As a member of Florida's Regional Domestic Security Task Force (RDSTF) Region 7, BCSO expanded on its agency training by attending Hazardous Waste Operator Emergency Response, or HazWOpER, for Law Enforcement (hazSWAT) through Safety Training and Consultation International Inc. (STCI).
Meeting national standards
Along with Monroe County Sheriff's Office and Palm Beach Sheriff's Office, BCSO attended STCI's inaugural training in January 2009. Funded through an Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant, this 40-hour, SWAT-only training provided officers with technical and tactical information.
"The pilot course was borne out of a specific need for tactical officers to be able to work in a hazardous environment," states Richard Shoaf, STCI senior vice president of operations.
STCI addressed the need for a course meeting national consensus standards. "It is a very unique set of training evolutions we molded to their mission specific goal," Shoaf explains. "It includes practical evolutions so they are able to perform their normal operations in different variations of personal protective equipment. The different levels of heat stress and the components of personal protective clothing are not included in standard tactical officer training."
Dowe adds: "The training provides agencies the foundation to ensure they're in compliance with OSHA requirements; administration, fit testing and training."
Along with understanding the mandates agencies are required to follow regarding SWAT operation in hazardous environments, many training attendees found the activities involving personal protective equipment the most beneficial. Unfortunately, this gear was not originally intended for law enforcement.
"The conundrum was no equipment, initially, was functional or designed for tactical operators," says Dowe. "It was bulky. It was noisy. The goal of a SWAT team operator is speed, stealth and surprise — most of which does not exist when you are wearing an SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) on your back." Having appropriate PPE and an understanding of the capabilities and restrictions involved in wearing it are essential to safety.
"Firefighters are used to that environment," Llera says. "This is something that they do on a day-to-day basis. Tactical officers use different equipment; having a containment suit takes a little getting used to. You are using your tactical equipment and now you have an added restriction — a cumbersome suit that is going to save your life."
Currently, the National Institute of Justice proposed drafting a PPE standard requesting manufacturers of this law enforcement equipment design it based on what officers need. The draft also outlines recommended drills to include in training.
"Tactics needed to be adapted to compensate for the lack of speed, stealth and surprise normally required for tactical operations," Dowe explains. HazSWAT training demonstrated how even the most simple task, such as placing blocks in a container, become difficult in conjunction with PPE.
When SWAT teams respond to a hazardous incident, Dowe says their primary mission is to secure the human threat and prevent a release. "If the suspect has the ability to release the WMD, it's no different than him or her pointing a gun at you." He explains an agency must know what they are going up against prior to and after arriving on-scene. This allows the operator to determine the appropriate PPE.
"People think if they wear an air purifying respirator (APR) 'gas mask,' they can go into an environment where there is a chemical," he explains. "But that chemical in a confined space might have displaced oxygen and therefore the mask is inappropriate. Once exposed or deprived of oxygen, the operator would begin to have negative physiological effects, which can lead to unconsciousness."
Training, such as STCI's, teaches operators how to assess a situation and utilize appropriate PPE. "We have reached a new level of certification and availability to deal with different tactical situations that we may be exposed to in the near future," states Llera. "The department is better trained and qualified to deal with hazardous material environments [thanks to] day-to-day operations that expose members of our department to new available PPE, the use of the equipment, and its maintenance and care."