It doesn’t take a chemical engineer, chemistry major or rocket scientist to be a Special Operations Team Member. What is does take is commitment, dedication and a willingness to learn.
Special Operations includes Hazardous Materials/WMD Response, Confined Space Rescue, Trench Rescue, Rope Rescue, Water Rescue, Search and Rescue and Coroner Assist. The following are just some of the qualities, abilities and attributes that are required for membership on a Special Operations & Hazardous Materials Team:
Team Player Attitude – The ideal HazMat Technician fits in with the rest of the team, follows the chain of command as opposed to freelancing and is ready, willing and able to get in, get dirty and get the job done, regardless of their assigned task.
Willingness To Learn – It is impossible to know everything about all facets of a HazMat response. The field is simply too large and complex. Know-It-Alls tend to know less than they think they do and may end up getting someone hurt, or worse. Don’t make this mistake and assume you know everything just because you just received your HazMat Technician certification.
Calm, Cool & Collected – HazMat Teams, like other specialty teams, are called upon to handle the incidents that line companies cannot due to the special training and equipment that are required. These incidents are generally of a higher profile than a routine dwelling fire. For this reason, a HazMat Technician must be able to remain cool under pressure, maintain the ability to function and be able to direct non-Technician personnel in assisting the HazMat Team in defensive and support functions.
Science / Technical Background – Lab experience certainly isn’t a requirement, but it helps to know what might happen if Chemical A mixes with Chemical B.
Pride – A HazMat Team is a Special Team, like a USAR or Dive Rescue Team. A person should be able to take pride in their unit and their equipment.
Dedication – In order to maintain proficiency in all areas, this often means training at nights and on weekends. Only those dedicated to the program will go above and beyond in order to succeed.
Analytical – What happens when Plan A fails and Plan B isn’t working like it should? The ideal Technician doesn’t panic, but steps back, takes an analytical approach by looking at the entire incident and comes up with a solution by thinking outside of the box.
Experience – A HazMat incident often requires split second decisions made under extreme pressure.
Commitment – HazMat should not be viewed as a means to promotion or for padding a resume. You should join HazMat because you want to, not because you have to in order to satisfy your ascent up the chain of command. You should figure on a five year commitment if you desire to become a well-rounded HazMat Responder.
Self-Motivated – You should be ready to go to the truck, pull equipment off of the truck and familiarize yourself with it on your own. The same applies to coursework and other training. Take advantage of the opportunities that are out there in terms of classes, both online and practical.
Planning & Management Abilities – You should be able to handle the planning and management of training and equipment programs as they relate to the HazMat Team. This can be much more involved than the planning and management for a line company given the increased training requirements and larger equipment caches.
Mechanical Skill – Can you work with tools? Are you good with your hands? Can you patch a leak totally by feel? Are you creative enough to design a solution using the tools at your disposal in cases where you don’t “the right tool for the right job?”
Computer Skills – Can you navigate through a computer database in order to perform chemical research? Can you input the data in order to plot a plume and interpret the map that the program produces?
Claustrophobia Concerns – The potential Technician needs to recognize their limitations and be up front about them with the rest of the Team. It is quite possible that through time, training and familiarization, some people will be able to work through their concerns and be able to be fully functional while wearing bulky personal protective equipment. A potential Technician needs to be made aware of this up front.
Communications Skills – A HazMat Technician must be able to adequately portray what they have seen and done in the Hot Zone. This communication may be verbally, via radio or face to face. It may also be drawn in the form of a diagram of the area in question. The communication may also be in the form of hand signals in areas where noise prevents verbal communication or where the radio fails, forcing the use of alternative means of communication. Writing skills are also important in order to document the incident in after action and cost recovery reports. Remember, if you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen. Verbal communication skills may also be valuable should the Technician be required to testify about their actions in a civil or criminal proceeding relating to the incident.
Jack of all Trades – It helps if the Technician knows a little about a lot of things as opposed being an expert on just one. A working knowledge of chemistry, plumbing, electricity, carpentry, computers, carpentry, etc. will provide a knowledge base to draw from during those times when you are confronted by a situation that wasn’t exactly covered in the last course you took.