October 20, 2014
So today you’re riding the jump seat of Engine 6 and you take in a call for a “man down”, “no further info”. On arrival you see a utility truck parked next to a manhole with no one around. On further investigation you see two men slumped over at the bottom of the hole. What do you do next?
With an average of 67 deaths a year (1 every four days!) coming from confined spaces and almost 60% coming from would be rescuers, it's clear that letting your guys dive into the hole is not the answer.
So let's back up, what is a confined space?
By definition, it is a space that is large enough and configured so that someone can enter and work, it has a limited or restricted means for entry and exit, and it is not designed for continuous occupancy. Further more there are Permit Required Confined Spaces, these are spaces that contain one or more of the following: a hazardous atmosphere, a material with the potential for engulfment, a configuration where an entrant could be trapped or asphyxiated, or any other recognized serious safety or health hazard.
It's all starting to get a bit intimidating right?
Here are some of the steps to a good confined space rescue
Set up a perimeter
Lock out, tag out
Establish air sampling of the hole
Ventilate the space (if appropriate)
Possibly perform a non-entry rescue
Establish a retrieval line for rescuers and victims
Establish air lines and communication
Gain entry to the space
Access the victims
Package the victims for retrieval
Remove victims and rescuers from the space
Decon, wrap up and debrief the incident
As you can see there are many steps, most of which are to be performed by skilled rescuers that have had training in confined space rescue including entry procedures, PPE, ropes, HAZMAT and SCBA. They also should have annual training and be fit of mind and body to resist the specific stressors a confined space rescue will evoke.
So back to you in the Jump seat, what can you do?
First recognize the potential hazard of the confined space, activate your confined space team, prevent entry into the hole by any non trained personnel, possibly make a “non-entry rescue” by retrieving the victims with their own retrieval lines, begin to sample the air if you have monitoring equipment, ventilate the space if possible (just cracking open a SCBA bottle and lowering into space can do this) and assist in set up of any equipment to help the arriving confined space team.
As firefighters we are geared to jump into action, as a boss its our job to protect our crew, knowing the hazards we see everyday can help us get our men and women back home after every tour safe and sound.