Specialist advice: Hazardous materials

Control Measure Knowledge

This control measure should be read in conjunction with Specialist advice


To ensure a hazardous materials incident is managed safely, the fire and rescue service will need to ensure that specialist advice is available to support the incident commander and operational crews. The amount, quantity and quality of information will be directed by the nature of the incident and it is crucial that the on-scene commander or fire control room can access the most current information possible.

Specialist hazardous materials advice may be required to:

  • Identify the release or spill
  • Identify the hazards posed by the release
  • Identify or predict physical or chemical reactions
  • Assist with the selection of the most appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Assist with decontamination of people and equipment
  • Mitigate further damage to the environment
  • Ensure response plans and tactics are appropriate and safe
  • Advise on the treatment of people who have been exposed
  • Assess wider public safety concerns
  • Assist with investigations and debriefings

There is significant capability for both on-site and remote scientific and specialist support for hazardous material incidents, particularly CBRN(e) incidents. Specialist advice may be provided by many sources and there is the possibility of duplicated, confused or even contradictory advice being provided to the incident. There may also be confusion between the scientific advice and responders in terms of language and technical knowledge.

There are a number of fire and rescue service specific resources.

National Resilience Assurance Team

A national cadre of advisers from the fire and rescue National Resilience Assurance Team (NRAT) and National Strategic Advisory Team (NSAT), who provide tactical National Resilience capability advice to the fire and rescue service tactical and strategic commanders. These advisers are also able to provide communication conduits to the National Resilience Fire Control (NRFC) or Home Office Operations Centre where required.

For further information see the National coordination and advisory framework for the fire service in England (NCAF)

Tactical commanders with specific CBRN(e) training

CBRN(e) tactical commanders understand the structures which support the tactical function of the delivery of scientific and operational support to the incident and can assist the on-scene commander in creating, implementing and reviewing an appropriate tactical plan in line with the strategy and parameters determined by strategic command and with due regard for partner agency needs.

CBRN(e) tactical advisers

Tactical advisers have been identified within individual fire and rescue services to provide detailed tactical and capability relevant advice to on-scene incident, operations and sector commanders.

Hazardous materials advisers (HMA)

These officers provide specialist advice to the on-scene commander and where appropriate, tactical and strategic co-ordinating groups. They will liaise with other specialist advisers and emergency services to provide information on:

  • The extent of the hazard zones
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) selection and decontamination procedures
  • Safe systems of work for those within the ‘hot zone’
  • The potential for escalation of the incident
  • Interpretation of any information from other experts

Where available, the hazardous materials specialist may be supported by a:

  • Detection, identification and monitoring (DIM) adviser
  • CBRN(e) tactical adviser
  • Multi-agency Scene Assessment Team (MASAT)

Police staff with an enhanced level of skill, knowledge and understanding

These include:

  • Police CBRN(e) tactical advisers
  • Police duty officers at the National CBRN Centre (N CBRN C) Operations Room
  • Government Decontamination Service (GDS)

The UK Government Decontamination Service (GDS), is part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). GDS helps the UK prepare for recovery following a deliberate act involving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) materials, or an accidental release of hazardous materials (HazMat), by providing a permanent on-call team for advice and guidance following a CBRN or major HazMat incident. Their role includes:

  • Providing advice, guidance and assistance on decontamination to responsible authorities in their contingency planning for, and response to, CBRN and HazMat incidents
  • Plan and arrange for decontamination operations to be available to the responsible authorities should the need arise
  • Responsibility for maintaining and building the GDS framework of specialist providers and ensuring that responsible authorities have access to them
  • Advising central government on the national capability for the decontamination of buildings, infrastructure, transport and open environment

Other specialist service personnel and organisations

  •  Ambulance services have specialist officers, such as:
    • Hazardous Area Response Team (HART)
    • Medical Emergency Response Incident Team (MERIT)
    • Specialist Operational Response Teams (SORT) etc. who can provide advice on clinical care and decontamination of casualties
  • Other specialists or service providers with specific knowledge of CBRN or hazardous materials, for example: scientific advisers, radiation protection advisers etc.
  • Other agencies including Environment Agency, Public Health agencies (PHE) etc.
  • Non-fire and rescue service personnel with specific knowledge of hazardous materials or individual products/processes, such as scientific advisers or company chemists
  • The National Chemical Emergency Centre (NCEC) that provides 24-hour assistance through the CHEMSAFE scheme
  • Government agencies, for example:
    • The Met Office
    • Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE)
    • Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL)
    • Environmental agencies
    • Public health agencies
  • Industry response schemes such as Radsafe or Chlor-Aid

Incident commanders will also be able to access information sources, both printed and in electronic format. Printed information sources include:

  • The Dangerous Goods Emergency Action Code List (EAC)
  • The Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG)
  • Safety Data Sheets (SDS) also referred to as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and Chemical Safety Data Sheets (CSDS)
  • Transportation instructions in writing (IIW)

Electronic information sources include: The Met Office Hazard Manager application, CHEMDATA, Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders (WISER), the ERG application, etc.

All fire and rescue services have access to specialist advice both from their own resources and from external sources, including scientific advisers and public health agencies. These are good sources of specialist knowledge but are not always available immediately on the incident ground.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions