Ronin staff recently spent time at the NATO airbase in Papa, Hungary to train military in Confined Space rescue procedures utilizing a C17 aircraft.
The document linked below is from the Magyar Honvéd magazine, a Hungarian military magazine, that provides a write up and pictures of the training done.
For many Rescue Technicians, the opportunity to train in a real live environment isn’t something that happens everyday. We try to make the simulation and environment as real life as possible but are road blocked by having a safe environment without the potential of an incident to occur to us. This happens especially in the rescue aspect of Confined spaces. We are informed that the space may have a possible air quality hazard, that access and egress are limited and if we go into these spaces, who is it that will rescue us?
I recently had an opportunity to train in a true confined space with limited hazards (to negotiate all hazards is near impossible). The rescue company, to which I work for, was willing to send me to a group of Rescue Professionals in North Carolina, aboard the decommissioned USS North Carolina Battleship. I instantly jumped at the chance to train with other Rescue Professionals and to have a live environment.
Often during a confined space rescue there is limited room. Hence the name – Confined Space Rescue!
In an industrial setting this is not only the case inside of the space but outside as well.
We tie our knots as small and as tight as possible, avoid using beckets on pulleys, and try not to use that swivel or extra carabineer. We use every trick we have learned to gain an inch here or foot there. Inevitably, there will be a scenario where we will have limited height and have to use a full length spinal packaging device, like a SKED stretcher.
Quickly, our options become limited in regards to rigging.
Two solutions that can be used are to rig for a low point edge transition with a pike (or pick) and pivot or rig a Split 4:1 Mechanical Advantage system, the focus of this discussion.
A few years ago, a Lower Mainland, BC, municipality undertook an initiative to better develop its confined space rescue capability. The first goal was to train a group of 60 workers in confined space rescue. To maximize the learning experience, class size was limited to 6 students. The second goal was to create a pool of highly trained personnel which could be temporarily utilized to provide rescue services for more difficult and hazardous confined space entries. They were referred to as “Go To” personnel. For two years this group underwent advanced exercises, assisted in selecting and standardizing equipment and coached their fellow workers during training and entries. Before this group was stood to, the municipality had to hire contractors to provide rescue services.
Who better to provide such services than internal personnel who have experience doing the work and intimately know the spaces?
Many years ago I responded, as part of my fire department’s technical rescue team, to a confined space incident. The call was dispatched around noon on a Monday. I was a fire fighter, and one of the Technical Rescue Technicians on the responding crew. Our Fire Department is comprised of both full and paid on call staff and covers a response area of 318 square kilometers. This call was attended to by our full time crews.
The initial response to the incident consisted of a four-person Engine company (their district), a battalion chief and the technical rescue team (consisting of an Engine + Technical Rescue Truck, six more personnel) and the duty Chief. In total we had 12 staff on scene, six of whom were technical rescue qualified.
Upon arrival, the initial information relayed to the crews from onsite staff was that a worker had entered the space in an attempted suicide. The space was a concrete, underground electrical vault approximately 20’ x 25’ with a hatch approx. 4’ x 4’. A permanent ladder provided access and the space had approx. 6’ of head room. There was a concrete dividing wall which essentially created a confined space within the main space. This space was accessed by an opening approximately 4’ x 4’.
As part of the first in Technical Rescue (TR) apparatus, the initial request we had on scene was for documentation on the confined space (hazard assessment, entry procedures, etc). At this point we knew the worker had entered the site (verified by proximity entry card swipe) on Saturday approx. 36 hours prior. When the patient’s co-workers showed up on site for work on Monday, they found the patient’s personal effects on the their desk and a cryptic note alluding to the patient hurting themselves. The co-workers had initiated the 911 response.
