The Overlooked HAZMAT

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By: Mark A. Gresham, President – CEO, Professional Cylinder Inspectors, Inc.
As fire service personnel there are many obligations for HAZMAT training. Obviously, you must have the knowledge and tools to function safely in a challenging environment. You do this through what are considered recognized agencies using time tested manuals, hands-on applications and skill assessments. Have you done all you reasonably can to ensure you truly understand the equipment you use?
Let’s focus on one aspect of firefighter’s training that is particularly lacking. That is the SCBA cylinder itself, the most overlooked HAZMAT (any cylinder at 29psig or greater). While relatively few, there have been injuries and fatalities due to cylinder accidents including ruptures.
What was missing in most of those cases was basic knowledge for how a cylinder should be handled, stored or otherwise maintained. This is particularly important since the fire fighter is not only responsible for his/her own safety but also the safety of others. It stands to reason that one would want to be properly informed and well versed in cylinder handling in order to operate in a safe manner and avoid potentially dangerous situations. This not only applies to the SCBAs that firefighters wear in service but also the SCUBA cylinders of specialized Dive Teams and on occasion when they are dispatched to a scene where other types of cylinders (O2 or SCUBA) have been exposed to fire or other damaging situations.
While having trained visual cylinder inspectors at a facility is recommended, not everyone at the station requires that level of training. It is required, however, that every firefighter be trained to their level of exposure. It is incumbent on the department employers and Training Managers to ensure this training has occurred and been documented. This is a federal requirement. But this important training is often overlooked in the training of the firefighter. They are well versed in various types of HAZMAT, but rarely consider the HAZMAT they wear every day.
Personnel have to carry tanks, store them, fill them, etc. Have they been provided formal, function specific training to accomplish this? If the station house has a PSI-PCI trained inspector, that inspector is authorized to use the PSI-PCI Cylinder Hazmat-Fill Station Operations compliance training kit to provide federally recognized hazmat training to the facility personnel. This is an easy way to meet the function specific requirements and ensure a level a safety for all involved.
We have seen many situations where firefighters exhibit disregard for the cylinders they are required to use simply because they are uninformed. Cylinders are used in man down drills which can destroy them. They are improperly stored in apparatus which can cause condemnable damage. Oxygen cylinders are checked improperly and have caused fires and major damage to buildings and apparatus. They are improperly filled, improperly labeled or handled.
PSI-PCI has worked with and in the fire service for many years and it has become increasing clear that fire service personnel are not provided enough knowledge of the cylinders they handle to prevent the accidents. But what are the proper handling standards? What are acceptable damage limits? It is proven that proper cylinder inspection by trained technical inspectors cause the removal of potentially dangerous cylinders from service. But how does one know without proper training?
Firefighters work around HAZMAT every day. If they have filled cylinders in their apparatus, in their O2 kits or in their station house, they have the potential for issues without proper training. They can also save thousands of dollars by maintaining their cylinders rather than sending them out. Sending them out raises safety concerns to another level. What training has the inspector had? What standards have been used to inspect the cylinders? Even in the Hydro-requalifying business there is a great need for proper training and the trust to handle a firefighter’s life support equipment should be earned rather than taken for granted.
Firefighters should insist (and any individuals acting in the capacity of employees for the station) on formal, function specific training regarding hazmat/ cylinder safety. This is life support equipment. It warrants attention. Applying accurate information regarding high pressure cylinders will go a long way toward safeguarding firefighters and the public in general.
About the author:
Mark A. Gresham, former United States Marine, is the owner and President of Professional Scuba Inspectors, Inc. –Professional Cylinder Inspectors, Inc. (PSI-PCI). He is considered the leading authority on cylinder safety and inspection in the world today. Mark has trained thousands to visually inspect high pressure cylinders continuing the mantra of safety thru formal, recognized education. He has effectively expanded the PSI-PCI training role beyond SCUBA and consults regularly to all branches of US Military, NASA, NOAA, the fire service and other areas where high pressure cylinders are used. PSI-PCI is the only internationally recognized training agency for high pressure cylinder inspector training. (See the PSI-PCI website for more information: www.psicylinders.com).

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