By Cpt. Eng. Michal Setnicka, Ph.D, Researcher, Radiological (Chemical) Analyst & Trainer, Czech Fire Rescue Service, Czech Republic
Everyone probably knows and identifies with the quotes such as “Fortune favors the prepared”, “Practice makes perfect”, or “He who is ready is not surprised”, etc. In the case of CBRN incidents, it is doubly true. This short article is about importance of trainings, and it tries to find an answer to one essential question: Who and where is able to train the CBRN trainers?
Why is the CBRN training important?
Modern age is forcing people to react to many changes in their everyday lives and first responders are no exception. In order to withstand and be able to react to all existing and new threats, they must constantly not only learn theory but also practice and train. Hence, each first responder knows that training is an essential part of their daily work. In the case of CBRN threats, this is doubly true.
Fortunately, the real and extremely dangerous CBRN events occur relatively rarely. Most of the first responders never experience a chemical attack on the subway, explosion of a dirty bomb, or an attack with a chemical warfare agent against some political representatives, etc. Slightly more likely events, such as finding an Orphan RA source or large spills of highly dangerous chemicals during their transportation, etc., are also only for a “selected few”.
However, all first responders have to be prepared for such emergencies because we never know when and where they will occur. It means that all first responders such as firefighters, police officers and paramedics around the world must be educated on this topic. Of course, the depth and width of the training depends on the type of a unit and its predestination and tasks. For example, paramedics or common police officers (except special CBRN units) have mainly theoretical knowledge and they are able to detect the hazard mainly based on the presence of certain symbols (such as ADR labels, radiation sign) or evidence (inexplicable death of animals, larger number of victims ….). Other better-equipped units (special CBRN units) are able to solve that problem more easily and mainly more safely. Firefighters play the main role in such incidents, and they are very often officers in charge in CBRN type of events. They have appropriate devices (detectors, SCBA, PPE, decontamination …), experiences and the most complex training for such situations.
CBRN training of Czech firefighters
As we said, firefighters play an essential role during CBRN events. For example, all the firefighters in the Czech Republic have to complete 80 hours of CBRN education and training during the basic training course of 600 hours. Furthermore, firefighters responsible for detection devices, maintenance of PPE and SCBA, etc. have to pass another course (160 hours), which is focused only on CBRN topics, ranging from detection and protection to decontamination.
We have also some special units with higher CBRN capabilities in the Czech Republic, where the firefighters specialized in other courses serve. For instance, at the radiation protection course (40 hours), detection, monitoring, and sampling (32 hours), dangerous substances (40 hours), decontamination (40 hours). The leaders in detection, monitoring and analysis of unknown substances are chemical laboratories of the Fire Rescue Service of Czech Republic (FRS CR), where mainly graduated chemists or physicists serve. Specialists from those laboratories do not only intervene during larger or complex CBRN emergencies, but also participate in the training (education and mainly practical exercises) of first responders in the firefighter units.
Our experiences with CBRN trainings?
I feel very lucky to work for the Population Protection Institute (PPI), which represents the highest authority in CBRN within the FRS CR. Not only in terms of equipment for CBRN detection and analysis (think of their innovative equipment in mobile and stationary laboratories) but from an educational and training standpoint as well. The PPI guarantees and delivers the most complete CBRN course. Moreover, we also train the other laboratories of the FRS CR, for which we prepare challenging and mainly complex model scenarios according to the motto “hard on the training ground, easy on the battlefield”.
However, we do not limit our educative activities to only the Czech Republic. The PPI and its specialists organize and/or support a number of international courses. We very closely collaborate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and NATO. For example, for the OPCW we co-organize the “Train-the-trainer” course, which prepares instructors to teach chemical emergency response. This nine days course, traditionally organized in our Institute, belongs to the best-ranged courses organized by the OPCW. Actually, we recently were awarded a price by the OPCW for it. Moreover, we also train the first responders in their home countries, such as in Paraguay or Uganda.
Training of trainers and inspirations
The job of a CBRN specialist and trainer of the first responders in this area is a dream job for many adventured boys and girls, and yes, it is a dream job! However, this entails a problem: who will train us, the trainers? Of course, we are not only the trainers; we are also CBRN specialists within the FRS CR. Most of you people from the CBRN community probably know that the real big CBRN incidents seldom occur, fortunately, which means that only real interventions are not enough to practice and improve our skills. Hence, we try to find and embark on every opportunity to participate in some interesting CBRN courses or exercises.
Most of us attended some “train the trainer” courses organized by the OPCW around the word. Sometimes we can train or at least observe large CBRN trainings organized by our neighbours Slovakia, Germany, and Austria. But the most sophisticated trainings which we have experienced in recent years were the NCT PRO Trainings sessions that are traditionally a part of the NCT Europe events.
We have tried to attend almost every European NCT PRO Training since 2018. Usually, we try to build one team consisting of 4-6 members from our Institute and other chemical laboratories of the FRS CR. Every one of us who has ever participated in the NCT PRO Trainings truly appreciates the scenarios and their arrangements. Almost everything always looks realistic. Organizers are able to procure and use real sources of radiation, simulants of CWA, etc. that further increases the authenticity of the sessions. We also meet colleagues from other countries with whom we can discuss and exchange experiences, not only from real interventions but also from trainings. And the last advantage of these events is the fact that we can use and try the newest CBRN equipment from sponsors of this very useful event.
Big thanks at the end
What should I say in conclusion? I want to wholeheartedly thank to all people, who prepared, are preparing and I hope that they will further prepare such interesting and real-looking scenarios for the NCT PRO Trainings. Most of the scenarios are useful for us and we utilize them often when we train our colleagues from FRS CR, customs, police. And lastly, yet importantly, I would like to say that we are very happy for the opportunity to participate in and enjoy the trainings from the other part of the sideline.
About the Author:
Michal Setnička’s Bio (Cpt. Ing. Ph.D.). My scientific background is physical chemistry (I obtained the doctoral degree at the University of Pardubice, Czech Republic in 2013). I then worked as a researcher in the department of heterogeneous catalysis at the University of Pardubice. I joined the CBRN laboratory of the Population Protection Institute, which is a part of the Fire Rescue Service of Czech Republic in 2016. There I work as a researcher and trainer.
My work is divided between education and trainings of the first responders in the field of CBRN, mainly in radiation safety. With my colleagues, I also cooperate with the OPCW at education and training of first responders from all over the world in CBRN detection and protection. I perform applied research in CBRN, specialised intervention in the field and laboratory analysis and in my scientific work I focus mainly on RN preparedness (decontamination, creation of new methodologies, testing of new methods of detection etc.). I am a member of the CBRN response team where I am responsible for detection, identification, and sampling of CBRN hazard materials from environment and their subsequent analysis in a stationary laboratory. I am also civil experts of the NATO CPG for Radiological expertise. I am the author (co-author) of 22 impact and peer review papers and number of presentations in national and international meetings, websites etc.