EMTs take training as rescue and hazmat decon responders. - Photo by Win Henderson / FEMA

EMTs take training as rescue and hazmat decon responders.

Photo by Win Henderson / FEMA

There is a saying adopted by the fire service — "Train as if your life depends on it...because it does." For those of us whose chosen profession includes going downrange in the IDLH (immediately dangerous to life or health) these are words to live and stay alive by.

Those taking heed of this advice understand that training needs to be realistic, effective, consistent and utilizing their own target hazards and worksites. HazSim is an innovative system able to address these factors by giving the instructor the ability to create readings on the handheld meter.

Training as a Perishable Skill

My first day at my first hazardous materials job almost 20 years ago involved pouring radioactive monkey urine into a 500 gallon poly drum. Our waste yard handled thousands of gallons and hundreds of different chemical, biological and radioactive materials, known and unknown. While the hazmat experiences of that first few years were less than attractive, I had the chance to experience a whole lot of hands-on skills based on shear volume.

When one is bulking chemicals, monitoring environments and HazCating samples every day, those skills have a chance to stay sharp. As I moved away from the waste yard and into primarily emergency response, I took several courses a year to supplement the lack of daily exposure.

I also became an instructor which helped keep me sharp but brought the new challenge of being responsible for the safety and well being of my students. There are many excellent training venues for haz mat courses, yet it still requires continuous maintenance and discipline to keep sharp.

Mesa, AZ, Fire Department responders drill using HazSim. - Photo provided by HazSim

Mesa, AZ, Fire Department responders drill using HazSim.

Photo provided by HazSim

I have had the pleasure to meet folks across the U.S. and South America who make it their mission to provide the best training to their students. According to Kent Gardner at the Texas Engineering Extension Service at Texas A&M, “We train over 4,000 students annually from industrial to municipal.

One of the major problems with training is the inability to receive readings on any of the numerous detectors we deploy. We are frequently relegated to having a facilitator or instructor verbally tell us what our readings are at any given time during an exercise. This is not only unrealistic, but it does not help us practice with our instruments as it is required to be used properly during an emergency.”

Starting in early 2012 TEEX began using the HazSim system and according to Kent brought the already outstanding TEEX training “into the 21st Century.”

Get Rid of the 8x11 Sheet of Paper

As instructors and first responders, we wanted a way to bring readings to the monitor in real-time to challenge our peers. We were tired of the verbal and visual cues needed to prompt the entry team of danger. We were ready for an alternative to dangerous and less than predictable live agents out in the field.

The system needed to be rugged as well as powerful and independent of any simulants or sources. The system also needed to allow an instructor to use the style and approach that worked for their industry and regional target hazards. It may be of no surprise that one of the HazSim design team members, Kurt Bohney, had worked in the special effects field prior to becoming a career fire/hazmat engineer. 

HazSim was created by first responders to help conduct training with vital realism to train as if their lives depend on it. 

A recent energy company drill conducted at its Naperville, IL, facilities used the HazSim to help responders determine the source of an “odor complaint.” Responders used the HazSim to eliminate potential sources and zero in on the actual source.

Student responders going down range in search of WMD at FireShowsReno in Nevada. - Photo provided by HazSim

Student responders going down range in search of WMD at FireShowsReno in Nevada.

Photo provided by HazSim

Students were able to understand how different metering technologies such as PID and combustibility are related and how they are different. They were able to make decisions as to when to proceed without PPE and when they needed to stop their recon and don protective equipment. Real time also gives the incident commander and entry officer information to process and determine the appropriate strategies and tactics.

“With HazSim, air monitoring training now allows for realistic, real time, hands on experiences that allow the students to interpret the data that they are seeing and make decisions based on the readings,” said Greg Lauf, President of All Risk Training and Safety. “HazSim has been an excellent tool for our clients to help them understand proper monitoring techniques, understand the chemical properties of the products that they are working with and provide realistic simulation,” he added. 

The Mesa Arizona Fire/Medical Department has been utilizing the HazSim during their 2012 year end haz mat drills. These drills involve all of the greater Phoenix Regional Haz Mat teams. During the drills, HazSim was used to provide a “working” meter for the Recon and Decon Sectors.

In the scenario crews faced, a one-ton chlorine cylinder was reported with a liquid leak. The teams assigned to recon and decon all commented positively on having a real time working meter. The facilitators used the HazSim to prompt the Recon team in the Hot Zone. In decon, the HazSim was also used to clear level A entry team members before removing their suits. At times, decon was prompted by the facilitators to send an entry team member back to the shower for another wash cycle. 

Feedback from the Mesa participants and facilitators was that the HazSim was an excellent addition to the drill. Participants who used the HazSim said that it made their assignment in the drill more realistic.

According to Paul Finlay of the Mesa Fire Department, “From a facilitator’s point of view, it helped drive the actions that the facilitators wanted to test without having to say a word to the participants.” The facilitators watched the recon and decon team getting readings on the HazSim, processing those readings and adjusting their actions based on the HazSim. They commented that “the HazSim made for very realistic training.” 

Practice as you play is the gold standard for training and the use of HazSim gives hazmat drills that realistic training. HazSim is now being used in CA, TX, IL, VA and AZ.

Phil Ambrose is a career firefighter, paramedic, and HazMat Specialist as well as inventor of the HazSim system.