WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (April 2017) -- It is not uncommon to see firefighters here donning hazardous material protective suits as part of their semi-annual training, but when other employees were recently seen wearing these suits some wondered if the firehouse had closed.

Well, as much as folks here love their public works team, firefighters are still alive and well here. What happened was that several public works and environmental employees were offered a 40-hour course in what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration calls Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response or HAZWOPER training. And, no one here turns down free training.

Lead instructor and owner of HAZ-Fire LLC who provided the training, Michael Mennella, said that OSHA requires every employee who who works with or has the potential to come in contact with hazardous materials or work sites to take the 40-hour HAZWOPER course, as well as the annual eight-hour refresher course.

"HAZWOPER training is not just for your firefighters," Mennella said. "Given that you (Arsenal) have heavy manufacturing operations that involve a significant number of chemicals, the HAZWOPER training will make the Arsenal a safer place to work."

What employees learned in the course may also benefit them at home, Mennella said.

"People take a lot things for granted when it involves chemicals," Mennella said. "When people experience a chemical spill at home they often try to mitigate the spill by using water. But what they may not know is that water may actually make the situation worse. That is the value of this course in that it helps people to better understand the value of thinking first, before reacting."

James Evans, a retired U.S. Navy Reservist and who is now a maintenance worker here, said this was the first time he had attended the 40-hour course.

"Before the 40-hour course was offered to me, I had attended several refresher courses on how to handle hazardous materials," Evans said. "But I am really glad that I took the full course because I found out things about hazardous materials that I would not have ever thought of at my home or at work."

Evans added that just about everything his team does, from working in the pool area to repairing things in the shop to going down into pits, involves some sort of exposure to hazardous materials. And therefore, he believes the training that he received will make his team safer.

Even from a Soldier's perspective, the training greatly added to the foundation for someone who already has familiarity working with hazardous materials and wastes.

"As a medical service corps officer, I have many years of experience working with installation public works teams when it comes to hazardous materials," said Lt. Col. James Houlihan, who is assigned to the Arsenal for one year under the Army's Personnel Force Innovation program. "Nevertheless, no matter how much experience I have, every post and situation is different. And so, I believe this training has added to my competency, while adding value to the Arsenal."

Houlihan, who currently works in the Arsenal's Environmental Office, said that one of his first tasks is to use his new skills to verify the proper storage and location of chemicals on the Arsenal.

One other added benefit to the training is that the Arsenal's firefighters now have a trained reserve of HAZMAT-qualified personnel to draw from if and when they ever need augmentation when responding to a crisis, Houlihan said.