Out in the facility yard, there was a hatch to the confined space propped open. When we asked the co-workers who found the note and personal effects about what had occurred to this point, they indicated that one of them put a fan into the hole and made entry into the space. The entrant noticed that the entry points into one of the interior spaces (confined space within a confined space) was covered by a sheet of plywood from the inside and appeared to be caulked or sealed shut. At that point the co-worker then left the space. The co-worker reentered the space with a second worker and a sledge hammer to ‘force’ their way into the interior confined space. When they finally broke thorough, the plywood ‘hatch’ fell inward and partially covered a compressed air cylinder of Nitrogen (to be determined later). From this point they are both unclear about what occurred. One worker indicated they immediately vacated the space. The other worker indicated he could ‘see’ the missing worker 20’ away in the space laying on the ground, meaning he had entered the inner space. He did not say he approached the patient however said the worker was ‘dead’.
Topside, some decisions had to be made and a rift began between responding agencies.
One group of responders took the stand that the worker had been in the space for over 36 hours and with the presence of the Nitrogen cylinder, they assumed a successful suicide attempt. They were of the opinion that it was an unsalvageable situation and therefore until HAZMAT team confirmed the atmosphere was safe, they would standby and consider it a ‘recovery operation’.
The Technical Rescue Team (TRT) took the stand that a subject isn’t ‘unsalvageable and dead’ until they are in the hospital ER, warm and confirmed dead. In the interim the TRT received the nod to get the rescue team dressed and ready to access the space and set up the associated rigging. The entry team of 2 responders dressed in full FR PPE and SCBA (the entrance to space was 4’ x 4’, ladder access and 6’ ceiling as ascertained by blueprints and confirmed the previous workers who entered). In the after action report, a concern about not using SAR and hardline communications was brought up. The TRT felt we had adequate PPE for the operation and that there was no need to set up SAR as the access point was large enough to allow for SCBA.
Law enforcement (LE) arrived on scene and considered it a crime scene. Police insisted on entering to document and collect evidence. Upon discussions however it was determined that neither LE or BCAS (British Columbia Ambulance Service Paramedics) staff are trained in confined space entry which prohibited either agency from entering the space.
It was finally decided to let the confined space rescue team into the space under the auspices that they document by digital camera every angle and item in the space. The entry team was equipped with FD issue radios and after confirming no atmospheric changes (the space had remained clean respirable air since our first monitor went into the space), we sent the team in. The team was told to progress slowly and methodically, then focus on gathering evidence via camera versus rescue. After a few minutes I looked down into the space to find a team member trying to get my attention (the radios had failed to transmit out of the concrete vault). The rescuer indicated that they had a ‘living patient’. This was repeated to all those around the site and the team continued to set rigging in place to extricate our ‘dead’, now ‘live’ patient. The team went from “recovery/evidence gathering mode” to ‘rescue mode”. Once the patient was extricated to the space opening, the patient was attached to a 4:1 mechanical advantage and extricated from the space. The patient was quite disoriented and lethargic and patient care was turned over to the paramedics.
The entry team confirmed that the patient had set up a small bed including foam mattress and 5 gallon bucket as a commode in the space. The patient had several prescription drug wrappers around the bed and a caulking gun. The nitrogen cylinder valve was closed and had not been discharged into the space.
What appeared to have occurred, was the patient had intended to seal themselves into the space, take a high dose of the medication, plug in their iPod earbuds and open the cylinder in order to displace all the oxygen in the space. It appears however that the medications either rendered the patient unable to operate the valve or unconscious.
Lessons learned from this event.
- At a rescue event, the trained and equipped Rescue Team needs to be utilized in the planning phase and their expertise considered.
- Never assume a recovery vs rescue.
I started playing on ropes a long time ago in the Armed Forces. When I released from the Army and joined the Fire Service, my rope knowledge was increased. This occurred due to experiences and training as I went from Team Member to Instructor on our Technical Rescue Team.
This was, in our area, a relatively new field of operations. The first official rope rescue tasking for our department occurred in 1994 (some departments had been providing rope rescue services, in some manner prior to this). Just as there was a learning curve coming from the military rope systems to the fire service rope systems, there would be another learning curve inside the Fire Service as the Fire Services in British Columbia (BC) grew into this new tasking.
