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Hazmat Training Levels

A review of the training requirements for hazmat operations and emergency response

By Jeff Carman
Published Monday, December 13, 2010

There’s an old saying among the firefighter community: “Train as if your life depends on it, because it does.” Training can mean the difference between life and death, particularly when it comes to hazardous materials. Knowing what to expect and being familiar with your PPE will ensure you’re prepared from the first day of your hazmat training. Ultimately, preparation leads to peace of mind in the hot zone.

Hazmat Operations Levels & Training
There are several levels of hazmat operations and emergency response (“hazwhoper”) training. The requirements for each level will vary, depending on the state in which you operate. Regardless of the number of hours required by your state, the national governing standard, OSHA 1910.120, stresses competency above all.

Those seeking hazmat training as part of their core competency will operate at the level of First Responder Operations (FRO). The training required for this level is typically held in a regional teaching facility and is required for every government employee (whether federal, state or local) who will respond to a hazmat emergency. These individuals serve as a first line of defense, striving to identify a hazardous incident and protect citizens from immediate exposure. At the FRO level, you must be able to properly identify a hazmat incident, prevent the substance from spreading and make the appropriate notifications to your team.

Firefighters who wish to be part of a hazmat response team can expect to receive training one step above the FRO level, which is the Technician level. This is the minimum level required for all hazmat team responders who will be handling chemical substances. Technicians must have a solid understanding of basic chemical and toxicological behavior because they will be required to actually stop the spread of hazardous substances. Core competencies include performing advanced control and containment operations while wearing proper PPE. Ultimately, technicians must successfully implement decontamination and termination procedures.

Those who must have specific knowledge of various chemical substances will operate at the level of Hazardous Materials Specialist. According to OSHA, the duties of a Specialist “require a more directed or specific knowledge of the various substances they may be called upon to contain.” Specialists must be able to securely classify and verify hazardous materials by using advanced survey instruments and equipment. Additionally, they must know the state emergency response plan and be able to develop a specific site safety and control plan. At this level, trainees will experience significant hands-on training, including use of PPE required for their job site.

Hands On, Suits On
Although the initial stages of hazmat training for Technician and Specialist levels consist of learning about inorganic and organic chemistry, the bulk of your time will be spent acting out scenarios in a hot zone. In fact, OSHA suggests that at least one-third of hazwhoper training consist of hands-on exercises.

At the specialist level, trainees are expected to don and doff a hazmat suit. For some, this can bring out anxieties ranging from fear of suit entrapment to decreased mobility or visibility. Knowing what to expect ahead of time will help you feel comfortable in your suit and help to ease training jitters.

Typically, trainees can expect to be inside the suit for about 35 minutes (approximately 30 minutes inside the hot zone and 5 minutes during decontamination). Emergency response personnel often find that the humidity inside their suit causes their visor to fog up. To fight the fog, bring a towel inside the suit with you to clear your visor of any condensation.

Maneuverability is a key point of concern when it comes to donning hazmat suits. If you have a problem with the breathing device inside your suit, you must be able to fix it while inside the hot zone. At the Roseville (Calif.) Fire Department (RFD), our team is armed with Saint-Gobain’s ONESuit Flash. All of Saint-Gobain’s suits feature a batwing design and a single-piece glove construction, which ensures that removal and reinsertion of the hands are simple tasks. A single-piece construction also means that no layers can be physically removed, providing consistent, maximum protection.

Monitoring & Detection
In the next phase of training, you can expect to become familiar with atmospheric monitoring and detection. Trainees will learn how to identify unknown materials using another component of PPE: a hazardous categorization (hazcat) kit. At this stage, trainees will incorporate knowledge from the first part of their training by using chemical agents to identify the unknown material. Your knowledge of chemicals and instrumentation will be used to identify vapors, liquids and solids that are potentially hazardous.

Plug & Patch
After trainees have obtained knowledge of chemical substances, PPE and detection, the final stage of training—plugging and patching—is where the real work comes in. At this point, you’ll learn how to fix leaks in pipelines, trucks, railcars and other shipping containers, all while wearing your hazmat suit. You may also be asked to perform advanced plugging and patching, which may involve things like overturned gas trucks, where you have to drill into the container and evacuate the hazardous substance.

At the completion of this task, trainees reach the final stage of specialist training—staging a hazmat incident from beginning to end. This can involve evacuating residents, setting up an incident command system, and finally, patching and removing the substance.

