Responders need to reduce unnecessary job stress so they can think clearly during the performance of their already stressful jobs. Training is critical toward that end, of course, and so is having the right equipment. These two concerns are discussed a lot in the industry. But today I'd like to deal with an issue that is too seldom discussed, and that is the distance factor in hazards detection and its effect on a responder's psychology.
In general, the further removed we are from physical danger, the more clearly we are able to think about the issues involved. Sound too vague? Let me give you a specific.
You're approaching a rail car where you suspect that a polymerization reaction might be occurring. One way to see if that is going on is with an infrared temperature gun. With most of today's IR guns, you have to get uncomfortably close to see if an exothermic reaction is in progress. That's because the aspect ratio of most guns is 50 or 65:1. Also, their laser targeting dots are difficult to see in daylight, so you have to get close enough to see that they are on what you're aiming at. Having to get close to a potential hazard before you can tell how bad it is makes for a serious stress multiplier.
After the folks at Hazmat IQ alerted me to this situation, I went to work with a few researchers to develop an IR temperature gun that has a 100:1 aspect ratio, and uses two DayBrite laser (Class III laser) targeting dots that are much, much easier to see from a distance in daylight.
What I noticed in discussing this new product with various responders was the obvious relief they experienced. Obviously, they could use this new IR gun from a greater distance and would therefore be safer, but I think that the other benefit is in the impact on responder psychology.
Here's what I'm thinking- the greater the distance from a potential safety hazard that a responder knows what's going on, the more time they have to clear their mind and concentrate on other issues. Knowing what's going on as earlier as possible reduces the stress of not knowing and we can think more clearly.
When I hear responders say they think more clearly under stress, I know they don't understand responder psychology. Stress might get us on edge, but it doesn't make for clear thinking. And the earlier we know about potential dangers, the better chance we have to calm down and make good decisions.