Employee profile: COBRA Training Facility Manager Jim Slick
Jim Slick is the Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological Training Facility (COBRATF) Manager at the Center for Domestic Preparedness. We recently spoke to him about his career and the CDP's mission.
Tell us a little about your background and how you came to your current role.
I started my career in 1985 as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and transitioned to fire service within a few years. In 1991, I became a Nationally Registered Emergency Medical Technician Paramedic (NREMT-P) and joined the U.S. Army as a civilian firefighter and paramedic. I worked my way up through the ranks to the level of assistant fire chief, and part of my role was to evaluate the medical response of the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP) in quarterly and semi-annual exercises. I retired from fire service in October 2014 and joined Leidos to support CDP’s mission full time. After six months, I was promoted to course manager of the Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) Division. In early 2018, I became the facility training manager over the Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological Training Facility (COBRATF). This is the only facility in the country that trains civilians in live toxic nerve/bio agents.
What do you enjoy most about your role? What do you find most challenging?
I really enjoy helping to develop the curriculum for the courses we teach. I’m honored and humbled to build on my experience as a firefighter and share knowledge with students from all over the country to help keep them, their families and their communities safe.
The most challenging part of my job is keeping instructors on track and courses on time. There are so many real-life experiences and anecdotes our instructors can share, but we need to balance those with the course material to create a valuable and memorable learning experience. Another challenge I face is finding qualified instructors to teach these responders and receivers what is needed to be successful in this ever-changing environment.
What does it mean to you to “Train the best for the worst?”
It is incredibly rewarding to know that our trainings are making a difference in these students’ lives and the communities they live in. Our team often receives emails and phone calls from former students thanking us for the training and telling us about incidents where they used the skills learned at CDP in a “real world” situation. It makes us feel valued and connected knowing that we had a part in realizing the CDP’s greater mission.
Your program trains first responders and receivers to react in some of the most stressful situations in an ever changing environment. How do you keep trainings up to date and realistic?
My team and I are constantly doing research on new materials, new equipment, new ideas and new scenarios to stay on top of the industry. We also pull new ideas from our subcontractor personnel, who are part-time instructors while maintaining positions in their respective fields like fire, law enforcement, or EMS. In addition, we strive to keep our trainings as realistic as possible. We use props that mimic what students will see out in the real world and make trainings hands on. For example, we’ll actually get down in ditches, build dams, and perform other tasks such as diking and diversion. Almost anything that would be needed to mitigate a situation in the HAZMAT arena, we can teach it here.
What is one thing that surprises most people about your role?
The fact that even as the facility training manager I roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty during trainings. I consistently get the question, “Why are you doing that when you’re the boss?” But my position is a position of management, not bossing. Students are often shocked to see me down in the ditch teaching how to build a dam or performing the diking or diversion activity, and they will ask the same question. But I enjoy being hands-on, getting to know my students, and staying active with my staff and students. I couldn’t imagine being any other type of manager. My employees are like family, and I love my students and my job.
How do you see the trainings evolving to remain effective in the future?
We just have to keep doing our research to stay current with the trends and stay one step ahead of any man-made or natural hazards. Together, with our staff, our students and the support from Leidos and FEMA, there’s nothing that we can’t train on. Our job is to ensure that we are ready for anything!