Let’s Talk HazMat Opportunities

Oftentimes firefighters hear about the chance to join the HazMat team and are immediately transported to their unpleasant experiences with high school chemistry. And while it’s true, understanding chemistry is a fundamental foundation in a HazMat technician’s playbook, standing in a lab coat surrounded by beakers and Bunsen burners is not a requirement of the job. Anytime firefighters are exposed to both chemical and biological hazards, the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) classifies that call as a HazMat call. In essence, every call a truck or engine runs may be classified as a HazMat call.


Whether it’s gasoline on the road from an auto accident, a natural gas leak caused by an overzealous landscaper or an overturned high-pressure rail car, firefighters and the public they serve are surrounded daily by hazardous materials. The knowledge and education that comes with Hazardous Materials Technician training can and would benefit every firefighter on every scene. Rail car collides with a stalled car, spilling its contents across city roads? That’s a HazMat call. Improper storage of a chemistry experiment at a local community college? That’s a HazMat call. DOT trailer hauling 9,000 gallons of gas jack-knifes on the interstate? You got it. HazMat call. Hazardous materials incidents happen every day, in every city. Now that I’ve got your attention, what and where are the training opportunities available to current HazMat technicians?

The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) have created specialized training programs to give technicians on every fire department the tools they need to properly handle a variety of hazardous materials incidents. Funding of $101 million in 2018 alone was allocated to the group of schools now known as the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium (NDPC). This group of schools spanning from Nevada to Alabama, have trained and certified nearly three million first responders in over 1135 subject matters since its inception in 1998. In North Carolina alone, over 30,000 first responders trained throughout the country between 2009-2018. Let’s take a tour of this comprehensive and extensive training program.

Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (A Division of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology)
Socorro, New Mexico

Specialty training for this location consists of explosives research and testing. This program allows the student to deal directly with curriculum on terrorist bombings, suicide bombings, homemade explosives, school bombings, and overall HazMat response. The location itself is on a 40 square mile field laboratory containing more than 30 test sites that have the ability to utilize over 20,000 pounds of explosives.

National Research Center for Biomedical Research and Training Academy
(A Division of Louisiana State University)

Baton Rouge, Lousiana

LSU NCBRT/ACE offers training specific to biosafety, pathogen surveillance and infectious disease response. Specialty training at this facility includes Biological Awareness, Critical Decision Making for Complex Coordinated Attacks and Tactical Operations for CBRNE Response. During 2019, the facility was awarded a $22 million security grant that will allow more than 20,000 responders to attend critical training opportunities. The facility also has 25 specific courses that receive Department of Homeland Security certification.

Nevada National Security Site
Las Vegas, Nevada

Several days of classroom instruction wrap with tactical training in Mercury, Nevada at the Nevada National Security Site (NNRR), which covers 1,375 square miles. This location was originally established for testing nuclear weapons from 1951 to 1992 with a total of 1,021 detonations on site. The advanced training includes response to Radiological/Nuclear Weapons of Mass Destruction Response and preventive Radiological/Nuclear Detection. These courses utilize live radioactive sources to allow for realistic WMD training evolutions.

Security and Emergency Response Training Center
Pueblo, Colorado

One of the most popular stops with advanced HazMat training is held onsite at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center which is located 25 miles east of Pueblo, Colorado on a 52 square mile site. The instructors at this location have a total over 334 years of experience with specialties in multiple modes of hazardous materials transportation. The various training options include Crude Oil Emergencies, Highway Response Specialist/Advanced, Intermodal Specialist, Tank Car Specialist/Advanced and Tactical HazMat Operation. The realistic training props range from a full rail car derailment to highway tank failures.

National Emergency Response and Recovery Training Center (A Division of Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service)
College Station, Texas

This DHS-FEMA funded location offers education in areas of both Incident Management and response to direct HazMat Incidents to enhance the capabilities of emergency responders and local officials to prepare for, respond to, and recover from catastrophic events resulting from natural events, man-made accidents or terrorist attacks. The main four divisions include Emergency Services Training Institute, Infrastructure Training and Safety Institute, Knowledge Engineering and Institute for Law Enforcement and Protective Services Excellence. The programs include management of Chemical, Biological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) events among other direct HazMat training courses.

Center for Domestic Preparedness
Anniston, Alabama

This specific level training is based around chemical ordinance, biological and radiological areas. The realistic training at this facility is the only one in the nation that offers training in the safe handling of toxic chemical agents and biological materials like sarin, VX, anthrax and ricin. With over 17 separate disciplines onsite, there is an opportunity for a vast absorption of HazMat advanced knowledge.

The advanced programs offered by the Dept of Homeland Security and FEMA are designed to give the student complete realistic hands-on application that truly makes the specialty of Hazardous Materials come to life. In addition to the federally funded consortium programs, there are many local training opportunities for association members. These opportunities include Transcaer training, Taming the Tiger with Anhydrous Ammonia (statewide), multiple HazMat operation level tactics on site at the Nutrien Plant in Aurora, North Carolina, and various instructional classes held at our regular North Carolina Association of HazMat Responder meetings. The face of the first responder is constantly changing along with the many hazards in the field. By taking proactive steps with your education, you will possess the specialized tools needed to be more effective in your response and be prepared to manage and mitigate advanced hazardous situations. Check out NCHAZMAT.com for additional information about local training opportunities and/or visit one of our quarterly North Carolina Association of HazMat Responders during the year.

Derek Mickler is a Captain/HazMat Advanced Specialist with the Wilmington Fire Department and North Carolina Regional Response Team 2. He has served as the Secretary, Eastern Director, Vice-President, President, and past President of the North Carolina Association of Hazardous Materials Responders. He is an active member with the NC HazMat Technical Advisory Committee and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Fire and Emergency Services and is a 20-year veteran in the fire service.

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