Home Interviews THMG119 – Interview with David Lesak, Part I

THMG119 – Interview with David Lesak, Part I


In part one of a two-part series, Mike talks to David Lesak, who’s on staff at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD. Mike was there for the Chemistry for the Fire Responder event.

Complete Show Notes

1:55 Introduction to Dave Lesak

  • Worked in emergency services and fire and hazmat for a total of 24 years
  • Chief of the fire department for 2 years and on the county hazmat team for 11 years
  • Degree in biology general science
  • Has been an instructor at the academy since October 1981

2:45 How Dave Ended Up at the Academy

  • Worked as a rescue captain – had good pre-plans for target hazards within the municipality
  • When they started to deal with more commercial issues, Dave realized they were dealing with a bunch of new hazardous materials they didn’t know how to pre-plan for
  • Took two weekend classes at the Academy in early 1981 and then enrolled in the Academy’s 6-week Hazmat Program, which covered chemistry, tactics, and planning
  • He’d been involved in instruction and teaching in the past, so he filled out an application to teach at the Academy – never expected to end up teaching resident programs

5:00 The Hazmat World in the Late 1970s and Early 1980s

  • There were no rules at that point in time and very little understanding of what they were actually dealing with
  • Placarding transportation vehicles and labeling containers started in 1976, but it wasn’t standardized or used across the board
  • BLEVEs were a very significant problem back in those days, especially on the railways, which weren’t very well maintained
  • Most people read journals and articles to see what other people in the field were doing and to learn from their successes and failures

12:00 Dave’s Start in Hazmat

  • Started by learning as much as he could about containers, from non-bulk portables and fixed tanks to rail cars and highway transportation
  • There was some regulation of DOT containers at the time, so he could glean some information from those rules – this included basic 49 CFR and transportation-type regulations
  • He also went out to different sites (like railways and cargo tank repair facilities) and asked questions and took pictures to learn more about different container types
  • After that, he got involved in protective equipment – in those days, it was basically just reusable suits
  • Level A and Level B suits existed, but the Level B was more like a rain slicker
  • Fireproof suits were also available, but they were made from heavyweight materials that weren’t very practical to wear for extended periods of time

18:20 Learning New Things in the Early Years

  • No testing procedures in place
  • Plumbers were helpful because they had lots of nifty gadgets they used to stop leaks
  • Damage control workers in the Navy were also helpful and talked to Dave about how they stopped leakages
  • Initially, there was magazine coverage of hazmat – this was the only print coverage of hazmat unless there was some sort of incident being reported
  • Networking at the Fire Academy – talking to people who were doing the same thing as you and had similar problems

22:00 The Evolution of Standards and Their Implementation

  • ChemTrack started in the late 1970s or early 1980s – you could contact them for both emergency and non-emergency information – good way to contact manufacturers and shippers
  • Couldn’t really get ahold of video for trainings, which is much different than training today – this slowed down the development of training programs
  • The Bhopal disaster also influenced the development of the hazmat industry
  • The EPA started to get involved with hazmat in the mid-1980
  • Federal government passed The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) in 1986
  • NFPA 471 and 472 standards formed a baseline for the hazmat industry and the fire service
  • OSHA 1910.120 was published in 1986, just prior to the NFPA standards mentioned above
  • A lot of people were frustrated and angry about OSHA regulations because most early hazmat techs weren’t used to working with federal regulations
  • At this point, people started studying OSHA regulations and NFPA standards to develop their hazmat knowledge – many of these individuals became teachers
  • Budgets were tight, so it was difficult to secure funding for educational programs and training resources
  • When hazmat teams joined fire departments and came under the control of county and state governments, it was much easier for them to get funding

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