Staying Fresh
As with any training experience, it’s important to continually refresh and test your knowledge. At the RFD, we have monthly in-station manual studies in which we cover each training topic, such as atmospheric monitoring, plugging and patching, etc., throughout the course of the year. Most importantly, we continually incorporate hands-on exercises to reinforce and test our knowledge of the material.

We conclude ever year with a competency exam, which includes a written test for the entire hazmat team. Additionally, each person is required to don chemical protective clothing and perform a variety of tasks such as chemical identification, plugging and patching.

Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of each department to nurture and maintain the skills of its personnel. Considering the heightened level of risk involved with hazmat incidents, training is a necessity not only because it provides highly specialized skills to personnel, but also because it can mean the difference between life and death for those tasked with handling some of the most dangerous substances on earth.


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At the First Responder Operations (FRO) level, individuals serve as the first line of defense, therefore they must know how to properly identify a hazardous incident and prevent the substance from spreading. Photo Fireground 360
Hazmat technicians must successfully implement decontamination and termination procedures. Photo Cary Ulrich
At the specialist level, trainees are expected to don and doff a hazmat suit. They can be inside the suit for about 35 minutes. Photo Jamie Nicholson

Hazmat PPE Standards

Comparing NFPA 1991 to NFPA 1994

By Grady Poole
Published Saturday, January 1, 2011 | From the January 2011 Issue of FireRescue

The world of hazmat emergency response is, appropriately, mercurial and dynamic. Change is inevitable, and when those first responders who are unwilling to embrace that fact emerge from hibernation, they will be left bewildered by the sight of a new response capability landscape.

The fire service has experienced, and embraced, rapid procedural and technological progress during the past couple of generations, and the hazmat emergency response community has been at the forefront of that advance. Nevertheless, with new specifications and requirements sprouting left and right, it’s easy for even the most dedicated “hazmatician” to lose sight of the latest standards and the significance of the changes.

Some of the changes that have created confusion and prompted head-scratching within the response community are the latest revisions to standards for PPE and chemical protective clothing (CPC) ensembles. The days of simply thumbing through an equipment catalog to find a plain ol’ Level B suit are, for hazmat teams and first responders, essentially over; the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and/or nuclear (CBRN) attacks has complicated the issue. The original civilian CPC specifications did not directly address warfare agents and that created a capability gap in need of immediate remedy. Although initial testing suggested that the CPC available 15 years ago might provide basic, short-term protection for response personnel from some potential terrorist agents, the risks faced, based upon plausible threat assessment, made it clear that “might” and “some” were not suitable words for the CBRN response vocabulary.

When the murmurs of concern began to include not only the traditional fire service and hazmat response teams, but also law enforcement organizations, federal agencies and military assets, it became clear that a new era in CPC had dawned. As a result, a series of revisions to our national standards has altered the way we think about how we respond to hazardous materials emergencies and how we choose our CPC inventory.

Looking Back
The NFPA has been developing codes for protective ensembles in hazmat environments for more than 2 decades and has established standards for CPC that are in use by hazmat teams around the world. Originally developed by the standing Subcommittee on Hazardous Materials Protective Clothing during the mid- to late-1980s, the first edition of NFPA 1991: Standard on Vapor-Protective Suits for Hazardous Chemical Emergencies was a landmark project to create a protective clothing benchmark for use by hazmat emergency responders while working within a hazardous chemical environment. The scope of the standard was designed around the concerns of the day: industrial chemical incidents that occurred in facilities and during transport. To that end, the regulation focused on creating specifications for a suit that would protect the responder in chemical vapor and liquid splash surroundings.

The standard evolved through two more editions, during which time project reorganization saw the subcommittee elevated to the current Technical Committee on Hazardous Materials Protective Clothing and Equipment. With the new editions came technical updates, provisions for optional chemical and biological warfare agent protection criteria, and a new perspective of the garment as an ensemble (hence the current, updated title: Standard on Vapor-Protective Ensembles for Hazardous Materials Emergencies).

Moving Forward
By the time the third edition of NFPA 1991 became effective in February 2000, the technical committee had already begun work on a new standard to address the needs of fire and emergency services personnel operating at incidents involving terrorist use of chemical or biological (chem/bio) agents. This regulation, NFPA 1994: Standard on Protective Ensemble for Chemical/Biological Terrorism Incidents, was approved in 2001 and sought to shed some light on the murky issues surrounding protective clothing options and use for emergency responders. Furthermore, NFPA 1994 endeavored to institute requirements that the ensemble be appropriate for single-exposure usage, adaptable to the incident based on the risks faced, and easy to don and use.

