“As a career firefighter it is my responsibility to be physically and mentally fit and to be proficient in all job-related skills. My feeling is that when you start with a high-risk occupation such as firefighting, mining, confined space worker, refinery technician, etc. and add IDLH environments to that job, you better be good at what you do both personally and as a team. My goal was to design a software system coupled with a training methodology that provides not only realistic training but an effective way to ensure HazMat technicians from ALL backgrounds in EVERY industry stay proficient in skills which will ultimately save lives. I am fortunate to have family, friends, and a great team to have made this goal a reality.
My experience as a HazMat student was that most training, while informative, lacked the crucial element of realism that a student would gain with hands-on training. Further, training on the actual drill grounds lacked the potential for an instructor to design unexpected or unforeseen hazards, conditions that a student must be prepared for in a real HazMat situation. Ultimately the person holding a detection meter is responsible for themselves and their team and should completely understand the readings. Having a student hold a frontline meter up to a source and causing an alarm doesn’t challenge the student or cause them to acquire critical decision making skills. The training environment should come as close as possible to approximating a realistic hazard in which the individual will be relying on these skills to make critical decisions.
In addition, I recognized that post 9/11, many new hazmat students were not from occupations that typically experience the danger and resulting ‘pucker factor’ of facing IDLH environments, and wanted to create a system that was realistic, innovative, and challenging while improving retention of difficult to understand principles. I have seen too many hazmat trainings where conditions are faked using frontline meters with no values, or prompted by the instructor by voice or by postings on a wall. In a real life situation, a student will not have the benefit of an instructor giving them feedback, and the ability to accurately comprehend real time information is imperative.
In initial training to new HazMat workers, I wanted the instructor to be able to let the students experience the concepts while being engaged ‘hands on,’ rather than just be PowerPointed on the subject. For example, while discussing Oxygen displacement or ppm vs. LEL the students can now hold a meter and actually see what the instructor is explaining, and even answer interactive questions on the screen of the HazSim device. The instructor would not be limited to preset training scenarios, and could make detection and identification part of the training process. The method is repeatable and the instructor can review the concepts and answers while easily identifying students who may need more help on the principles.
Most importantly, by creating realism on the drill ground an instructor can challenge a student with what most of us call the ‘pucker factor’ and experts such as Dr. Michael Burke at Tulane University call the ‘Dread Factor’. As stated by Dr. Burke “dread refers to a realization of the dangers of the work and associated negative emotions resulting from possible hazardous exposures. This realization of the possibility of injury or illness or negative emotions that accompany the realization play a primary role in motivating individuals to learn about how to avoid exposure to such hazards”.
With HazSim the student experiences the given hazard in real time. The instructor is now free to evaluate and let the scenario play out and is no longer a verbal prompter. All positions in the HazMat ICS are then challenged. Although no real hazardous materials are present, the student experiences ‘dread’ as well as some healthy peer pressure to correctly interpret the data given on the HazSim meter.”