“Train like you fight; fight like you train.” I remember those words from a Master Chief Petty Officer in 1986 at Damage Control School in Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. They mean “practice – a lot.”
There’s something to be said about a team working together like a well-oiled machine. It’s a beauty to behold. Everyone within the team knows their roles and does their job with precision and professionalism. But in order to get to a high level of precision, constant training is required. Hazardous materials incident response teams, sometimes called emergency response teams or ERTs are no different.
When a company decides to exercise their option to establish an ERT under the OSHA HAZWOPER standard, 29 CFR 1910.120(q), they often forget to count the entire cost of such an endeavor, particularly on the time required to achieve and maintain a competent team ready for response. The standard requires an initial minimum of 24 hours for technician-level and annual training that is of sufficient content and duration to maintain their competencies (or demonstrate competency at least annually). My experience is 24 hours and minimal continuing training through the year is not enough to develop a high degree of competency for large chemical spill management.
In order to work confidently in a stressful situation, consistent and increasingly demanding training is required. In addition to whole-spill work, I like to incorporate mini-drills in a “crawl-walk-run” fashion for team members to become comfortable with the PPE that they work with. Here are some of the drills that I like to incorporate:
- The “Bell-Ringer:” Completely drain your Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). This exercise trains students who do not frequently use SCBAs that the “bell” (a low-pressure warning device on SCBAs) is not the end of their air supply.
- Chemical Protective Clothing donning/doffing exercises using GlowGerm™ to demonstrate effective CPC removal techniques. Donning and doffing are repeated until the team comes out “clean.”
- Repeated 2-person incidental spill cleanup drills.
- Repeated full-team drills starting with simple and moving to complex scenarios. (If time and space considerations allow, include multi-floor spills or moving contamination).
With every drill a hot-wash and critique is conducted so that team members can learn how to better approach the scenarios.
Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect and the only way to achieve perfection is continuing training. In my ideal world and depending on the facility, ERTs would train 1-2 days per month in scenario environments of increasing complexity. This kind of training takes a huge time-talent-treasure commitment by the employer to release knowledgeable employees from their regular work duties. But the payoff can be huge should an ERT-required incident occur. Train like you fight – fight like you train.