In order to meet those goals, three classes of protective ensembles were designated:

  • Class 1 ensembles specified the highest level of protection at chem/bio terrorism incidents for unknown vapor or liquid agents or concentrations, to prevent exposure to hazardous vapors, and to preclude skin contact with extremely hazardous liquids; many were very similar to the NFPA 1991 suits of the time.
  • Class 2 ensembles were designed for incidents involving non-ambulatory, symptomatic patients and probable contact with liquid or aerosol agents.
  • Class 3 ensemble specifications were developed to address an incident where the victims are ambulatory and symptomatic, and there was a possibility of contact with liquid or aerosol agents.

This was the first foray into standardizing protective clothing requirements for the emerging terrorist threat.

Here & Now: NFPA 1991 vs. NFPA 1994
When NFPA 1991 was revised for the 2005 edition, the CBRN criteria from the NFPA 1994 Class 1 Ensemble were absorbed into the 1991 standard. To solve the resulting ensemble redundancy, the Class 1 designation was discontinued from use in NFPA 1994 when it was revised in 2007; while three classes still remained, the numbering order now extended from Class 2 to Class 4, and the intended use shifted as well.

Confused? Think of it this way: NFPA 1991 applies primarily to protective clothing and equipment for hazmat response teams working at the scene of a hazmat release, while NFPA 1994 applies the standard to first responders as well as hazmat teams operating at the scene of a CBRN terrorist incident.

Basically, in order to get a broader view of the needs and mission requirements of first responders, the technical committee actually took a step back so that the specification could move forward to become more logical, accessible and user-friendly. By adopting a wider field of view for mission needs, the target audience became more inclusive, embracing law enforcement, emergency medical personnel and any other public safety responder, in addition to the traditional fire and emergency response services. As such, NFPA 1994 has something for everyone in the emergency response community.

A Closer Look
NFPA 1991 establishes the standards for vapor-protective ensembles that ensure their performance during the most demanding hot-zone conditions, from industrial chemical releases to terrorist attacks—conditions under which a hazmat technician or well-trained responder will need the highest level of protection available to complete the required tasks. These ensembles have been put through a rigorous battery of tests to ensure the specifications meet real-world requirements for maximum, fully encapsulated protection when used with the specified SCBA.

All NFPA 1994 ensembles are designed for use during CBRN terrorism incidents, all require the use of a NIOSH-approved CBRN respirator, and all are designed for single-exposure use. Note: The ensembles may be certified to meet the requirements of more than one class, and can also be designed to meet the exacting standards of NFPA 1991 and 1992 as well.

The NFPA 1994 Class 2 ensemble is the highest level of protection recommended for use by first responders functioning in environments containing CBRN terrorism agents. The ensemble is tested against several industrial chemicals, albeit fewer chemicals than NFPA 1991 garments, and also against chemical warfare agents. These, too, are designed to withstand a comprehensive performance challenge, although it is less stringent. They are designed for use at incidents where vapor, liquid or particulate hazards from terrorist dissemination are at or above immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) levels and require the use of an approved CBRN SCBA.

Class 3 ensembles are designed for missions where the vapor, liquid or particulate hazards are below IDLH levels, thus allowing the use of a CBRN air-purifying respirator (APR) or a CBRN powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR). Because this class of ensemble and higher were developed under the premise of longer-duration operations, the performance specification includes a total heat loss (THL) requirement; this has led to the introduction of breathable semi-permeable or selectively permeable materials for suit construction.

The final NFPA 1994 category, the Class 4 ensemble, was developed to meet the needs of responders operating on the periphery of an incident or at an incident with unique circumstances. These garments were designed to provide protection from biological and radiological (bio/rad) particulate matter below IDLH levels when used with an appropriate CBRN APR or PAPR. They do not provide any specified chemical agent protection, nor do they provide a barrier for vapors, gases or aerosols, although they may provide some liquid protection to allow decontamination. They also have a higher THL requirement than Class 3 ensembles, making them suitable for extended operational periods. This class of garment is very suitable for the “white powder” responses that have become so familiar to many.