In 2003 our department started into confined space rescue. Once again the learning curve from rope rescue to confined space rescue was sharp.
To provide some background and context, in the early 1990’s in BC, the Technical High Angle Rope Rescue Program (THARRP) came into effect. This program took certain industry classifications and assessed them a slightly higher assessment on their payroll. This was done through their workers compensation premiums. This “extra money” was then given to the Fire Service, through an application process, in order to fund rope rescue. However, this was for high angle only and not confined space rescue. Then in 1998 our Provincial Regulations OHS/HSE regulations (WorkSafe BC – WSBC) changed, and having the capability to rescue a worker from a confined space became a written requirement. As such, the private rescue industry began to fill the void between THARRP and what WSBC required for confined space rescue.
In the early 2000’s, I began working private rescue standby. We were almost exclusively full time emergency service personal working on our days off. The statement, “you don’t know what you don’t know”, could sum up these early days of industrial rescue. Like the learning curves from the Military to the Fire Service and within the Fire Service, there was a learning curve in private rescue. While we had some very competent rescuers on sites, these rescuers were not well versed in the requirements, safety procedures, policies or culture on industrial and construction sites. As such, one could imply that we caused as many issues as we solved.
Prior to telling the remainder of this story please keep this in mind: I am not trying to throw anyone under the bus here. The company I was employed by when the first portion of the story takes place no longer exists.
I am using these stories to outline the progress private rescue has made over the years and as a learning tool for organizations hiring private rescue providers.
My first rescue standby job exemplifies this juxsposition. I arrived on site at a Waste Water Treatment Plant, received a 30-minute site indoc, and was sent out as a hole watch and rescue team member. While I was qualified to both the rope rescue and confined space rescue technician level (terminology of the day), I had limited gas monitor or industrial hole watch training. Yes, as part of the training I had taken for my rescue certificates we had spent an hour on gas monitors, and we had to act as an edge attendant (hole watch) for a rescue. However “monitoring” a rescue drill and monitoring a live hole where workers are entering, are two different animals. I did not see (and did not know to ask for) any hazard assessment, entry procedures, rescue procedures, WHIMIS, emergency contact info, etc. I had my Fire Service FMR3 ticket, however no OFA ticket as required by WSBC. I was given an air horn and told to use it if there was an emergency. We were solid rescuers, however we knew very little about the regulations required for work on a working site.
As I was sitting down to read the newspaper at hole 1, events were unfolding in hole 2 that would have me conducting my first private rescue within 20 minutes of being on my first site.
In hole 2 the worker was on scaffolding sandblasting the inside of a waste digester. The worker’s scaffold guardrails were interfering, so the worker removed them. Shortly thereafter, with vision reduced by PPE (hood) and the sandblasting, the worker walked off of the scaffold and fell 35 feet to the bottom of the space. I was pulled from my paper by the other rescuer sounding the air horn. I informed the workers in the space I was watching to evacuate and ran to the other hole.
We had a three-person team on site that day. Rescuer 1 and I immediately accessed the patient via 35 foot unguarded ladder. Rigger 1 (who was also the TL) started rigging the rescue lines outside the space. Once on the floor of the space, Rescuer 1 and I started our priority action approach; packaging the patient onto a spine board and then into a basket stretcher (yes basket stretcher, not a SKED or Spec Pak).
The rescue itself went very well. Working in a dark, wet, dirty space on a live rescue was exhilarating. This was in the days of diamond lashing patients onto the spine board and into the basket stretcher with tubular webbing. With poor visibility and digester dirt covering all things, good communications were required. Even though Rescue 1 and I were from two different fire departments, we moved through our actions and drills as a well-oiled machine. This does speak to the level and type of training the fire departments rescue teams were receiving. We had the patient packaged, 5:1 mechanical advantage and safety line rigged, and patient removed from the space and brought down to the sidewalk prior to the arrival of the local full time emergency services (under 10 minutes). Rescuer 1 and I however were covered in digester dirt (human waste) and were wearing no PPE outside of harness, rescue helmet, rope gloves, boots and hi-vis vest. The site was shut down for the day. While the rescue went well, I would suggest it should have never occurred.
