The message every fire department in America should have gotten is that we are all vulnerable to the effects of another terrorist attack.
BY KENNETH O. BURRIS, JR.
Many fire departments across the nation are asking themselves, “Are we prepared for this?” or “How on earth are we ever going to handle something like this?” Both of these are good questions, but many other departments are saying, “It will never happen here.”
The events of September 11 should teach us all that we are not immune to terrorism or mass-casualty incidents. It is true that the targets hit were in New York and Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington D.C. (both large cities). But an airplane also crashed in the tiny town of Shanksville, in Somerset County, Pennsylvania (population 6,454). Make no mistake: The message every fire department in America should have gotten is that we are all vulnerable to the effects of another terrorist attack. The public and elected officials have also learned that our communities’ fire services are the first line of defense. The people we serve are depending on us to know how to react.
Luckily, there are many ways to get the information we need to prepare our departments and communities. The United States Fire Administration’s National Fire Academy has terrorism programs that range from self-study courses you can take in your home to university programs for government leaders.
A very popular introductory course is available in paper format and as a file downloadable from the USFA Web site. Emergency Response to Terrorism: Self-Study (ERT: SS) (Q534) is a self-paced, paper-based document designed to provide the basic awareness training to prepare first responders to respond to incidents of terrorism safely and effectively. Students who successfully complete the exam will be eligible for a FEMA/BJA certificate of training. The course is designed for fire, emergency medical, haz-mat, incident command, and law enforcement responders. You can download the ERT: SS course in portable document format (PDF). You can also request a copy of the ERT: SS through the USFA Publications Center at (800) 238-3358, ext. 1189 or order it on-line.
Thousands of emergency responders across the country have taken Emergency Response to Terrorism: Basic Concepts, a two-day course designed to prepare them to take the appropriate course of action at the scene of a potential terrorist incident. The course provides students with a general understanding and recognition of terrorism, defensive considerations (biological, nuclear, incendiary, chemical, and explosive), as well as command and control issues associated with criminal incidents. When an incident occurs, the student will be able to recognize and implement self-protective measures; secure the scene; complete appropriate notifications to local, state, and federal authorities; and assist in completing a smooth transition from emergency to recovery and termination operations.
The primary target audience for this training includes haz-mat, fire, and emergency medical services first-responder personnel. The secondary audience includes law enforcement personnel, emergency communications personnel, jurisdiction emergency coordinators, public works managers, and public health providers. The USFA provides grants to state fire service training systems so this training can be available to you locally at little or no cost. Often, in small communities, fire, EMS, and law enforcement responders sit in the same class and can become familiar with each other’s responsibilities and procedures.
Emergency Response to Terrorism: Tactical Considerations-Company Officer (ERT: TC-CO) is a two-day course designed to build on the existing skills of the initial first-responding supervisor from the Emergency Response to Terrorism: Basic Concepts course or Emergency Response to Terrorism: Self-Study Guide. The students will be trained in security considerations, identifying signs of terrorism, anticipating unusual response circumstances, assessing information, and initiating self-protection actions.
Anyone who could serve as the first on-the-scene officer in a haz-mat or EMS incident would benefit from this course. You must have a working knowledge of the incident command system (ICS); students will not be taught ICS but will be expected to use ICS during class activities.
Emergency Response to Terrorism: Tactical Considerations-Emergency Medical Service (ERT: TC-EMS) is a two-day course designed for the first-on-the-scene responding EMS personnel with the responsibility to render care to victims of terrorist incidents. The students will be trained in security considerations, identifying signs of terrorism, anticipating unusual response circumstances, assessing information, and initiating self-protection actions. The students also will apply their knowledge about responding to a terrorist event, providing victim care, identifying and preserving evidence, managing site safety, documenting the event, and debriefing personnel.
The target audience for ERT: TC-EMS is first-on-scene EMS personnel, who could be career or volunteer firefighters, EMS, industrial contractors, allied health personnel, and members of the military or other government agencies. Note: The medical protocols for rendering care are at the advanced life support (ALS) level.
Another two-day course is designed for the first-on-scene responding haz-mat technician or people responsible for developing initial haz-mat tactical considerations. In Emergency Response to Terrorism: Tactical Considerations-Hazardous Materials (ERT: TC-HM), the students will be trained in security considerations, identifying signs of terrorism, anticipating unusual response circumstances, assessing information, and initiating self-protection actions. The students also will apply their knowledge about responding to a terrorist event, managing site safety, documenting the event, and debriefing personnel.
ERT: TC-HM is targeted at first-on-scene haz-mat technician-level personnel, who could be career or volunteer firefighters, EMS, industrial contractors, allied health personnel, and members of the military or other government agencies with haz-mat responsibility.
Remember, all of the above courses are two days in length and are part of the National Fire Academy’s Direct Delivery Program. That means that they can be delivered in or near your community. Moreover, they can be funded through terrorism training grants or state fire training grants, so the cost to your department should be minimal. Contact your state fire service training program office for more information.
Another “plus” in this training is that the ERT series of courses have been evaluated by the American Council on Education and have been recommended for one semester hour credit each in AAS-Fire Science or EMS Technologies. If you are enrolled in a degree program, your institution may allow you credit for these courses. The entire National Fire Academy course catalog is available on-line at www.usfa.fema.gov/nfa.
As we all learn from the tragedy of September 11, let us not lose sight of the fact that as our community’s first response organization, we need to work closely with police and other local officials. We need to determine what areas of our cities and towns could be targets, but we also need to plan for the unexpected event that goes beyond our ability to respond with just one community’s resources. This type of planning and cooperation is critical to responding to and recovering from terrorist events. The fire service is the first line of homeland defense; we owe it to the people we serve to be as prepared as possible.
KENNETH O. BURRIS, JR., is the chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration. He retired as fire chief from the City of Marietta, Georgia. He has an MPA from Kennesaw State University and a bachelor’s degree in fire protection and safety engineering technology from the University of Cincinnati. He formerly served as treasurer of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.