For CBRN terrorism incidents, NFPA 1994 classification somewhat aligns with traditional control zones: Class 2 for the hot zone, Class 3 for hot or warm zones, and Class 4 for cold zone areas or distinct particulate situations. Of course, there will always be complex situations that pose a dilemma when the hazards overlap, so a thorough understanding of the specifications and capabilities of each ensemble is still important.

Which Standard Should You Follow?
Choosing which standard is appropriate for use really comes down to an honest assessment of the potential threats faced by a jurisdiction, the training and capabilities of the response personnel, and the plan to align the two. NFPA 1991 designates very high-performance protective ensembles that are more suitable for hazmat teams and well-trained operators, due not only to the fact that these garments are appropriate for multi-faceted hot zone duties, but also because of the increased difficulty in donning, doffing and maintaining them, as well as functioning in them. NFPA 1994, on the other hand, targets an audience that perceives the need to be prepared for a low-probability/high-consequence event by providing an array of low-maintenance, effective protection that’s suitable for first-arriving emergency personnel.

Another way of looking at this would be assessing where the responder will work at the scene of an incident. If personnel will be performing mitigation duties in the hot zone of a train derailment spill involving multiple undetermined industrial chemicals, then those tasks would require hazmat technicians, and NFPA 1991 is the obvious way to go—initially. And what if it’s a CBRN terrorist incident? Is NFPA 1991 or NFPA 1994 Class 2 most appropriate? It depends on the level of concern for the hazards present, the training level of the responders and the resources available to support tactical operations. Developing standard operating procedures or guidelines (SOPs/SOGs) in conjunction with garment purchase will help alleviate decision-matrix fears at the time of use and promote rapid deployment of resources.  

Factors Affecting Suit Selection
Beyond the mission requirements, there are a number of other factors that affect suit selection. Cost is an obvious issue (although this has been offset lately by Homeland Security grant funding), and the 1991 standard ensembles are typically more expensive, sometimes considerably more, than those designed for NFPA 1994 requirements. The cost factor can affect the number of garments of a certain specification that can be fielded during an incident or series of incidents.

Comfort is another issue that must be considered, particularly for long-duration incidents where responders will need to remain in their PPE for extended operational periods. If conditions allow, breathable NFPA 1994 Class 3 and Class 4 ensembles are much more comfortable to wear than those that lack a THL requirement. And don’t forget: NFPA 1994 allows ensembles to be certified to meet the requirements of NFPA 1991 and NFPA 1992, so it may be possible to find breathable garments that can be used beyond the CBRN WMD environment. The flip side of this flexibility is that the purchaser needs to choose ensembles very carefully to prevent needless purchase of suits that have duplicate capabilities in spite of their different primary classification.

What’s Available?
There are many ensembles available to meet the needs of each response community, with more being developed at a rapid rate. For the latest information on grant-purchasable ensembles and equipment, check with the FEMA Responder Knowledge Base ( and the InterAgency Board for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability (IAB) Standardized Equipment List (

In Sum
The hazmat PPE selection process shouldn’t be a daunting task, but rather an opportunity—a chance to network with peers and partner agencies, as well as to develop contacts within the supplier industry. Discussing needs and challenges within the local and regional response communities and beyond can lead to creative solutions to the PPE selection paradox—solutions that promote the overall goal of our profession: saving lives, including our own.

National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center launches Web portal to promote sharing resources

First responders now have one more tool in their hazmat response toolbox: the National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center’s Web portal (, a responder-driven data collection, analysis and education center. The portal is the central element of the Hazmat Fusion Center, a program established and supported through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the IAFC.

The portal aims to close a gap in the nationwide, hazmat-information sharing capabilities by providing responders with the opportunity to both contribute to and access a suite of readily available resources. This free resource serves as a one-stop shop for hazmat-response information, including training packages, reports, incident-based case studies, statistics, trends, alerts, recommendations and peer-to-peer networking.

Emergency responders must register either an individual or agency user to access secure portions of the portal. Registered responders may view full Regional Incident Survey Teams (RIST) survey reports, smart practices and lessons learned and may participate in the hazmat discussion forum and bulletin boards. Agencies that respond to hazmat incidents may register to use the Hazmat Fusion Center’s incident-reporting system. Registration is free.

