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Preparing for industrial hazard response in your community

June 7, 2021
By John Liadis
It is paramount that emergency service departments are able to respond effectively to communities living close to various types of industry, such as chemical facilities and waste water treatment facilities. Photo credit: Alexey Astakhov/ Adobe Stock.

As we grow in the fire service from first responders into officers, our dynamic perspective on situational awareness and preparedness changes. We start to evaluate risk on a new level and grow within our profession. We understand our surrounding areas as best we can, so that we can serve our community to the best of our abilities. One of those major responsibilities is working with our crews to understand the industrial hazards in our immediate response area and any potential mutual aid areas. As an officer or firefighter, are you aware of the types of industry in your surrounding area? How could your department play an integral role in supporting a major incident there?

Many communities live close to various types of industry, such as oil and gas, mining, pulp and paper, steel, nuclear power plants, chemical facilities, waste water treatment facilities, airports and many more. It is paramount that emergency service departments are able to respond effectively. This also applies to on-site industrial emergency response teams (ERT), as they have the responsibility of protecting people, property and stakeholders, alongside assisting in response efforts with the local responding agencies. As health, safety and emergency responses play an integral role in industry, there are more industrial ERTs with specific first-hand operations knowledge that can aid in response efforts. These industrial ERTs usually have a strong understanding of the specific hazards within their workplaces, know how to mitigate the hazard and what would typically be required in response efforts.

Industrial fire fighting can be challenging for municipal departments as there is a heightened risk associated with unknown factors, such as hazardous materials and access and egress routes. The way fires are fought within an industrial setting differs on tactics and approach from a typical residential structure. One of the most valuable tools available for both industrial and municipal responders is to have prior knowledge and preparations in place. Having the ability to research the risk and prepare for the response in advance is one of the best common practices for many industrial departments and is typically mandated by internal policies. The key advantage of the industrial response teams is that they are subject-matter experts on the hazards in their own backyard. As firefighters on the municipal side, this can be an opportunity to take advantage of a very valuable resource.

Having the ability to build a pre-incident plan with the industrial emergency response teams will aid in understanding the capabilities of each responding agency and where there may be further assistance required from a private contractor neighbouring a municipality or department. Knowing what resources are readily available, what can be requested, and the time delay associated with those alternative resources is extremely important. Knowing what additional equipment, tools, and apparatus the industrial response teams have will help build the strength of the initial response and form the foundation around the pre-incident plan. Knowing the level of training, the command structure and standard operating guidelines of each department on both the municipal and industrial side will further build on this foundation. The levels of ERT training may meet the current NFPA standard and could even exceed them. Areas of expertise may include, but not limited to, NFPA 1006, NFPA 1072 and NFPA 1081. In some cases, there is a higher level of response and training within industrial ERTs when compared with neighbouring municipal departments. Service agreements can be established where an industrial ERT may be requested to assist a municipal department during a unique or major emergency. In some well-developed industrial parks, there are programs already in place across the country, where systems for mutual aid and resources for each agency are documented and easily accessed by the on-scene incident commander. This serves a very effective purpose and reduces time when it comes to requesting assistance from outside agencies.

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Creating a joint training venture may open doors to many avenues for municipal departments and industrial ERTs. It can create a positive learning experience where career or volunteer firefighters can share their tactics, training and knowledge with the industrial ERTs cross-training, so that if an emergency arises, there is a cohesive plan in place. Participation in tabletop exercises and mock scenarios will strengthen relationships between agencies and create opportunities for growth. This training gives both types of departments the opportunity to highlight deficiencies and create corrective actions to enhance response effectiveness. Working partnerships within the industrial community can also generate growth opportunity within municipal departments. It can initiate joint training sessions and open the door to potential donations that can provide access to funding, tools, and increased effectiveness of unified command through shared knowledge and training. Knowledge and growth within a department is the foundation for safe and effective professional level of response.

Here is a quick self-checklist for any officer or firefighter with industrial facilities within their response areas to reference:

  • What are the immediate hazards associated with each industrial facility?
  • What resources are required to respond?
  • Does the industrial facility have an ERT?What level of service is required from each responding agency?
  • Are there any pre-incident response plans?
  • What are the safe zone distances if it is a hazmat incident?
  • Will there be a need for evacuation of nearby homes and shelters in place orders? 

These questions will make for good conversation on a training day, test your knowledge, and build up the newer firefighter’s mental toolbox while sharpening the mindset of senior firefighters and officers. Pre-planning and training are always key to a successful, safe and efficient response.


John Liadis currently serves as an emergency response coordinator and fire chief at one of North America’s largest gold mining operations. Liadis is also a volunteer firefighter for Timmins, Ont..


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