Fast forward 12 or so years. I am still a firefighter and still working private rescue standbys. Under the new company we strive to be a learning organization and have reviewed incidents such as the above. From these reviews we have created SOP’s and requirements for our staff. Prior to going onto a site, our staff are required to take industrial fall protection, confined space, gas monitoring as well as WHIMIS and Lock Out/Isolation training. If they do not have a regulatory recognized first aid ticket they are sent through a recognized first aid course. They are given updated training on rescue techniques, as well as advanced rigging training. It takes on average a week to take a rescue-qualified firefighter and put them on an industrial site as a rescue team member. Staff on site are also required to perform onsite training and orientate themselves with all gear and locations they may rescue from. This all paid off on a site we were on last spring.
We were working on a heavy industrial site, augmenting a client’s industrial Fire Brigade. This was a great opportunity for our staff (primarily city firefighters) and the client’s staff (industrial firefighters) to have a two-way exchange of knowledge. As part of our duties our staff walked the site every few hours. They found all the confined spaces that were being entered that shift. They pre-planned the spaces. They checked all gear. They trained with the client’s staff in order to enhance interoperability.
Then the radio call came in; a worker was in full arrest at the 170-foot level of a tower structure on site.
Staff jumped into the medic truck and responded emergency a short distance. They reached the base of the tower (which was through a maze of scaffolding and piping), grabbed the gear and started the run up 170 stairs. They reached the patient and started first aid protocols. As this was occurring the team also had the crane operator rig and lift the dedicated emergency platform (DEP) to their level. This is pre-planning at its best. Some areas of the tower require technical rope rescue and the team brought gear for that scenario, if required. Once they arrived they knew they could get the DEP close to their location, reducing the time required to get the patient to further medical assistance. The patient was secured into the DEP and lowered with the rescuers to the ground. Taglines were used to ensure the lower went smoothly. The handover to local emergency health services was completed. The worker lived.
The comparison of the two rescues is not to lay blame or dole out accolades. It is to identify the learning curves that have had to occur in the private rescue industry. It is to outline what your private rescue provider should be doing on your site.
These rescuers not only need to be rescue experts, however, they also need to have a good working knowledge of local safety regulations and their client’s sites. They need to conduct pre-planning, onsite training and site familiarization. They need to perform these duties in order to maximize the efficiency of a rescue should it occur.
I can attest that workers lives depend on it.
When I started learning about confined space rescue I was shown a technique using a mechanical advantage system called the “Inchworm Technique.” This technique, shown on that course, used a pre-built 4:1 mechanical advantage system on 12.5mm static kernmantle rope. The rescuer would take the system into the space and use it to pull a patient horizontally. It could be rigged to a temporary anchor in the space, a remote anchor extended into the space (rope), or the rescuer’s harness. The system may have to be reset numerous times to cover the required distance and extricate the patient, hence the comparison to an “inchworm”. This system has its advantages in tight spaces with large patients that need substantial horizontal movement towards a vertical or offset exit. As all of the spaces we trained in were large enough to physically pull a patient, and we were all young, fit rescuers, no one utilized the technique regularly. Like most things you spend very little time on, the Inchworm Technique was relegated to the back of my mind.
Fast forward many years later. We were working for a company that was hired to assist gas fitters to check the crawl spaces in close to 100 educational institutes for pipes that may have shifted and therefore be leaking. Due to the policies of the client, the risk of gas leaks, the convoluted nature of the spaces and the condition of some of the workers, it was decided to send a rescuer with the maintenance team into the spaces. We went and did our recce (recon for our friends south of the 49) and found that some of the spaces we needed to enter had to be breeched and were only 18” in height. Throw in the rough dirt floors we had to traverse and viola – the Inchworm Technique came back to the front of my mind.