For more information, visit the Hazmat Fusion Center online or e-mail

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Choosing which standard is appropriate for use-NFPA 1991 (left) or 1994 (right)-really comes down to an honest assessment of the potential threats faced by a jurisdiction, the training and capabilities of the response personnel. Photo Grady Poole
NFPA 1991 establishes the standards for vapor-protective ensembles that ensure their performance during the most demanding hot-zone conditions. Photo Courtesy Saint-Gobain
All NFPA 1994 ensembles are designed for use during CBRN terrorism incidents, all require the use of a NIOSH-approved CBRN respirator, and all are designed for single-exposure use. Photo Courtesy Blauer

Speccing a Hazmat Truck

One department's recent delivery is a good example of what to consider when building a hazmat truck

By Bob Vaccaro
Published Saturday, January 1, 2011 | From the January 2011 Issue of FireRescue

When the Delta (British Columbia) Fire Department (DFD) decided to design a new hazmat vehicle, it was for a good reason. Its response area is considered one of the fastest-growing industrial areas in the metropolitan Vancouver area.

“Our response area is roughly 225 square miles and consists of three separate and distinct communities of single- and multi-family residences,” says Ken Sim, DFD deputy chief of operations. “We also have a great deal of industrial manufacturing and warehousing activity in Delta. For example, Annacis Island is a total industrial-based island that stands alone in the Fraser River. We also have a deep seaport and the Tilbury area of manufacturing and industrial-based businesses.”

All of these areas have an abundance of hazmat production and storage areas. Numerous products are delivered and received daily by truck, rail and ship—creating a unique level of hazmat risk.

Packed with Equipment
“We operate our hazmat response in different levels,” Sim says. A Level 1 hazmat response doesn’t involve the DFD’s 12-member hazmat team, unless requested by command or a battalion chief. A Level 2 or 3 incident will move the hazmat team into action.

“In Fire Hall 7, we have a pumper and the hazmat truck. These trucks can be cross-staffed at any time for any option of response,” Sim says. “When Hall 7 has a hazmat call in their own area, they respond with the pumper and the hazmat truck. If the hazmat call originates in another area, only the hazmat truck responds, with a battalion chief and the local pumper.”

The department’s first hazmat vehicle was a converted utility truck that towed an 18' trailer, but not long after forming a dedicated hazmat team, the DFD knew they were going need something more specialized. And when the time came, the DFD chose SVI to build the vehicle. “SVI was very professional throughout the entire process,” Sim says. “We visited the factory several times during construction, and SVI was receptive to our needs.”

The DFD commonly deals with the local Smeal and SVI dealer, Safetek, and they did so again for this purchase, in large part to provide commonality of parts, operation and training. “It made sense for us to deal with the same regional rep for all of our apparatus purchases, as well as having the vehicle built with a Spartan cab and chassis,” Sim says.

The truck was built to carry all the DFD’s hazmat equipment. “The rear of the cab is where our resource people work,” Sim says. “They have access to two computers, several radios, telephones, fax machines, copiers and the control of a Pelco CCTV camera mounted on a 40' mast.”

The truck has a 10' slide-out area that enlarges the body of the vehicle for operations. This area has technical equipment stored in cabinets, a working desk and smart board. “We can access our entry link camera and set it up on our smart board to view what our entry team is up to or to communicate to the entry team what needs to be done,” Sim says.

The truck also has a generator and a roof-mounted command light, and a TV monitor mounted in an exterior compartment can display whatever is on the smart board on the inside of the vehicle.

“We’re extremely happy with our purchase,” Sim says. “As far as we’re concerned, we have the flagship hazmat response vehicle in the province.”

A Little Advice
Sim offers some tips for departments speccing similar vehicles: Be diligent when speccing a specialty vehicle. Look at the quality of workmanship and what fits your needs and budget. Pay attention to and monitor warranties, and go with a supplier that will assist you throughout the life of the vehicle. And if the vehicle is equipped with a lot of technical equipment, make sure you have qualified people in place to maintain it.

