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Clad in hazmat suits, employees from the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Northeast Region prepare to don respirators during HAZWOPER training in April in Hadley, Mass

Clad in hazmat suits, employees from the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Northeast Region prepare to don respirators during HAZWOPER training in April in Hadley, Mass.

Credit: Jamie Weliver, USFWS

Trained in Handling Contaminants

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't wait for crises like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to learn how to handle contaminants that threaten people and wildlife. Service leaders routinely assign staffers to attend 24 to 40 hours of specialized training in Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response, commonly known as HAZWOPER training.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration requires training for all federal employees who are likely to encounter or supervise the handling of hazardous materials. The training teaches participants how to minimize health and safety risks from exposure to toxic chemicals.

Frank Drauszewski, deputy refuge manager from Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (http://www.fws.gov/northeast/parkerriver/) in Newburyport, Massachusetts, began HAZWOPER training the same week the Deepwater Horizon well exploded in the Gulf. The course was planned months earlier. Along with Drauszewski was Parker River's Park Ranger Chris Husgen and 13 more employees from National Wildlife Refuge's in the northeast region.

"Since I work on a coastal refuge, I felt it was important to have a couple of people trained in this area," said Drauszewski. "You can't pick up oiled birds or work on cleanup unless you have HAZWOPER training."

Participants had barely zipped up their white hazmat suits and adjusted their respirators before the size of the Gulf oil disaster became apparent. Since classes ended several trainees have been deployed to crisis teams in the Gulf.

The training was led by Joseph Trujillo, Owner and Director of Training for Intermountain Technical Solutions, a government contractor based in Tooele, Utah. According to Trujillo, he's trained more than 130,000 federal and private sector employees, including more than 1,000 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel in 18 years of hazardous material classes.

All Service personnel in the field responding to the Gulf crisis have received HAZWOPER training. In a crisis such as Deepwater, responders might receive an intensive four-hour training class instead of the longer 24 or 40-hour training sessions.

Trujillo said the most important advice for people joining emergency response teams in the Gulf is to remember that while toxic chemicals can be managed, the greatest risk to people is fire. "There's no easy system to protect ourselves from flammable environments," he said, "so whether we're working with a solvent or other chemical that will degrade the crude oil, we have to be ever mindful of the risk of fire."

For more information, visit the Deepwater Horizon Joint Information Center's Web site at: http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/

To learn more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's response, visit: http://www.fws.gov/home/dhoilspill/index.html

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