Locating radiation sourcewithin a set of buildings.

Radiation. Don’t run away from it! Train with it!

How can we better our understanding? How can we realistically train? How can we have interactive challenging radiation training?

An idea is born

Like any other day at the fire station, the daily equipment checks and maintenance were carried out first thing in the morning then through the door bursts a grinning Watch Manager with a bowl of folded bits of paper.

“Right, pick a piece of paper and then give the duty crew a five minute talk on the piece of equipment from the fire appliance,” he says. As we worked through the pieces of paper it came to my turn, in went my hand, I opened my piece of paper and the watch managers grin widens.

I had the Rados RDS 200 Universal Survey Meter (radiation detector). I began with how the Rados RDS 200 is operated and its uses, including a confusing description of the types of radiation. I clearly needed to increase my knowledge of radiation and procedures around such a dangerous area.

I decided the best way to increase my knowledge would be to put together a presentation about the Rados RDS 200 and a lecture covering radiation, and then to present this to the station crew. The biggest problem I found was being unable to carry out realistic training with the RADOS RDS 200 unless I could acquire some nasty radiation, which wasn’t going to happen.

Along Came Argon Electronics

I began collecting as much information as I could. I came across a company ARGON Electronics. This company specialises in CRBN (Chemical Biological Radiation Nuclear) Hazmat simulator training systems, supplying a very varied and comprehensive selection of simulators including the Rados RDS200 SIM. After visiting the Argon website I contacted them to enquire about the use of a Rados RDS200 simulator. Within an hour I was having a conversation with Steven Pike (Managing Director) who was willing to assist me with my plans and loan me a kit which included simulation emitters (both directional and spherical), simulation powders and liquids, the GMP-11-SIM simulation beta contamination probe and EPD-MK2-SIM (personal dosimeters).This was fantastic news now I could plan a training package based on realistic scenarios, whilst evaluating this new equipment.

We are very lucky at our fire station because we have an old abandoned holiday village down the road which we have been using to train in many areas of rescue. The best way to describe this site is a mini Pripyat (town of the Chernobyl disaster).

Simulation Training kit supplied by ARGON Electronics.

Simulation Training kit supplied by ARGON Electronics.

Off to Luton

I met Steven Pike at the Argon head office in Luton to collect the training equipment. After a brief explanation of my plans, Steven assured me that the equipment would be perfect, within an hour he had instructed me on how to set up the equipment including the emitters, beta probe, powders and liquids. This was all reinforced through practical application. Steven was extremely helpful and the simulation equipment was very easy to set up and use.

Planning, searching, developing

Back at Ryde Fire Station on the Isle of Wight the task had really picked up momentum. I now had Ideas, various venues and simulation radiation detection equipment.

My first task was to design a lecture about radiation. At station we had input a few times on the subject of radiation presented by the Watch Officer, although very good and in-depth was too complex for people without a scientific background, such as me and the majority of my colleagues. This normally caused a lot of head scratching and confusion. The Watch Officer was of great help if I needed things explained. I stripped the subject back and began at its simplest, firstly creating a lecture about the Rados RDS 200, its uses within varied industries, what it detects, how to use it, construction etc. The second part was harder due to the massive subject matter that radiation covers. I created another lecture covering the basics of radiation. This included various types of radiation, dose rates, fire service procedures and a section covering Chernobyl and radiation levels around the disaster zone.

The two sessions were delivered to the station followed by a short practical hands-on session using the Rados RDS 200 SIM and GMP-11-SIM beta contamination probe. The gamma simulation emitters were turned on and beta liquids and powders were used on food to enable the simulation detection equipment to show readings. This was the first time any of us had seen readings on the Rados RDS 200. With use of the dosage prompt card the firefighters could understand the levels of gamma radiation that they were receiving. With the GMP-11-SIM beta contamination probe attached, firefighters discovered which food items and drinks were contaminated. These combined sessions were a success with positive feedback and fire fighters now being comfortable with radiation readings and detection. The goal of delivering a session that gave a real understanding and hands on approach to radiation was achieved thanks to the RDS200.

Many options for scenarios at the abandon village.

Many options for scenarios at the abandon village.