The DFD planned according to their needs and the final product came out exactly as planned. Take Chief Sim’s advice and plan for your needs and budget.
Delta’s Hazmat Truck Specs

  • Spartan Gladiator ELFD 24" RR cab/chassis with seating for four
  • 400-hp Cummins ISL engine
  • Allison 3000 EVP transmission
  • 12" extended bumper
  • Sigtronics intercom system
  • Four 1,000-lb. slide-out trays, six 250-lb. slide-out/down trays, one slide-out toolboard with eight SCBA brackets, Lista toolbox and 37" LCD TV
  • Fender SCBA storage
  • One electric reel and one LP air reel
  • 3,000-watt Xantrex ProSine inverter with battery bank
  • Six side scene lights
  • Command Light CL615-2MH /BL light tower
  • Satellite TV dish
  • Rear bumper-mounted pneumatic mast with Pelco camera

Interior Area:

  • 9½-foot-long slide-out command wall with seating for one person (non-riding position)
  • Smart board
  • Sigtronics intercom
  • Equipment storage cabinet with adjustable shelving
  • Refrigerator
  • Storage with sliding Lexan doors and 120-volt outlet strip
  • Rear wall flip-down seat and white board mounting
  • Sliding pocket door between cab and body  

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The Delta (British Columbia) Fire Department's new hazmat truck is built by SVI on a Spartan Gladiator chassis and features an expandable body with a 9«' work area, a light mast and a CCTV mast. Photo Courtesy SVI
The interior command area features a desk, cabinets, desktop consoles with phones, network and 12-volt ports, two LCD monitors and computers, an HP all-in-one machine and magnetic white boards. Photo Courtesy SVI

New DHS Hazmat Standards Improve Threat Identification

DHS is working on establishing a comprehensive threat-agent detection program for the fire service

By Tim Butters
Published Wednesday, December 31, 2008 | From the January 2009 Issue of FireRescue

Even before the events of Sept. 11 2001 the possibility of a chemical biological radiological nuclear or explosive (CBRNE) incident has been a concern of federal state and local public safety agencies and private industry. The response to known CBRNE agents is complicated enough for first responders. However responding to an unknown substance suspected of being a biothreat agent creates an entirely new set of challenges.

The early use of commercially available detection devices to conduct field analysis of unknown “white powder” substances proved problematic: In a number of instances these detection devices indicated that an unknown material contained B. anthracis (anthrax) spores or other biological agents which was later disproven after the sample was sent to a Laboratory Response Network (LRN) for analysis. As a result of the inaccurate information command officers unnecessarily quarantined isolated and decontaminated people.

Note: The problems associated with field detection are not only related to the analytical capabilities of the devices themselves but are also due to improper or nonexistent testing protocols and procedures or inadequately trained personnel.

Identifying the Need
The overall need to rapidly and reliably identify unknown substances in the field has been a topic of intense discussion by a wide range of stakeholders including emergency responders federal government agencies public health industry and academia.

Most stakeholders believe that currently available field test kits for identification of anthrax and biological agents aren’t sufficiently accurate. An FBI/Centers for Disease Control evaluation of five kits in 2003 confirmed these beliefs.1 However in more extensive testing by the Association of Analytical Communities (AOAC) for DHS in 2004 one kit did pass accuracy tests and was certified 2 demonstrating that accurate field testing is possible. In addition many first responders consider such kits a valuable and necessary asset because the public expects fire departments to be able to identify powders and such testing often helps maintain calm.

Handheld assays (HHAs) for the detection of unknown substances were originally made available to first responders in 1991 after the Gulf War. These “embedded flow” devices had problems and provided questionable results. The next generation of HHAs use “lateral flow” technology similar to over-the-counter pregnancy test strips. They often result in high number of “false positives ” as well as yield false negatives on positive samples.

Considering that the response to and treatment of human exposures to biological substances are typically not as acute as that of a chemical exposure as well as the costs associated with response and heightened public anxiety the benefits of using HHAs for unknown substance identification are limited until their accuracy is improved.

Additionally bio-detection systems are increasingly being installed in mail-handling facilities mass-transit facilities critical infrastructures entertainment venues and other complexes. But such systems are often unsupported by clear policies for on-site response actions by building occupants and emergency responders when these devices detect a potential agent. Local emergency responders may not be aware such systems have been installed. Working out response issues prior to bringing detection systems online is critical. Note: The Postal Service the Department of State and the Department of Defense have worked closely with responders in those areas where detection systems are installed.

Going National
Currently there’s no recognized system to identify reliable biothreat detection systems nor do any federal agencies certify or approve these devices.

The lack of a national standard has prompted a project led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the evaluation and validation of threat-agent detection systems. DHS selected the AOAC and Midwest Research Institute to establish a scientifically based set of standards processes that will be made publicly available. These standards would used for HHAs as well as substance identification that regularly takes place in a laboratory using polymerase chain reaction.

