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Relevant knowledge

The term ‘hazardous materials’ (also referred to as Hazmats or dangerous/hazardous substances or goods) means solids, liquids, or gases that can harm people, other living organisms, property or the environment. They include materials that pose a physical hazard such as:

  • Explosives
  • Flammables
  • Oxidisers
  • And those that pose a health hazard such as:
  • Corrosives
  • Toxic materials
  • Biohazards

The term ‘hazardous materials’ also includes materials with physical conditions or other characteristics that render them hazardous in specific circumstances, such as compressed gases and liquids or hot or cold materials. Non-fire and rescue service organisations and agencies may use more technical and specific definitions because of their own requirements, but the above definition is the most appropriate for fire and rescue services to base their risk assessments and planning assumptions on.

Another clear distinction relating to hazardous material operations is the difference between ‘contamination’ and ‘exposure’:

Contamination occurs when a substance adheres to or is deposited on people, equipment or the environment, creating a risk of exposure and possible injury or harm. Contamination does not automatically lead to exposure but may do so.

Exposure occurs when a harmful substance enters the body through a route, for example, inhalation, ingestion, absorption or injection, or when the body is irradiated

Due to the technical nature of hazardous materials operations, fire and rescue services must ensure their responders have the appropriate and specific skills, knowledge and understanding to maintain safety. ‘FF5 - Protect the environment from the effects of hazardous materials’ is the only specific hazardous materials National Occupational Standard (NOS) and is found in the Firefighters’ Role Map. Incident commanders require a higher level of knowledge and understanding; this is not specified in the National Occupational Standard (NOS).

To support and manage their hazardous materials response, fire and rescue services may need personnel in specific hazardous materials roles e. These may include hazardous materials adviser (HMA), decontamination director, mass decontamination subject matter adviser or tactical adviser (Tac Ad). The number, type and specification of these roles will vary according to the fire and rescue service’s risk profile, risk management plan and equipment/appliances provided.

It should be noted that the term hazardous materials adviser (HMA) is a generic description for any person, with enhanced knowledge of emergency hazardous materials operations, used by a fire and rescue service to provide independent specialist advice to the incident commander. It includes such roles as the hazardous materials officer, hazardous materials and environmental protection officer/adviser (HMEPO/HMEPA), scientific adviser, etc. Their primary functions are to:

  • Gather, filter and interpret technical information on hazardous materials for the incident commander
  • Assess the risks posed by emergency hazardous materials incidents
  • Advise the incident commander on developing a tactical response plan

Foundation material to enable fire and rescue service personnel to develop competence in hazardous materials operations includes:

Fire and rescue service operational guidance - incidents involving hazardous materials, 2012, DCLG, TSO.

Fire service manual – volume 1, fire service technology equipment and media – Physics and chemistry for firefighters, 2001, Home Office, TSO.

The environmental protection handbook for the fire and rescue service, 2013, EA

Initial Operational Response to a CBRN(e) Incident, 2015, Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme (JESIP), Home Office.

The dangerous goods emergency action code list 2017, 2017, NCEC, TSO.

The emergency response guidebook 2016 (ERG), 2016, US Department of Transportation