CBRNe Civil Response in France
By Lt. Col. Yannick Durocher, CBRNe Expert, Etat-major interministériel de zone de défense et de securité Ouest
The first specialized operational response to the NRBC risks and threats in France is provided by the Fire department. There are two levels of response.
A first generalist level is provided by non-specialized personnel using conventional means and basic PPE. Their missions are to take general safeguard measures (Establishment of a first security perimeter, support for victims, fast assessment of the situation, etc.) and to trigger the engagement of the second level of response.
This second specialized level is provided by the chemical (and biological) intervention team CMIC (cellule mobile d’intervention chimique) and by the radiological intervention Team CMIR (cellule mobile d’intervention radiologique). There are about 100 chemical intervention teams and 50 radiological intervention teams deployed all over the country.
The two teams are composed of specifically trained firefighters. Two training courses with four levels each must be completed successively by the agents.
Chemical and biological RCH 1: 52 hours of training (1st range men) RCH 2: 67 hours of training (non-commissioned officers) RCH 3: 90 hours (Officers, team leader) RCH 4: 122 hours (sup Officers, technical adviser) Total: 331 hours
Radiological and nuclear RAD 1: 37 hours of training (1st range men) RAD 2: 42 hours of training (non-commissioned officers) RAD 3: 83 hours (Officers, team leader) RAD 4: 71 hours (sup Officers, technical adviser) Total: 233 hours
A firefighter officer, CBRN technical adviser, is generally trained with the RCH 4 and RAD 4 modules (564 hours of training). Some of them have also followed a specialized master's degree at the University or a CBRN complimentary course at the national superior school of firefighter officers (ENSOSP).
The specialized teams have very specific PPE, detection devices, decontamination and sampling equipment, and modeling tools. They can be supported by specific laboratory trucks named VDIP (Véhicule de détection, identification, prélèvement) that have advanced means of identification: GC-MS, RAMAN spectrometry, gamma spectrometry, PCR, etc. Finally, a specific national laboratory network can be activated very quickly to complement the analytical capacities. This specialized response could deal with industrial or hazardous material transport accidents or deliberate attacks involving CBRN agents in coordination with the security forces.
For more than 35 years of existence, the CBRN civil response teams have acquired significant experience and strong standard operating procedures to perform in very particular situations. Over the past 20 years, these teams have produced a lot of lessons learned which has improved their efficiency. For example, the numerous alerts for anthrax letters at the beginning of the 2000s made it possible to improve the management of the biological risk which, until then, was very little taken into account by the firefighters.
The explosion of the AZF factory in 2001 and recently the Beirut explosion, reinforced the consideration of fertilizer risk, on industrial sites but also in ports (maritime and river port). Beyond the risk of explosion, self-sustained combustions of certain fertilizers can generate very large quantities of nitrous fumes, forcing the emergency services to take appropriate account of the populations. Containment or evacuation strategies, therefore, had to be carefully prepared because depending on a large number of factors of choice (weather, type of housing, time of the day, roads, etc.).
The fire at the LUBRIZOL plant in 2019 highlighted the importance of managing toxic fallout after the emergency phase (post-accident phase) and its media impact. It pushed firefighters to improve their ability to detect and identify compounds like asbestos and fine particles. Their missions now go beyond the emergency phase while waiting for the implementation of the private means. Lastly, of course, the terrorist attacks using 4th generation war agents like the Novichoks, used in 2018 in Salisbury against Sergei Skripal and his daughter, and also in 2019 against Alexeï Navalny triggered an important research phase for the detection, decontamination, and treatment of the victims of this "newcomer".1 Today, other chemical or biological risks seem to appear and will need to be adapted to intervention and training techniques, notably:
- Nanoparticles which pose problems of adaptation of protective equipment, in particular respiratory; - Battery fires containing rare metals such as lithium, present in new vehicles and communication devices; - Hydrogen fires and leaks, a very particular gas in its combustion, etc.; - Reemerging virus "awakened" by the melting of permafrost or new ones originating from a mutation in contact with animals.
There is no doubt that in response to these new challenges, the specialized teams will adapt their training, equipment, and standard operating procedure to serve the population.
Lieutenant-Colonel Yannick Durocher is since 2016 deputy chief in the Etat-major of the western defense and security zone. He frequently works as CBRNe expert for different institutions like the European Union CBRNe center of excellence (EU CBRN CoE) and the international atomic energy agency (IAEA). Since 1998, he is the department manager of several fire and rescue services as well as center manager, chief of the preparedness department and crisis management training leader. Lieutenant-Colonel Durocher regularly provides training at ENSOSP (Superior Firefighter Officer National School), at ENSC Rennes (Rennes Superior chemistry school), and for international missions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is also a consultant for cabinet cindynics. Lieutenant-Colonel Durocher holds an advanced Master degree in CBRN risk and threat management from the University of Mulhouse, a certificate of strategic management from the political sciences institute of Aix-en-Provence, a Master degree in chemical and food-processing engineering from the University of Nantes, and a Master degree of physical sciences from the University of Rennes.