The first phase of the project involved bringing together a group of stakeholders representing government industry emergency responders public health and academia. This group referred to as the Stakeholder Panel on Agent Detection Assays (SPADA) is tasked with defining the performance criteria test methods for validation and types of materials required for testing that a given device would need to meet. AOAC is responsible for ensuring the criteria and methods developed by SPADA are in compliance with AOAC standards which are the recognized industry standards for analytical methodology.

In September DHS held a town hall meeting in Rockville Md. inviting emergency responders and others not only to discuss what SPADA had accomplished thus far but also to help provide DHS and the federal government with strategic direction for the project. Senior policy officials from DHS the FBI the Transportation Security Administration the Food and Drug Administration the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy also participated.

5 Recommendations
The meeting resulted in approval of the following five “articles” or recommendations intended to provide DHS and the new administration with strategic direction to achieve the development of a comprehensive threat-agent detection program:

1. Develop performance standards for CBRNE detection devices and technologies used by emergency responders and others.

2. Establish a program (in collaboration with other agencies standards-making organizations and industry) to qualify detection technologies and devices by an independent third party and make this program available as a recommended practice. Once this program is in place all detection devices must be qualified prior to their purchase by grantees and federally regulated venues.

3. Develop guidelines for training proficiency testing and certification of operators of qualified detection technologies.

4. Develop recommended standard operating procedures for bio-detection systems which should include the appropriate use and operation of qualified detection technologies as well as interpretation and response by the end user.

5. Develop strategic guidance on standards for CBRNE detector technologies for use by relevant critical infrastructure sectors key resources and others.

These recommendations will be part of a white paper that will include specific proposals of how to implement the approved articles and a recommended strategy for the future direction of the program that meets the needs of emergency responders law enforcement public health officials government stakeholders and private sector developers of detection technology.

What the Future Holds
As new bio-detection devices and systems are developed and introduced for field detection and agent identification the need for an accurate robust methodology for assessing their reliability is critical. Although the near-term goal of this effort is to develop a mechanism to address the current issues associated with threats and detection systems the program must be able to accommodate evolving threat agents and necessary technologies required to address those new threats as well.

1 “Preliminary Findings on the Evaluation of Hand-Held Immunoassays for Bacillus anthracis and Yersinia pestis.” Downloaded from:
2 B. Harper & M. Robinson. “Method Modification (2004.08) to Field Testing of Visible Powders on a Variety of Nonporous Environmental Surfaces: Field Study.” Journal of AOAC International Vol. 89 No. 6 2006.


What Is PCR?
PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction a technique widely used in molecular biology microbiology genetics diagnostics clinical laboratories forensic science environmental science and many other applications. It’s a laboratory procedure that employs a number of steps to isolate amplify and replicate DNA from an unknown substance. Because DNA has a unique structure or signature the unknown substance can then be identified based on the DNA.

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An Inside Look at Westchester County's Hazmat Vehicle by Hackney

High-tech features & lots of storage stand out on this hazmat rig

By Bob Vaccaro
Published Thursday, January 1, 2009 | From the January 2009 Issue of FireRescue

Founded in 1986 the Westchester County (N.Y.) Department of Emergency Services (WCDES) Hazmat Team is the oldest in the Hudson Valley. The county is bordered by New York City to the south Connecticut to the north and the Hudson River to the west. Mutual aid responses sometimes take the unit to several other northern counties and Connecticut.

“Protecting a diverse response area keeps the members on their toes ” says Pete Pitocco chief of the Special Operations Division. But it also underscores the need for the department’s apparatus to be up-to-date.

“We started to look at replacing our 15-year-old hazmat unit when we began to run out of room on the old truck ” Pitocco says. “Technology has changed over the past 15 years. Some of the new products on the market such as WMD equipment wouldn’t fit in our truck.”

Taking a Look Around
The WCDES took its time speccing a new apparatus beginning in 2006. “The commissioner and I along with two team leaders were involved in researching information about different vehicles on the market ” Pitocco says. “We attended several fire service conferences around the country and spoke to several other teams to see what worked and what didn’t.”

The department wanted to keep a short wheelbase and elected to have storage compartments on the top of the body. “It was also imperative to make it safe for our team members to access the equipment on the top of the vehicle without it being a hassle to retrieve it ” Pitocco notes.

