New year, new decade, new threats – what do you know about the flammability and toxicity risks associated with new refrigerants?

The hazards that firefighters face on the job continue to expand. In recent years, responders have been asked to learn more about handling incidents involving energy storage systems (ESS), alternative fuel vehicles, natural disasters, and active shooters. They've been forced to learn, oftentimes the hard way, about occupational exposure and behavioral health issues. Some have taken proactive approaches to better understand these new threats, and embrace new training, research, resources and data.

As we enter a new year and a new decade – it's important that we take the time to learn about a new potential threat on the horizon. If history repeats itself, firefighters may very well see it as a non-issue at first – that is until an incident occurs like we saw with ESS last April. Despite NFPA offering (the world's first) online ESS training for the fire service since 2015 – it, sadly, took eight first responders getting seriously injured when a grid battery exploded in Arizona for members of the fire service to want to learn more about ESS risks and response.

So, what's the newest challenge on the radar? Flammable refrigerants.

More than 200 countries begin ushering in low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants this year – including the US. The new technology will be in residential and commercial refrigeration units and air conditioning systems – driving the need for firefighters to learn all they can about flammability and toxicity risks, asphyxiation concerns, jet stream fires, transportation issues, and other life safety considerations.

FEMA provided funding to NFPA so that an approximately one-hour, free online curriculum could be developed. The program provides an overview of the GWP transition and highlights specific dangers that firefighters may encounter when responding to incidents where new flammable refrigerants are present. At its core, the training emphasizes strict adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs), PPE and SCBA protocol, and decontamination practices. Four modules feature videos, animations, simulations, and review missions so that students can:

  • Describe why the new generation of refrigerants has been developed
  • Identify where flammable refrigerants are likely to be found in residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation contexts
  • Describe the main hazards presented by the new generation of refrigerants (flammability, toxicity, pressure release)
  • Relate the refrigerant charge size to the level of risk
  • Evaluate the hazards present in a particular situation involving flammable refrigerants
  • Adapt response tactics to mitigate consequences from refrigerants in different types of emergencies

Those that successfully take the training – the convenient online course or the instructor-led curriculum that's available – will receive a certificate of completion and be better prepared for incidents involving flammable refrigerants. Doesn't that sound like a great way to start off 2020?

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