Our profession is dangerous. Oddly some often need to remind themselves of this. Many of us are not only HazMat professionals but also EMTs, Paramedics, Firefighters, Company Commanders, Law Enforcement Officers, EH&S Specialists, Lab Safety Specialists, Risk Managers, Confined Space Technicians, USAR Technicians, WMD Specialists, Apparatus Operators, Grief Counselors, Supervisors, Parents, Spouses…. and we are expected to be proficient in many of these duties at the same time.

We can learn new theory, concepts, meter operations, and chemistry but it is the manipulative skills that ultimately help us go home at shift change.

I spoke today with two friends who are seasoned firefighters at large municipal departments on opposite coasts. Both have experienced the dangers of our profession first hand. Both are experts in their fields but would never use that word to describe themselves.

To paraphrase both conversations: ‘It is the hands-on muscle memory skills that will save your life at 2AM.’ Whether it be applying an A kit or following a hose line in the right direction to get out of a bad spot – only hands-on will teach you the muscle memory skills. A hazmat student needs to be challenged beyond the theory or buttons on a screen but be placed out of their comfort zone. We always have used words such as comfort zone, and pucker factor, and came up with what sums it up: the life saving zone. A zone where all of the senses are challenged with the goal of making the correct decision/action at 2AM.

When it comes to meter training or any HazMat drill, it is important to put the operator in the life saving zone. The students need to engage both decision making mental acuity in conjunction with realistic equipment. Whether it be the application of that A kit or defining the initial HotZone, being as realistic as possible is what will ultimately save lives on game day.

If you go to work with a high possibility of not coming home the next day remember to train as if your life depends on it and do it in the life saving zone. The amount of helpful websites and apps to assist with concepts, theory, and regulations have come a long way but when it comes to saving a life, there is no app for that.


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