At a fire service show WCDES members observed the automatic deployable stairs (ADS) Hackney had developed and engineered on its vehicles. “We were immediately sold on that idea ” Pitocco says. The department made the decision to go with Hackney a short time later.

“We had our pre-construction meeting down at the Hackney factory ” Pitocco says. “We discussed our needs and specs and made some changes right on the spot. Hackney sales and engineer personnel were very helpful.” WCDES members made another visit during the middle part of the construction phase to ensure the process was on schedule for a quick delivery time.

High-Tech Features
“We wanted a larger vehicle not only to carry more of our equipment but also to function as a hazmat command post to make command decisions and to have information available to us in real time ” Pitocco says.

Hackney accomplished this order by designing the cab of the vehicle with a two-man command and logistics center with three computers a wireless weather station with instant readout uninterruptible power supply cabinet towers on each side of the desk a library shelf above the desk and a satellite communications system.

“One of the special features we installed on the vehicle was the Scott Emergency Management System ” Pitocco says. “This system allows us to track 12 wearers of SCBA at the scene and is able to transmit information to the command desk such as low cylinder air. It also allows us to signal selected individuals or all logged-on users to evacuate up to 48 users and track 100 total if needed. This system gives us better accountability of firefighters on the fireground and can also alert us within 10 seconds of a firefighter down.”

The truck also features a Spartan Advantage cab and chassis and a 21.5' Hackney aluminum body that features 13 ground-level compartments and three rooftop compartments totaling 980 cubic feet of storage space. Access to the roof compartment is provided by Hackney’s ADS. The truck also has full-body-length awnings on both sides with enclosure curtains.

A 25 000-watt PTO generator is located in the left front compartment fully protected from saltwater spray commonly experienced in some of the response district’s coastal regions. The generator supplies power to body-mounted floodlights on both sides of the vehicle as well as to rear tripod and portable lights. Two bumper-mounted reels supply 200 feet of 10/4 cable.

The taller compartments feature drop-down step platforms to allow for safe access to the upper equipment storage. A slide out Speedi-Dry hopper that stores up to 80 lbs. is installed behind the right rear wheels.

Factors to Consider
Chief Pitocco and his team members worked with Hackney—a fire service leader in building hazmat vehicles—to design a new hazmat vehicle that will meet the department’s needs for a long time to come. The team and Hackney’s engineers designed a simple yet functional vehicle capable of handing all types of hazmat incidents in this region of the country.

Planning for the present while also taking into account your future needs is not always an easy task. With your apparatus committee visit other area departments and fire service conferences to see what’s available and to determine what may and may not work for you.

Before you begin writing specs talk with the various manufacturers out there and see if they can build a vehicle that specifically meets your department’s needs. If they can’t design what you need move on to another manufacturer. Don’t just settle for a standard vehicle that you will quickly outgrow.

Finally take into account some of the specialized equipment you must carry and where it will be stored on the vehicle and don’t forget about firefighter safety. The WCDES vehicle includes the ADS system to allow firefighters to safely access the top compartments as well as slide-out steps to allow firefighters to access equipment stored at the top of the side compartments.

If you mind all these concerns and plan accordingly the result will be a vehicle that will serve your department well into the future.


Westchester County (N.Y.) Hazmat Team
The Westchester County Hazmat Team has been serving its community for 22 years. It responds within a 450-square-mile area with a population of 923 459 that make up 45 municipalities. The team has 42 members and represents 58 fire departments; it goes on more than 100 runs each year.

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The Westchester County Department of Emergency Services«ÉŸ new hazmat vehicle is built on a 21.5' Hackney body with a Spartan Advantage chassis. Photo courtesy Hackney
The front bumper features two electrical reels, leaving compartment space for equipment. Also note the raised satellite dish on the roof for satellite communications and interoperability. Photo courtesy Hackney
Far Left: Hackney«ÉŸs rear Automatic Deployable Stairs give firefighters safe access to roof-mounted equipment compartments. Photo courtesy Hackney
Left: Roll-out and flip-down compartments give the vehicle more- than-adequate equipment storage. Far Left: Hackney«ÉŸs rear Automatic Deployable Stairs give firefighters safe access to roof-mounted equipment compartments.

Courtesy Hackney Courtesy Hackney Courtesy Hackney Courtesy Hackney

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