Have you “PRIMED” Your First Responders?

By Grant Coffey

 

Regardless of your occupational specialty – environmental professional, facility safety expert, military or first responder – YOU’VE BEEN THERE.  Yeah, you’ve been at that incident where the hair stood up on the back of your neck.  The one where you thanked fate it was just a “close call” and nothing more.  What are you doing within your organization to learn from these incidents?  How are you equipping your personnel with critical tools to respond more effectively and safely?  More critically, what training are you giving them to utilize the most important tool –their BRAIN?

Chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE) emergencies can be huge, overwhelming, complicated and full of unknowns.  Since we can’t have a specific SOP for every event, it’s common for the responder to regress under stress.  In many cases, that means retreating from what we know best.  Often, this yields disorganized, unsuccessful outcomes.  Same bad habits –same failed results.  Experience is critical, but it must adapt to tested street truths.

It is critical that we not only learn from our past incidents, but from each other. FLIR Systems recently introduced FLIR PRIMED – a one-stop resource for response professionals.  FLIR PRIMED strives to deliver informative and useable information in the form of a video-series that includes techniques, tools, and checklists based on best practices.  What does PRIMED stand for?

  • Prepare – Much of the battle is fought before you arrive on the scene of an emergency. Are you training your personnel for success? Use tested truth and then practice, review, modify and do it again…until it becomes a HABIT.
  • Recognize –All events have certain patterns. Early recognition of the “Big Picture” is acritical step. Utilizing available systems and tools helps us to avoid command “vapor lock” or overload confusion.
  • Input –Some decisions can be made initially, but the use of field checklists can assist in the orderly and thorough analysis of available on-scene “Cues and Clues.” You might not be able to identify a specific threat, but thegoal should be tosee it within a family of possibilities and rule out what it’s not.  I call the later “RIO” orRule it Out.
  • Monitor – Monitors are often used as presumptive tools. They should be seen as part of the total picture. They are important, but your brain is the best tool.
  • Experience –Experience is a double-edged sword. If it’s not nurtured and updated by improved response effectiveness, it can reinforce bad habits that lock us into a pattern of mistakes. Decision –Successful decision-making requires good information and competent use of available tools and equipment.  But make no mistake; decisions are ultimately made by humans -not equipment or procedures.

A CBRNE event can overwhelm the response equation.  Although the chemistry and physics of such events are relatively unchanging and predictable, the human aspect isn’t.  However, predictable patterns or outcomes still exist in emergencies.  If we couple this with a keen sense of our personnel, we can utilize those markers to improve response effectiveness.  Here are some “next step” ideas you can implement to improve your safety and effectiveness during a Hazmat or CBRNE response:

  • Instill a “Learning Attitude” with those personnel likely be the first to respond. Make it a daily event.  Learn tips from others or through resources like FLIR PRIMED.
  • Utilize your Hazmat Technicians to develop and deliver lessons, strengthening the bond of trust between your experts and the first responders. Because CBRNE events are atypical and infrequent, training must take place more often.  It should also highlight the mastery of concepts like, “turn it on and put it on.”  Personal Radiation Detection (PRD) equipment is vital at a rad scene.  Equip your first responders with good decision-making tools and education.
  • Integrate with allied agencies NOW, not later. Effective coordination between multiple agencies at CBRNE incidents is critical, but often overlooked and can be the Achilles heel.
  • Assemble your own field gu ides and checklists. These tools can help the IC avoid overload and assist them with important decision points. Don’t have any?  Start with some FLIR PRIMED downloads and modify them as needed.
  • Keep it simple! Use easily-remembered mantras like: “The 3 Cs” –Chemical, Container, Context. If you don’t, they won’t use them when pressured.  The threat is there.  Good tools are available.  One of them is FLIR PRIMED.  The video series delivers cutting-edge education and decision skills you can use right now.  Each episode concludes with a downloadable field guide or checklist.  Check it out today a flir.com/primed.

