is held where all the individuals gather for three days to go over all the course material. This includes the Instructor Guide, Student Manual, Power Point slides and student activities that are examined in detail. This also includes the terminal and enabling objectives.

After the Course Design Meeting, SME’s are given their assignments to complete during the Course Design Phase. During the Course Design Phase, all aspects of the course checked, rechecked and revised or rewritten as necessary. The Course Design Phase lasts for several months and includes numerous exchanges of emails and conference calls to keep the project on track.

After the Course Design Phase is completed, a Course Walk Through is conducted. The Course Walk Through is basically an accelerated three-day version of the class where each SME takes the committee through their assigned units. All materials, including the exam questions, are checked for accuracy and their correlation with the terminal and enabling objectives of each unit. Final assignments are given to the SME for any outstanding issues that were discovered during the Walk Through.

The consulting then correlates all the information into a final documentation package and submits it to the NFA for final review. One pilot offering is taught where the students are given the opportunity to speak with representatives of the consulting firm about their thoughts on the day’s instruction. What did they like or not like? What needs to be improved or added? What needs to be deleted? The comments of the students, along with the SME’s who taught the class and NFA staff are all collated for review.

Improvements suggested after the first pilot offering are incorporated into the second pilot offering where the process is again repeated. Comments for suggested improvements are again collated for review. After this second round of suggested improvements have been implemented into the program, the course is then finalized and officially added to the NFA’s calendar.

Hazardous Materials Code Enforcement only required a revision. This is common for all courses at one time or another. The materials simply needed a “freshening up” if you will. The course content was good. Certain information just needed to be updated for currency. For example, all references to Material Safety Data Sheets had to be changed to Material Data Sheets. All code references needed to be updated to the most recent version of the code. The last two changes were based strictly on student comments. Students asked for more activities, so additional activities were added to every unit. The final activity was also changed based on student and instructor comments. One unit was thought to be too long by both students and instructors. The material in that unit was broken down into three smaller units.

Hazardous Materials Operating Site Practices was a bit more problematic as it had become dated. The course was originally developed in the 1990s and had run its course. While the information contained in the course was good, it was basically a HazMat Technician course without the practical evolutions and it was felt that this type of materials was readily available at the state level and therefore outside of the mission of the NFA. For these reasons, the course was selected for retirement and will be replaced with a brand-new course.

The new course will be titled Management and Safety in Response to Hazardous Materials/WMD Incident. This is not to be confused with the Hazardous Materials Incident Management class that deals with the entire hazardous materials incident. This new class deals with managing the hazardous materials incident from the Hazardous Materials Branch downward. The course is designed with hazardous materials team officers, allied hazardous materials response personnel and those personal on hazardous materials teams that aspire to be hazardous materials team officers or those that may act in that capacity.

Unlike the course it replaces, the new course will be more discussion and activity based as opposed to lecture and Power Point slides of the old course. This is based on student comments and is keeping with the NFA’s mission to become more student centered in its learning approach.

The other courses will be examined in time based on the needs outlined in the Curriculum Review. As with many things we deal with in emergency services there are budgetary and time constraints involved. As the money becomes available, more courses will be reviewed and updated in the future.

For additional information on the Hazardous Materials Code Enforcement course please check out the following link: https://apps.usfa.fema.gov/nfacourses/catalog/details/10504. For additional information on the new Management and Safety in Response to Hazardous Materials/WMD Incidents course please check out the following link: https://apps.usfa.fema.gov/nfacourses/catalog/details/10792.

Unless 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.

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