Last January, Canada's — possibly the world's — first standard on PPE requirements for emergency workers in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear events was launched. Proponents of this new guideline say this is a significant step in the fight against terrorism.
Lessons learned from the outbreak of SARS and the H1N1 influenza—even the devastating events of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S—have called for stronger protection for front-line emergency personnel by strengthening these first responders’ first line of defence: their personal protective equipment (PPE).
“After 9/11 hit, there was a lot of — for lack of a better word — scrambling by a lot of emergency services pretty much throughout the world to try to address this terrorism issue head on,” recalls Doug Silver, division chief for the Toronto Fire Services (TFS).
Addressing the issue meant strengthening their PPE purchase and training. The challenge in the past has been that there was no one-stop-shop for standards and best practices around PPE requirements for first responders.
The need to develop a comprehensive system for first responder PPE purchase, use and training, is even more vital in cases of deliberate chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) events, such as terrorism.
“There’s a number of individual, specific and unique standards,” explains Bonnie Rose, president, CSA Standards. “There’s a standard for riot helmet; there’s a standard for respiratory equipment; there’s a standard for body armor. But there was nothing out there that actually covered how all of those different pieces of equipment should work together and what combination of equipment should be used in what scenario.”
Through funding from the Department of National Defence’s CBRN Research Technology Initiative (CRTI), CSA Standards and the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) partnered to develop Canada’s first standard that addresses PPE requirements for first responders in CBRN situations. The initial work began in 2007, and over three years later, the standard was finally completed.
Launched last January, CAN/CGSB/CSA-Z1610 Protection of First Responders from CBRN Events applies to the four basic types of first responders — fire, police, paramedic and frontline hospital staff — and covers requirements for PPE selection, from purchasing the right equipment to training and proper application.
“The key thing here is that this standard was very specifically written for a deliberate CBRN event,” says Rose. “So it was developed assuming that [you’re responding to] a terrorist attack or very deliberate, and that you had to go into the situation expecting that someone is intending to hurt somebody. It makes a difference in terms of how you approach the situation.”
Z1610 is said to be the first standard of its kind in Canada dealing with PPE for first responders, and an important tool that will help emergency services, like the TFS, protect their first responders against the hazards of CBRN events.
In the past, the TFS was using a variety of standards — including NFPA 472 for hazardous materials — as guidelines for first responder PPE requirements.
“[Now we have] a tool that we can use to validate what we have been doing for the last 10 years in way of terrorism preparedness-type training,” Silver says. “It is validated in that, a) we’re going in the right direction, b) we’re looking at the right equipment to purchase to protect our firefighters, and that makes them efficient and safe when they are operating in these types of environment, and c) it’s the training aspect too, because when you buy equipment, training goes along with it.“
Years to fruition
The work to develop a PPE standard for CBRN events began as early as 2007. The years that it took to create Z1610 just shows the complex nature of this standard.
The standard addresses the needs of not just one, but four types of first responders (firefighter, police, paramedic, frontline hospital staff) — each one having a unique role to play in a CBRN situation. In addition, Z1610 covers four types of hazardous emergency events: chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear.
“In each of those hazards there are different zones, so each one would require different levels of protection of PPE, based on what type of event it is, and also what type of first responder it is,” says Ron Jenkins, project manager for the Z1610 technical committee.
The technical working committee that developed the standard had 59 members, comprised of various stakeholders and chaired by the Royal Military College of Canada. The Royal Military College has done numerous studies and tests on various types of equipment for first responders, in different environments and scenarios, Jenkins says.
It’s the vast coverage and complexity of the task at hand, as well as the multi-sector composition of the technical working committee, that brought about many of the challenges the committee faced in developing the standard.
“When you’re looking at the roles of different responder groups… they all have very unique needs and their response roles would differ and their equipment needs would differ, depending on the role that they play,” explains Jenkins.
“[We’re] trying to get consensus among and develop a standard with all of the three or four different responder groups on the table, the manufacturers, the research and testing groups. Developing this unique standard to deal with the whole ensemble of equipment, and the performance of that equipment, was very unique and challenging.”
Z1610 is the first standard in Canada that covers the equipment requirements from head to toe, when dealing with deliberate CBRN events. It also sets out guidelines on how these various types of PPE should work together to provide maximum protection for the wearer. The standard also helps first responders identify the capabilities and limitations of a particular PPE, as well as the types of configurations or PPE combinations that will work in different scenarios.
“The standard provides some new requirements in terms of raising the bar on personal protective equipment,” says Jenkins. “When we look at performance requirements from a systems perspective, to meet the requirements in the standard, in some cases, there may be additional tests that are required because now you’re testing the whole ensemble instead of the individual components.”
Z1610 is believed to be the first of its kind not only in Canada, but internationally, as it was developed specifically for deliberate CBRN events. Certainly, the catalyst for the funding was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., where 24 Canadians died.
Public Safety Canada Minister Vic Toews acknowledged the reality that all countries, including Canada, face today with increased terrorist threats. In a speech he delivered to the Economic Club of Canada last year, he pointed out that Canada is “not immune from terrorism.”
In a statement issued at the official launch of Z1610, Toews acknowledged the need to provide the best support and equipment possible for Canada’s first responders. “With today's announcement of new equipment standards for our first responders, we are working to ensure that firefighters, police officers, paramedics and health care workers have the highest standard of protective equipment available while working to protect Canadians in extraordinary urgent situations."
Canadian emergency organizations don’t seem to be the only ones looking at the new Z1610 standard. The CSA has been getting positive feedback from outside Canada as well, including our neighbours to the south.
“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been aware of our project and kind of keeping an eye on things,” says Jenkins. “Now that it’s finished, they are certainly interested in looking at it.”
For the TFS, having a Canada-made standard as a guideline for first responders makes a huge difference.
Silver says, it is always ideal to have best practices that are developed for Canadians by Canadians as they meet applicable legislations and occupational health and safety requirements, and speaks to the culture of Canada.
“When you’re using standards outside your own country, is it that standard that we’re going to be held to, for whatever reason? But when you have a Canadian standard, you know definitely that that’s the standard they’ll be held to and that’s the standard you’ll need to follow.”
Now that Z1610 has been launched, Silver says the TFS will begin the process of mapping the standard against best practices that the fire agency has established in the past, identify the gaps that exist and address those gaps. “We want to make sure that we are using the type of equipment that the standard is addressing.”
Both Silver and CSA’s Rose are confident that although Z1610 was specifically designed for deliberate CBRN events, it can also serve as best practices guide for PPE use in accidental CBRN or hazardous material situations.