Keeping the Edge Sharp


The Challenges of Training a Specialty Unit

By Mr. Travis Rebello, Education and Training Coordinator, Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, USA.

Training starts for team members with a 240-hour technician class then, when appointed, they receive 40 hours of basic clan lab, 32 hours of Advanced Clan Lab and a 24-hour Site Safety Officer class. Explosive training is conducted by experts in the field, such as Dr. Jimmie Oxley from the University of Rhode Island.

Our State Police Bomb Squad is one of the best in the country, and we take advantage of that, by training with them regularly. To stay current on a regional team, members must complete a minimum of eighty-eight hours of annual training, in addition JHIRT members must complete an additional 32 hours of mission specific training. Some examples of our mission specific training include working with the Bomb Squad and their Total Containment Vessel (TCV), explosive, chemical, biological, and illicit drug laboratory recognition, training with their issued equipment like the Blauer Multi Threat Suit and Avon ST54 SCBA, and all the metering equipment assigned to the unit.

The most effective training combines multiple training goals into one scenario. Setting up illicit laboratory training, and having members identify and process them in full personal protective equipment, provides hands on practice with diminished fine motor skill capability, and recognition and decision-making practice in an elevated stress environment. The benefits of classroom lectures cannot be overlooked, but hands on practice keeps the members engaged.

The National Domestic Preparedness Consortium offers a multitude of classes virtually, hosted at your location, or onsite at their many facilities around the country. Most, if not all their classes are offered at no cost to first responders, including travel expenses. While some of the courses can seem somewhat rigid and canned, they offer students unique experiences. An on-site radiation course held in Nevada allows students to work with radiation detection equipment at sites where nuclear detonations have taken place.

Explosive courses in New Mexico gives students the chance to witness multiple detonations and then go to blast site to study and evaluate the damage. Sites in Colorado and Alabama have similar interactive training opportunities. These classes have proven to be a great starting point for our team members and should be considered be anyone entering the CBRNe or Hazmat profession.

Some months ago, some of our members had the chance to travel to Edgewood Maryland to attend NTC Pro Training. This was an excellent opportunity to train with new equipment in unique scenarios and receive feedback from experts in the field. We were able to discuss and compare tactics, techniques, and procedures with colleagues from around the country and around the world. The effort of getting team members and their equipment to the site was challenging but well worth the effort. I have attended similar trainings held by Dr. Christina Baxter and the Guardian Centers in Perry Georgia. Both offered hands on scenario-based training that we were unable to create internally.

Training conferences are held across the country and internationally. NCT, CBRNe Convergence, CBRNe Summit, IAFC International Hazardous Materials Response Teams Conference, and (shameless self-promotion) Massachusetts Association of Hazardous Materials Technician Hazmat Conference. These are great training opportunities. They can address the current topics and threats we face while building collaboration with responders and agencies around the world. Every time one of our members has attended one, a new connection was made, a new idea was brought home, and our team was made stronger. There are organizations that provide grant funding for conference attendance and these avenues should be explored by all teams.

One of the greatest returns on investment we have found is training with our response partners. Working with someone for the first time, in the middle of the night, in stressful situations, does not lend itself to successful outcomes. By holding regular training exercises that allow multiple disciplines, such as Hazmat, EOD, Chemists, Narcotics Officers, and others, to work together, we have been able to build trust and camaraderie with each other. Every specialty brings a unique perspective to the training, and this has expanded the capabilities of everyone involved.

CBRNe and Hazmat training can be difficult and costly, but there are options available. All funding sources should be explored, including grants and federally funded training programs. Try to incorporate hands-on practice whenever possible, and include your response partners when you can. Keeping your training focused and relevant to your team will help keep them prepared and ready to respond to the next threat.

About the Author:

Travis Rebello is currently the Education and Training Coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services Hazardous Materials Response Division, and has been a firefighter in the City of New Bedford Massachusetts since January of 2002. He has been a Hazardous Materials Technician for 15 years, and a member of the Massachusetts Hazardous Materials Regional Response Teams for 14 years. He is also a member of several specialty teams within the Massachusetts system including, the Hazardous Materials Maritime Incident Response Team, the Joint Hazards Incident Response Team assigned to work with the Massachusetts State Police Bomb Squad, and the Massachusetts Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement Team, a multi-agency team comprised of the Massachusetts State Police, Joint Hazards Incident Response Team, and the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab. He also holds a seat on the Board of Directors of the New England Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association and is a Primary Member of the NFPA Hazardous Materials Response Personnel Committee.

Travis has participated in CBRNE venue protection for Gillette Stadium, The Boston Marathon, 4th of July on the Boston Esplanade, and Sail Boston. For the Boston Marathon, serving as a fixed detection site monitor, CBRNE Assessment Team member, and CBRNE Task Force Team Leader.

Prior to his appointment to the Fire Department, Travis worked in Emergency Medical Services, in the City of Brockton Massachusetts for 10 years.

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