Have Respirator, Will Travel

About the author: Dan Heister is an on-scene coordinator with Superfund in Region 10 for 8 years. Dan’s responses have ranged from fifty gallon oil spills on a small creek to spending 7 weeks in a FEMA trailer helping with the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Dan HeisterI’m an on-scene coordinator (OSC) in Region 10 (AK, ID, OR and WA) and it is my considered opinion that I have the best job in the Agency. I should know, in 21 years of service with EPA I’ve worked as a program analyst at HQ, been a state grants project officer, a pesticide, PCB, Confined Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) and SPCC inspector. I’ve done details with the Oregon Department of Ag and the City of Portland’s Brownfields program, but for the past eight years I’ve done emergency response and time critical removal actions and consider myself very fortunate.

Some of the upsides of the job are that I get to see a lot of scenery around the region and the country, albeit on very short notice and the scenery smells like diesel or whatever happened to have been spilled. I rarely wear a tie and can usually wear blue jeans. Some downsides are long days, stressful circumstances, bad coffee, greasy food, and cold port-a-potties. The toughest part is being away from my family for extended periods. Fortunately my wife and daughter know how much satisfaction I get from my work and they accommodate within reason.

On-scene cleanup technicians in full-body moonsuits.As an OSC I get to meet lots of people. In most cases they have a preconceived notion of what an EPA bureaucrat is and their initial expectations are set accordingly. Most of my reward comes at the end of an emergency response or removal action when some one tells me, “you’re not what I expected”, or “thanks for your: help, caring, honesty, humor, listening”. This happens exactly 7.847% of the time, but it’s like playing golf: one good shot out of fifty puts the spring back in your step. Alternately, I have been sworn at, threatened and even had a bullet shot through the federal plate on a government car, but those things happen very infrequently. People for the most part usually extend a modicum of trust with a desire to give more if warranted.

The OSC position is an obscure one to many within and outside the EPA. I hope over time I can make the OSC’s role in the Agency’s larger mission a bit clearer. Here’s a description of what an on-scene coordinator does.

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