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THMG055 – Interview with Dr. Denis Onieal, Deputy Director of the U.S. Fire Administration (Part II)


In the second episode of this two-part series, we discuss hazmat and firefighting with Dr. Denis Onieal, Deputy Director of the U.S. Fire Administration.

Complete Show Notes

1:30 What the U.S. Fire Administration is Currently Working On

  • Our field is changing from war stories to evidence-based practice
  • Stories used to be passed down from generation to generation, but the evolution of education and science is changing that for the better
  • At the national level, education and programs are in a constant state of flux – he’s seen this at the Fire Academy, too
  • Online courses and continuing education is also becoming more prevalent – a time will come when you’ll need to demonstrate continuing education to maintain your certifications
  • Lessons and training available for lessons learning, operations and safety, strategy and tactics, handling mass casualty events, etc. – all available for free on the U.S. Fire Administration’s website
  • They’re also working on upgrading the National Fire Reporting System to make it easier to use and more technologically advanced

8:40 How Dr. Onieal Handles Professional Failures

  • He views failures as paying the tuition on your education – you don’t want to repeat your mistakes, which helps you learn
  • Also believes in taking responsibility for failure – this stops people from criticizing you and makes them want to help you fix the problem
  • If you don’t stand up and take responsibility or if you choose to blame someone else, it becomes a never-ending problem

11:30 Where Dr. Onieal Sees Hazmat in 10 Years

  • Current issues we’re dealing with involve lithium-ion batteries, exporting oil, the spread of biologics, etc. – we also need to figure out where we’re going to store electricity generated by renewable resources
  • He encourages people to understand that technological solutions (i.e. new meters, PPE, etc.) only go so far – you have to factor in human behavior since this is usually what gets us into trouble
  • We also need to be aware of terrorist organizations using hazardous materials to harm us
  • Ultimately, the key is to adapt – it’s a constant process of education, training, continuing education, etc.

17:10 Resource Recommendations from Dr. Onieal

  • You really don’t need to go much further than the group you’re with already – if they’re taking advantage of the opportunities out there, you’re in a good spot
  • Remember that you’ll only improve if you keep moving on up to smarter and more capable groups, though – they’ll make you better
  • Encourages people to get out of their own environment – for example, go to the National Fire Academy, which is completely free (including airfare)
  • You’ll learn from your colleagues, which can help you realize things you never would have otherwise – you can take this home and apply it to your job
  • Look into local resources like 2- and 4-year degree programs – every state has an accredited state fire training system with great opportunities for online and in-person classes
  • Always expose yourself to new ideas, listen to people dealing with issues similar to yours, and keep thinking about new ways to solve problems
  • Always be prepared for new opportunities – you don’t always know when they’re coming down the pike

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Author: The Hazmat Guys