Responses to Question
Liability is something that is in the minds of leaders throughout the United States on a daily
basis. From a personal perspective, I am aware of what my subordinates are doing that has
increased danger levels and ensure that they are properly trained in anything that could
potentially cause them or someone else harm. Incident commanders have a similar responsibility
to ensure that they are not violating any laws or regulations. Understanding these laws and
regulations is the first step for an incident commander to ensure that their subordinates and
themselves are not violating them and that they are being safe in doing so. When focusing on
hazardous materials, the same holds true. With that being said, one of these laws is the
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). This
specific law/regulation states, “No person shall be liable under this subchapter for costs or
damages as a result of actions taken or omitted in the course of rendering care, assistance, or
advice in accordance with the National Contingency Plan (NCP) or a the direction of an OnScene Coordinator appointed under such plan, with respect to an incident creating a danger to
public health or welfare or the environment as a result of any releases of a hazardous substance
or the threat thereof” (Makris, 1999). This and the “Good Samaritan” laws essentially allow an
incident commander free reign to conduct their job and duties during an emergency incident
without the possibility of lash back and from being sued. However, if an incident commander
were to conduct their duties immorally or their action negligently resulted in the loss of life, I do
believe they should be subject to an investigation to see if they have done anything illegal.
Makris, J. (1999, September 17). UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
AGENCY [Letter to Randolph G. Laye]. Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland.
Good Morning Class,
Understanding that liability can often be an issue in the wake of hazardous materials events and
potentially so too, in hazardous materials response, how do you think such awareness might
impact your decision making as a prospective incident commander?
This week’s lesson made it all too evident that we live in a very litigious society. I
should have assumed there were so many law suites but I had previously not thought about
incident response in that manner. I think this increased awareness is both good and bad. The
intent (although not always) is to ensure proper response, calibrated equipment, trained teams,
with sound SOP are responding to events. If all of this holds true then even in the face of a
lawsuit the department has a sound defense and can defend their actions. The down side to this is
second guessing yourself and the decisions you make throughout the incident with the threat of a
lawsuit and preventing timely decisions being made. The decisions have to be made in order for
an effective response to be made (even when only having limited information on the scenario)
and these decisions may affect the outcome in a drastic way. When human life is held on the
decisions being made, the decisions need to be from sound judgment and experience. The
lifesaving equipment needs to be in tip top condition to ensure no gear malfunctions.
Can you be held civilly or criminally responsible as an Incident Commander for actions
undertaken in a hazardous materials response incident? Under what circumstances might
personal / professional liability be in question?
The “god Samaritan” act in CERCLA provides a certain level of protection to first
responders. A responder cannot be held liable for financial or physical damages due to actions
taken while providing care. If the circumstance is under review due to negligence, then the
incident commander may be held liable for the actions undertaken. Negligence can be from
lacking the training to command the type of incident, not following or establishing sound SOP’s
for response, and equipment maintenance. If any of these factors can be brought up and verified
then the IC may be at fault and liable for the damages.
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