Article Archive
Training: chore or challenge
Volume 24, No. 5

To paraphrase the sign that one of the utility companies uses when excavating a roadway "Train we must." Training is a fact of life in the emergency response business. It is required by OSHA, EPA, FEMA, state and local agencies and last, but by no means least, the employer. We will train but what we make of the time and treasure spent on training depends on the trainer and the trainee. There are many reasons for holding training exercises; these are but a few of them:

  • Up-to-date training records are essential to maintaining responders' certification. Response personnel need to periodically review all aspects of the response organization including safety protocols, equipment utilization and operation, orientation regarding newly acquired equipment and apparatus as well as any changes in the organizational structure of the department.
  • Familiarization of response personnel with changes in the localities wherein they are likely to respond and the adjacent ones where they may be called as part of a mutual aid organization.
  • Orientation with regard to new or changed equipment and or policies.

As we all know, training sessions are not always greeted with enthusiasm by trainees, or for that matter by the trainers either. This is particularly true when the trainer is someone who has been handed the job, sometimes on short notice or an interim basis. The result is a presentation that may be "lackluster" at best and "death by PowerPoint" at worst. To have good training an emergency response organization must have three things:

  • Up-to-date training materials. One of the actual blessings of PowerPoint has been that of forcing us to rid ourselves of those antiquated black and white 16 mm films. Much of the basic material in these films is still valid but it is sandwiched in with so much superseded information, obsolete equipment and antiquated ideas that any remaining educational value is obscured.
  • Appropriate training materials. Training curriculum materials must not only be current but they must be appropriate to the department using them. Little is gained (beyond informing the trainees that such things do, in fact, exist) by demonstrating a 105-foot aerial ladder to combat an incident in a five-story building to a group of firefighters in an industrial plant consisting of a single one-story structure.
  • An organized training unit. This unit may consist an one individual on a part time or volunteer basis, but it is essential that someone organize and schedule training as well as document the date and time of the training sessions with the material that was presented. Also important is to provide continuity to the training curriculum.

All of this requires time and cost. The cost is guaranteed to make the hair on the necks of the "bean counters" stand on end. Funding for emergency response training programs has always been a problem and it is all too often one of the first things to be cut from a departmental budget in tough economic times. It is also one of the last things added when economic conditions improve.

Some sage once said that "teachers are born, they are not made; they may be improved upon but they cannot be created." Emergency response services trainers are teachers.

Use an individual in your organization with a natural "bent" toward teaching. The perennial computer buff and the "closet" photographer who may have missed their calling will find their niche here. Assign them to training as part of their departmental duties. If possible, compensate them in some way, however small, and by all means recognize and encourage their efforts at every opportunity. Once you have found him, never let him go.

Continuity, consistency and corporate memory are three very essential attributes to the position of training coordinator. These are only possible if their tenure in office is fairly long and continuous and they are given adequate recognition for their endeavors. It does not have to be monetary but recognition is very important.

Once the training coordinator is in place, the task of obtaining appropriate training materials becomes somewhat easier. It becomes possible to access a number of local resources that might otherwise go unused.

When training is required, the knee-jerk reaction is all too often to go out and buy what is needed. "Off the shelf" material does not always guarantee the best training or the most bang for the training buck.

If, for example, a department in a manufacturing facility, one of two in the nation that make "tri-isobutyl mother-in-law," an extremely hazardous material, it is likely that the people who know most about this material are nearby and can be easily tapped for training purposes. They may not be polished presenters, so the training coordinator will likely need to help them "tweak" their presentation and assist with the creation of training materials. The end result can easily be a cutting edge presentation as content is concerned.

"Death by PowerPoint" is a familiar clich? but it should be borne in mind that PowerPoint is a tool, nothing more. Like any tool, the product is only as good as the craftsman using it. PowerPoint, in the hands of a creative operator, can produce a very effective training presentation.

Along with PowerPoint, Google Maps can effectively show the various site specific geographic and environmental factors that bear upon the decisions made at the scene of an incident.