 

About the Author

Grant Coffey is a retired Portland Fire & Rescue Hazmat Team Coordinator, College Fire Science Instructor, and  CBRNE expert of nearly 40 years. He trains Fire, Police, Military and industry Hazmat Responders. He has NFPA certifications for Radiation Specialist and is a State of Oregon Radiation Safety Officer. He is also a Hazmat Specialist and Incident Safety officer and has experience in Emergency Manage ment and various other CBRNE Hazmat disciplines.

Hazmat Response and Confirmation of Chemical Identity

Philip Tackett, a certified HAZMAT responder and a Product Manager at FLIR, discusses its latest tool for chemical identification

Civilian and military responders face scenarios ranging from intentional chemical attacks and accidental hazardous material (HAZMAT) releases to natural disasters and environmental monitoring or remediation efforts.  Responders step on-scene with a diverse toolkit –sometimes small and other times extensive. It is critical to stay familiar with the equipment in the kit, because no single chemical detection tool can provide answers for every scenario.

Colorimetric test kits are one of the most commonly used technologies for quickly collecting presumptive information about a chemical. They are used to determine if a threat is present and determine its chemical class.  This information is important, but knowing the exact identity of a chemical can inform a safer response.  True chemical identity can provide information to responders and law enforcement officials beyond the initial threat, and lead to further discoveries to further safeguard the public.

While some detectors only indicate the presence of a chemical, others specifically detect hazards in the presence ofa complex chemical background, like a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GC/MS).  GC/MS is an incredibly sensitive and highly specific tool commonly used in laboratory environments.  It can sense trace level chemicals other equipment can’t, while also providing the ability to positively identify the chemical. But chemical emergencies don’t just happen in laboratories –they can happen anywhere.

Real-time chemical detection and identification in the field is critical to the CBRNE or HAZMAT response mission.  Confirmatory chemical identification enables responders to mitigate a threat and protect people and the environment from harm.

The most challenging aspects of taking gold-standard technology like GC/MS into the field is survivability in harsh environments and ease of use.  Significant technological advancements have led to the development of the FLIR Griffin G510 person-portable GC/MS system.  Its lab-quality detection performance, simple-to-use interface, and rugged construction are ideal for high-consequence response missions.

Response missions take place in complex environments that the GC/MS must withstand.  The Griffin G510 is completely self-contained in a 36-pound device, including batteries, carrier gas, vacuum system, injector, and heated sample probe. It is also the first IP65-rated portable GC/MS.  This means it’s dust-tight and spray-resistant, which adds flexibility to decontamination procedures.  There is no 40-pound external service module like other portable GC/MS systems and no 20-pound external pump under the bench like those seen in a laboratory. Batteries last up to four hours and are hot swappable, should the mission extend longer than expected, which eliminates the need for a power generator.  The Griffin G510 is designed from the ground up to operate outside of the lab.

Hazmat technicians will dive into using the features that deliver lab-quality analysis.  First on-scene operators will appreciate that they don’t need a Ph.D. to use it.  Basic operator training is completed in only two hours, while expert training can be completed in a single day.

The user interface truly sets it apart from other portable GC/MS systems.  It’s streamlined design and guided controls help the user select the mode of operation.  First responders must perform quickly and with limited dexterity when wearing required PPE.  They are responsible for sample and data collection, and in some cases, real-time decision making.  The G510 alerts the operator with visual alarm confirmation both on the handheld probe, as well as the on-board 9” touchscreen.  The large touchscreen can be operated by a responder while wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE).

Hazmat responders can use the Griffin G510 to analyze all phases of matter (solid, liquid, gas).  Its integrated survey mode capability identifies vapor-phase chemical threats within seconds.  Its integrated split/splitless liquid injector enables responders to perform direct injection of organic liquids –an industry first.  This same injector also accepts other sampling tools, including solid-phase micro-extraction (SPME), off-the-shelf headspace analyzers, and the Prepless Sample Introduction (PSI) Probe.  The PSI-Probe directly accepts solid samples in their native form (such as soil and water-based materials).  The Griffin G510 reduces the burden of sample preparation for the operator and provides ultimate flexibility as the daily mission changes. Hazardous environments demand the ultimate toolbox include confirmatory instrumentation like GC/MS.  The Griffin G510 portable GC/MS redefines performance, ease of use, and value for the responder toolkit.