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IAFF Testifies on Improving Hazardous Materials Safety

May 15, 2009 – The IAFF testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials May 14 as part of the committee’s efforts to update federal laws addressing the transportation of hazardous materials. Elizabeth Harman, director of the IAFF Hazardous Materials/WMD Training Department, discussed the importance of hazardous materials response training and the need to improve hazardous materials identification tools for fire fighters.

Harman discussed the current challenges facing fire departments, noting that only 29 percent of fire departments have their personnel trained in even the basics of hazardous materials response and that training needs are growing due to the current economy, advocating for increased funding for hazardous materials training programs, including the hazardous materials training provided by the IAFF. “Many local communities facing reduced revenues are choosing to cut funds for training,” said Harman. “Increased funding would help states and organizations such as the IAFF increase the number of students trained to overcome the current knowledge gap, as well as help fill the unmet needs of local fire departments.”

Harman also advocated for minimum training standards for fire fighters trained with federal funds, noting that the level of training provided to emergency responders in many states and localities is at the “awareness” level. “While [awareness level] training would be appropriately provided to, for example, a rail worker, this level of training is wholly inadequate to prepare first responders for a hazmat call,” she said. The IAFF delivers operations-level hazardous materials response training that is also NFPA 472 compliant, but many responder training programs delivered with Department of Transportation funds fail to meet even this minimum competency level.

Additional topics considered by the Subcommittee included the development of new hazardous materials identification tools and information-sharing initiatives such as the National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center. While supportive of such efforts, Harman warned of their inherent limitations and insisted that such endeavors must be in addition to current identification methods, such as placards, shipping papers and training requirements.

The hazardous materials safety reauthorization bill is expected to be considered by Congress in the coming weeks.

Full Testimony


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