As an example of what can be done with ordinary computer equipment, let us look at the intersection of Picacho Avenue and the BNSF railroad in Las Cruces, NM. This is not the complete PowerPoint presentation but it will give some idea of what can be accomplished with an ordinary computer using regular windows software.

At this point Picacho Avenue (US 70 ) crosses the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks. In the early 1920s (when there were only two trains daily), this crossing was traversed by a narrow two-lane concrete viaduct constructed with a high clearance to allow the smoke from the coal burning steam locomotives to dissipate. When this structure became a bottleneck to modern truck traffic it was torn down and replaced by the grade crossing protected by gates and flashing lights seen here (now that there are six to eight trains daily and many more times the automobile traffic). Why the previous structure, which was still quite sound, was not converted to one way traffic and an additional overpass constructed to handle the traffic in the other direction, thus eliminating the grade crossing, is unknown.

Thus the stage is set for an incident of disastrous proportions.

In an actual presentation, rotate the picture ninety degrees and obtain views of the actual track in both directions (north and south). This would have revealed that the railroad runs through a fairly densely populated residential area as well as an industrial/business district. In addition, digital pictures, either obtained at the scene of an actual incident or posed for training purposes and Google Maps can be utilized in the presentation.

Activating the satellite view in Google Maps shows the presence of an elementary school three blocks from the railroad tracks (the large white roofed structure in the lower right corner of the satellite photo above and at left.) This will certainly have a bearing on tactical decisions in the event of an incident at the intersection of West Picacho Avenue and the BNSF tracks, especially if the incident should occur at a time when the school is occupied.

The PowerPoint/Google Maps combination offers a distinct advantage to industrial emergency response organizations that may respond to incidents occurring over a large geographical area (in some cases even nationwide). These locations are probably unknown to the responders, but through the use of satellite mapping programs, they can have some idea of where they may be going and what they may find when they arrive.

This is not an attempt to offer a complete PowerPoint presentation. It is merely an effort to demonstrate what can be done with ordinary "run of the mill" computer equipment. An inexpensive digital camera coupled with a bit of imagination can create visual presentations that are meaningful, informative and pertinent to the locality.

Transportation of hazardous materials is not restricted to the immediate neighborhood of the manufacturing plant. These commodities may be shipped to and from any part of the world. While we do not like to see our products scattered across the countryside, it does unfortunately happen; unforeseen incidents or accidents can, and do, occur at any point along the route. When these events transpire, the shipper or manufacturer is called on to respond, but until their response team can reach the site of the incident, local resources must make the initial response effort. Therefore training must be made available to these organizations and, again, the best training source is the initial manufacturer.

One of the best ways to distribute quality training materials is industry trade organizations such as ChemTrec, TransCAER, the Chlorine Institute, the American Trucking Association or the Association of American Railroads among others. All of these have training programs and can distribute these quality presentations to those having need of such materials.

The TransCAER website -- -- is a really great resource, but it is by no means the only one. It has a listing of upcoming training events and a list of available programs1. Training programs compiled by other organizations are listed along with the source from which they may be obtained. Various product-specific trade organizations, such as The Chlorine Institute, may offer an avenue for distribution of training materials to the general industrial emergency response community. These programs are usually presented free of charge or on a cost recovery basis which makes them affordable. The key is to coordinate dates and times in advance to insure that such programs are presented with maximum effectiveness. For example, a presentation on railroad tank cars by TransCAER or one of the major railroads will likely have to be scheduled at least a year in advance and need to be coordinated with all of the shipping facilities in the region, but the resulting presentation will be well worth the effort.

The bottom line, is to obtain and/or create good training materials which are site or product specific to train your own personnel and the emergency response community.

1 TransCaer has new materials on their 2011 Ammonia Safety training program. This material will be available from Donna L. Lepik, Director, Outreach & Special Programs/Staff Executive ( or A flyer on the class is at For more information, refer to the URL given in the body of this article.


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