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Hazmat Training Standards For Your Firefighters

Hazmat Training Standards

Many facilities, especially large chemical producers and petroleum refiners, have trained firefighting personnel on staff. Usually such personnel are part of EHS teams, and have many other duties, but there are some locations where a dedicated firefighting crew is on site, working as a local city FD might.

In the event of a hazardous material release, in-house firefighters will likely be among the first to respond, supported as soon as possible by the community fire department and other parts of a hazmat team. The training for hazmat responders who are also firefighters – at both the corporate and civic levels – varies, depending on what each team member may be expected to do.  

The OSHA Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard says, “Firefighters expected to respond to releases of hazardous substances must be trained to at least the First Responder Operations Level since they will respond to releases, or potential releases, of hazardous substances for the purpose of protecting nearby persons, property, or the environment.” This might lead some to conclude that firefighters who are not expected to physically respond to a hazmat release would require no specific HAZWOPER training, but that is not the case. Technically, a firefighter may take action in the case of a hazardous materials incident without actually ‘responding’. Such personnel, who might identify a hazmat spill and notify appropriate authorities are expected to be trained to the First Responder Awareness Level. In clarifying the training requirements in 2008, OSHA’s Richard Fairfax wrote, “Personnel trained to the first responder awareness level may make an effort to identify hazardous substances, but they must do so from a safe distance. Persons trained to the first responder awareness level have not been trained to select and use appropriate PPE, and they are not permitted to approach the point of release. They have not been trained to establish perimeters or boundaries designating safe and unsafe areas. These actions are to be deferred to more highly trained personnel, such as those trained to the operations or technician/specialist level.”

Such OSHA training requirements effect private sector firefighting teams, not “employees of state and local governments”, including volunteer firefighters, unless that volunteer company is supported by a private funder, and includes at least one paid employee. Some corporations, usually with rural locations, have chosen to fund a local volunteer fire house in place of an on-site firefighting team, so that the area residents are safer thanks to the presence of the corporate facility. In that case, the volunteer group is subject to OSHA HAZWOPER training specifications.

What is your organization’s plan for hazmat response? Do your own firefighters respond? Is the team stratified by various responsibilities in the case of a release? Findlay All Hazards is well-versed in HAZWOPER training, and offers the most requested OSHA-regulated training workshops as well as customized training for any company’s specific requirements.

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