Practical training sessions

Now people had a better understanding of radiation and how to understand the readings on the RDS 200 we began to train using realistic scenario based training.

Road Traffic Collision involving Radiation

This was set up to simulate a broken container with a source of radiation inside. Using a directional emitter, EPD-MK2-SIM (personal dosimeters) and RDS 200 SIM, a van was parked and a car was put into position to simulate a rear collision. The car contained a casualty that had leg entrapment. The crew needed to release the casualty and make the area as safe as possible, whilst keeping crew exposure to a minimum and within a safe working limit. The training session was completed and we were surprised at how long a simple task had taken to achieve. The de-brief was very thorough and points raised on how and why the training session had taken so long, and then to apply learning points to further scenarios/incidents.

School Laboratory accident

Set up within a building simulating a spillage of a radioactive substance. Using radioactive powder simulator, a RDS 200 and the GMP-11-SIM simulation Beta contamination probe, crews were called to the incident and would find that there was a walking wounded casualty within the building with contaminant on them also contaminant spilled within the building. This scenario enabled us to simulate wearing hazmat protective suits, source the radioactive substance, set up decontamination process and fill out all correct paperwork whilst having hands on practical use of radiation detection equipment. This scenario was carried out far better than the first, due to previous learning points raised and fire crews getting used to the equipment. Feedback during the de-brief being very positive once again towards the equipment.

Scenarios at the abandoned village

Finding safe routes

A casualty would be placed within a group of buildings, two radiation emitters were set up to simulate varying strengths and direction of radiation. Fire crews would then use the RDS 200 SIM to gather readings, log and report on varying strengths so that the Incident Commander would be able to map out safe routes through the buildings and area. The equipment worked excellently for this style of training incident due to its varying strength settings and multi directional abilities.

Hunt for the source

Radiation emitters were placed in various places around the abandoned village and crews in pairs were then sent off with the RDS 200 SIM and EPD-MK2-SIM (personal dosimeters) to locate the source of radiation, report back its exact location and how close they could get before they would receive over their acceptable dose rate. This worked very well and all crews were now very comfortable using these devices, finding the equipment a very beneficial tool to train with.

Casualty has run away from the scene

This session was designed to simulate a casualty covered with contaminant fleeing from the scene of a small radiation incident. Beta simulation radioactive contaminant powder was placed on various window sills, hand rails and flooring around an area of buildings. Teams had to find and then follow the trail to locate the lost casualty using the RDS 200 SIM and the GMP-11-SIM simulation beta contamination probe. Once again the simulation equipment proved invaluable and easy to train with.

Basic ‘snatch rescue’ involving arrival in the appliance

Basic scenarios was set up to simulate snatch rescue in various location and levels of buildings. Fire crews would drive towards the incident in the fire appliance and would start to receive radiation readings on the RDS 200 SIM. This was amusing to watch as fire appliances would casually drive down the road then stop all of a sudden and reverse back up the road. Big learning point – don’t just assume you are safe in the fire appliance, positioning is very important. The distance that the emitters can transmit is impressive and allowed us to be very diverse in our training sessions.

Experience with Argon

Argon provided us with the perfect training equipment enabling us to learn and further our knowledge within the field of radiation. The simulator package they produce is designed to be identical to the radiation detection equipment carried on the frontline appliances. The simulation kit enabled us to train in a very realistic and practical way; the multi directional emitters were excellent enabling us to adjust strength and direction giving us options within the training environment. Being small they were easy to place anywhere and extremely easy to use. The simulation powders and liquids were a very valuable addition, allowing trainers to contaminate people, areas and objects such as food and consumable liquids, and small amounts were more than sufficient to gather readings.

All crews that were able to be part of the training sessions are now confident and competent with use of the RDS 200 and even became enthusiastic about radiation and training within this area.

We cannot thank Argon enough for their help, assistance and encouragement, as nothing can compare with realistic training in the fire and rescue service.

For more information, go to www.iwight.com

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Ross Smallcombe is a Fire Fighter for Ryde Fire Station Isle of Wight. Starting his career as a Retained Fire Fighter in 2007 is now a Whole-time Fire Fighter based at Ryde Fire station since 2010. Before joining the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service Ross worked in various areas including sales, teaching and mining/ranch work overseas.