Running to fires

Selwyn Brooks shows some of the booklets that he carries with him that help in the correct handling of any hazardous materials situation.

by Latoya Burnham

A certified Hazmat trainer is warning Barbadians to stop running to the scenes of fires and accidents to be mere spectators.

In fact, Selwyn Brooks says such people could be unknowingly putting themselves in harms way, and as a matter of course people need to learn more about hazardous chemicals they use every day and especially as a part of their jobs.

“In Barbados our inclination is to run to a fire. When you are trained, you can stand off and observe the colour of the smoke, the colour of the fire, the wind direction.

“We must wake up and realise that the disasters we see on television are not just things that happen in the US. We need to continuously inform people about the real life incidents that can happen,” said Brooks, minutes after handing over his new certification to Chief Fire Officer, Wilfred Marshall recently.

Brooks, who is now certified as a hazardous materials trainer, received certification for the eight-hour incident commander programme, train the trainer programme, 40-hour worker programme, eight-hour supervisor programme, and 24 hour E.R. technician programme from New Environment Inc in Tampa, Florida.

He said he first did a 40 hour hazmat course here in 2007, and a refresher in 2008; then a spill training seminar in Florida in 2009.

This most recent training was a lot more intensive than any he had done before, and one of the things it made him aware of was the fact that Barbadians needed to take awareness of the use and storage of chemicals seriously.

“All of this comes at a very important time in emergency planning in Barbados as the number of hazmat incidents over the years have gone up. I have no doubt that Government and the Fire Service are working to update the protocols so we can deal with these matters that arise from time to time,” said Brooks, who is also an active member of the Roving Response Team.

“This training is critical and the more exposure we have to this, the more we will understand the importance of it. From the time a blaze starts, the crowds begin to gather. The fact is that when you tell people not to come near it, it is for their safety…

“As a member of the Roving Response team, I think this will supplement our training. I had a meeting with the Chief Fire Officer this morning to let him know that I am a potential person he can call on to assist with matters that involve hazardous chemicals and also for training. This speaks to the role of the team, which is moving to train persons so that even though we are voluntary, we possess the competencies to do the job.”

The hazmat trainer said he would be looking to educate businesses, especially those along the West Coast that had helped fund his trip to Tampa, as a means of repaying them for their support and helping to increase their knowledge as well.

He said the Roving Response Team was also looking at bringing hazmat training to Barbados for those members that were interested, so they would not incur the considerable cost of travelling to do so.

It was training, he added, that trainers needed to refresh and get recertified each year.

In travelling around, he said he had observed a worker in a supermarket throwing water on a chemical that had spilled in an attempt to clean up, adding that the chemical began to foam and vapour started to rise.

“There are certain protocols that have to be in place when you are handling and storing chemicals. They need to know the dangers they can be exposed to… Everyone believes that it is just the acid you have to be careful with, but there are others that can have chemical reactions that can be hazardous.

“The transportation of chemicals around the island is something that also needs to be improved. People need to understand the markers and whether it indicates that it is a biohazard or what.”

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