We equipped our rescuers entering the spaces with a backpack that carried amongst other items – a small mechanical advantage system (AKA a jigger) to allow the rescuer to use the Inchworm Technique. We decided to try a few different packs (because we are all gear geeks at heart) and used both the Conterra LS Response Pack and the Maxpedition Falcon II. On a side note, these packs were used in some very damaging conditions (sliding on concrete and dirt floors, entering through small spaces) and both packs exceeded all expectations. We still have both packs in service 4 years later. For the inchworm we constructed two different jiggers. One was the Rock Exotica Aztek System and the other was a home-built mechanical advantage system using CMC Protech double sheaved pulleys. Both mechanical advantage systems were rigged with 8mm cordage with a 5mm capture prussic.
While we never had to put the inchworm technique into practice on an actual rescue, during this project we did do some scenario-based training with it. Since the rescue system was not “seeing” a fully suspended load, the anchoring options became easy. We could use the wood framing – a bar spanning some of the entrances we had to breech through cement blocks – the rescuer, and stakes in the dirt floors as anchors. We found the Aztek with its swivel pulleys was slightly more cumbersome to deploy, but pulled the load in a nice fashion. The non-swivel pulleys deployed quicker from the bag, however, some thought was required to ensure you did not rig the system in such a way as to cross the lines. Both systems were extremely effective in removing a patient from the spaces we were in.
Inchworm Setup on a Rope Anchor
From an employee who is assigned a job as a confined space technician, the process of getting a job lined up and getting staff to the job site with all the right equipment can be a mystery and probably taken for granted. For the Project Manager, getting the ok from a client to proceed with the job may be the easiest part of the project, its the logistics that can be the headache.
Ronin was recently contacted regarding confined space rescue standby for a large water reservoir measuring 100 feet high and 40 feet in diameter. Our client indicated they preferred putting staff into the water to clean the space as it was drained. With this information Ronin began looking at confined space and water rescue options in addition to safe work procedures for the project (all of which Ronin can provide). Ronin was eventually asked if we could provide not only the rescue standby but also all required documentation and the swimmers to clean the tank. Always up for challenges, we said yes!
The project started with our CRSP performing a site inspection and creating the hazard assessment, entry procedures, safe work procedures including the use of chlorine, decontamination and lock out. One of our rescue technicians assisted by creating the rescue plan, taking into account any concerns regarding confined space, fall protection, high angle and the 8 degree Celsius water.
Once the documentation was complete we gathered our team and reviewed the documentation. We also “game planned” a few “what if” scenarios regarding both rescue (regular work for us) and swimming around the inside of a water reservoir with brooms (not so regular for us).
Our members entered the space wearing dry suits, protective boots, fins, PFD’s, masks, gloves, neoprene balaclavas and sitting in belly boats. They used medium bristle brooms to remove the “film” off of the walls. We found the team of two could continually “lap” the reservoir and effectively clean at the discharge flow rate. Once the water in the reservoir reached a pre-designated level we removed the staff and sucked the remaining water out. We then went back into the reservoir to finish the cleaning. Once the cleaning was complete we utilized chlorine to disinfect the tank as per AWWA Method 2.
We swapped the swimmers out on a regular basis as an administrative control for fatigue and cold exposure. The external crew was responsible for site first aid, rescue standby, and disinfection of gear that entered and decontamination of gear that left the space. We used 12.5mm static kernmantle rope for fall protection while staff where climbing any ladders or in the space when required. For the rescue standby gear we used 11.1mm static kernmantle rope with the Arizona Vortex as our high point.
This job was interesting as we provided all the required services ranging from the preplanning stage, documentation, completing the required job tasks and ensuring the safety of all workers by providing first aid and rescue standby.
This is exactly what Ronin is all about, providing full service solutions to our clients.