ECBC Partners with JPM-Elimination for Personnel Decontamination Training
December 4, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- What do you do when a spill of hazardous material occurs? Call in the experts: trained equipment technicians and operators from the Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction (CBARR) Business Unit of the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC). CBARR personnel often work at onsite locations where chemical and biological (CB) agents are present, and typically loaded inside recovered warfare material. They are trained to remain calm and focused during high-pressure emergencies, and know how to perform decontamination safety measures under the threat of serious harm and injury.
During a new training course developed in conjunction with the Joint Project Manager-Elimination (JPM-E), ECBC personnel wearing Level C personnel protective equipment (PPE) simulated gross decontamination of a mass casualty incident. A designated line of tape on the floor indicated the hot and warm zones of the simulated incident. After crossing into the warm zone, a participant enters the first of three stations -- the shuffle pit -- where the trainee is scrubbed with sodium hypochloride or bleach, depending on which chemical solution was deemed necessary for the decontamination training exercise.
"The second station is called 'complete decontamination,' where they take soapy water and scrub the person from head to toe, and front to back in order to get chemical contamination from the creases in the suits. The hands and feet are the main points of focus and after that, they are hosed down with fresh water at the rinse station," said Jerry Hogue, personnel decontamination trainer.
From there, low-level quadrant monitoring is conducted. Miniature Continuous Air Monitors (MINCAMS) are used to run a full quadrant monitoring set, which includes: 1) head to mid-body monitoring in the front; 2) head to mid-body monitoring of the back; 3) mid-body to feet monitoring of the front; and 4) mid-body to feet monitoring of the back. MINICAMS are an analytical instrument used to accurately monitor vapors from potential exposure. Once cleared, the trainee is stripped of the now-decontaminated PPE and completes the Personnel Decontamination Station (PDS) with a final rinse station.
"The training program is very comprehensive and uses the standard operating procedures (SOPs) from CBARR and the 20th Support Command's subordinate element, the CBRNE (Chemical Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives) Analytical and Remediation Activity (CARA)," said Chris Wilson, an industrial equipment mechanic for CBARR. Wilson is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and served as an aircraft maintenance mechanic for 15 years. His experience wearing PPE and his background in explosives is what attracted him to the job at CBARR seven years ago. It also allowed him to trust the safety procedures and protocols, something that gives him a sense of peace while handing some of the most dangerous hazardous materials, he said.
"Wearing gear like the mask and equipment is something that you get used to over time. There are many people who have trouble getting acclimated to the weight of the suit. Some have trouble standing on one foot due to the oversized boots and you're wearing clothing that you normally wouldn't wear. It's restrictive and there's limited range of motion, which can cause dehydration and fatigue," Wilson said. "The new training program is great, especially for newcomers because the hands-on exercises require you to don the full PPE gear. It gives you the actual feeling of being in the suit and mask as you simulate the entire 45-minute decon process."
ECBC's CBARR Business unit is a highly trained and experienced workforce that supports numerous government agencies and whose personnel is certified for a variety of field operations, including the demolition of former chemical and biological process facilities, the remediation of formerly used defense sites, non-proliferation activities and environmental investigations. All of these missions have an element of risk and danger associated with them, making safety not only the number one priority for all personnel, but a necessary component that ensures the project mission is successful. For 96 years, ECBC's core competency has been working safely with chemical and biological agents in research, engineering and operations for the Department of Defense across the nation and around the globe.
According to Wilson, there is no question how paramount the appropriate training is for personnel deployed on field operations, whether they are a new employee understanding the process for the first time or a veteran who has completed countless operations in their career.
In 2012, JPM-E identified a number of courses that chemical workers are required to take on an annual basis to retain their qualifications. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, operators must learn new techniques and methodologies for reacting to hazards. The PDS training course got a recent upgrade after a partnership with JPM-E turned the annual required training into a robust three-day program of classroom instruction and hands-on exercises.
"Some of the things we're trying to inject into these course developments are the use of videos, live hands-on training and realistic scenario-based activities," said Karen Price, training development coordinator for JPM-E. "Training can prepare you to think quickly when something out of the ordinary happens at a site location. We need to be flexible and adapt to the new technologies that are being developed in order to determine what will work best for a given environment."
According to Price, soap and water is not the only quick emergency cleanup. A new biological skin decontamination lotion approved by the FDA can be used for decontamination purposes and is one of the many new products JPM-E tries to incorporate into its 20-30 training development programs. The Chemical Demilitarization Training Facility (CDTF) located on the Edgewood area of APG, Md., provide an easy-access, controlled environment conducive for personnel required to complete training.
"Having the ability to set up full scale equipment in the high bay area for scenario-based training is incredibly beneficial," Price said. "All of our courses are developed in conjunction with our partners--ECBC and CARA--whose subject matter experts help shape the guidelines and requirements of a given course. Once it is developed, we'll conduct an internal pilot to run through all of the different module and components before finally offering the class to students, the public or other agencies at APG."
But the challenge for Price is keeping the training content fresh for folks who have numerous years of experience on field operations. Leroy Wainwright has been a CBARR industrial maintenance mechanic for the past 12 years, whose primary responsibility is to pick up hazardous waste at sites across the country. He also has international experience and has worked side-by-side with colleague Wilson for years. The more important thing, he said, is the relationships built among team members on various site projects.
"Take Australia, for instance. That mission and site location requires a multi-talented, diverse group of personnel," said Wainwright, who had previous experience working with personnel protective equipment (PPE) during his 23-year tenure in the U.S. Navy as an aircrew survival equipment specialist. For the past few years, CBARR has supported the Australia Department of Defence (ADoD) in the chemical warfare investigation and assessment of buildings, laboratories and surrounding environment of former Australian chemical warfare facilities.
"When doing this kind of work, we have to trust each other. There's a bond that must be developed. Being together and working with your coworkers on a daily basis overtime eliminates the unknown of responding to a man-down situation. I have to have complete trust in my coworkers if they are going to decon me and help me until emergency personnel arrive. A lot of times, it is your crew onsite that serve as your first responders, so that's when all of the training kicks into gear," Wainwright said.
JPM-E and ECBC's commitment to new training measures furthers each organization's dedication to safety of their more important resource: the personnel. These comprehensive training programs render safe procedures for continued work with chemical and biological agents, including the detection and monitoring equipment and decontamination methods and techniques.
ECBC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.