Confined space rescue training prepares region’s firefighters

Wed, 2011-05-25


A “Confined Space" is a space that is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work, but has limited or restricted means for entry or exit. 

This could include tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, and pits that are not designed for continued employee occupancy. 


OSHA Standard 1910.146: Permit-Required Confined Spaces defines the requirements for proper pratices and procedures for entering a confined space.  To ensure a confined space is safe for entry, it is necessary to check for hazardous atmospheric conditions, including low levels of oxygen, explosive or flammable gas, and toxic elements.

In this featured article, the White Mountain Independent describes where a mining tragedy sheds light on the importance of training firefighters so that they comply with OSHA confined space regulations.  Without that training, they will not know the proper procedures to perform a confined space rescue. 

Stonehouse Signs offers a complete line of Confined Space Signs and Confined Space Safety Tags that comply with OSHA Standard 1910.146. 

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Confined space rescue training prepares region’s firefighters
 

TAYLOR - It's not an uncommon scenario. "Dispatch to all units. We have multiple reports of several persons trapped and possibly unconscious in an underground electrical vault at 5555 W. Acme Lane."

"Battalion One acknowledges and am responding to the scene. Request additional units be dispatched for a possible confined space rescue."

Throughout the United States, the frequency of emergency calls for assistance involving a confined space rescue has been steadily increasing over the past decade. Injuries and fatalities involving confined spaces are frequent and often involve successive fatalities when would-be rescuers succumb to the same problem as the initial victim. Even the White Mountains are included in those statistics - two victims were overcome by fumes and died in the abandoned Blueberry Mine on Aug. 29, 2010.

Fast-forward exactly seven months from the Blueberry Mine incident. Training officers from six local fire departments and the Cholla Power Plant are assembled at the Jake Flake Northern Arizona Training Center in Taylor for three days of confined space rescue training, offered free by Northland Pioneer College's Fire Science Division. The 24-hour course fulfills compliance standards from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

"NPC trained area fire department instructors so that they can take this training back to their own departments and train their members so that they are OSHA-compliant," said Don Fisher, NPC Fire Science program coordinator. To assist with the training, he brought in fellow state-certified instructor Bret Sholz, Battalion Chief with the Fort Mohave Mesa Fire Department.

The course combines classroom and hands-on instruction and was developed by Michigan State University for Michigan OSHA, based on OSHA standard 1911.146, Confined Space regulations. "The curriculum was free, so NPC offers it at no charge to support the needs of fire departments on the mountain," Fisher said.

NPC used vocational training funds under a federal Carl Perkins grant to acquire the tools and equipment needed in a confined space rescue. Grant dollars were stretched when students in NPC's welding and automotive programs prepped the trailer used to transport the equipment.

"Students in the welding and industrial maintenance and operations programs have also been through the OSHA training to work in confined spaces," Fisher said. The welding students also created some of the confined-space training spaces at the NATC facility, such as steel fuel tanks and vent chimneys.

The trailer is equipped with an electrical generator, atmospheric testing equipment, rigging tripods, ropes, harnesses, ventilation tubes and fan, and a lightweight rescue gurney. "Several local agencies have asked if we (NPC) could be on stand-by to respond to confined space rescues, since our equipment is all state-of-the-art," Fisher said.

OSHA requires a trained or competent person to certify a non-hazardous atmosphere before personnel may enter a confined space without the use of a respirator. By definition a confined space has limited or restricted means of entry or exit, is large enough for a person to enter to perform tasks, and is not designed or configured for continuous occupancy. Examples would include a utility tunnel or small underground electrical vault; the inside of a boiler or fluid storage tank; or a septic tank that has contained sewage. Confined spaces that present special hazards to workers, including risks of toxic or asphyxiant gas accumulation, fires, falls, flooding, and entrapment may be classified as permit-required confined spaces depending on the nature and severity of the hazard.

"That's why NPC is offering this training to local fire departments. They need to be familiar with OSHA standards to become trained or competent, plus we don't want to have a rescuer become a victim as well," Fisher stressed.

The confined space training is also available to local businesses and industries. For details contact Elizabeth Flake, at NPC's Business and Industry Training Division, (928) 536-6239, or e-mail elizabeth.flake@npc.edu.

Participating in the confined space rescue training were Snowflake Fire Chief Chief Pat Hancock; Bryan Hyer, Kevin King and Tony Cantarella, Heber/Overgaard fire; Ty Ison and Gary Cunningham, Linden fire; Jacob Brock, White Mountain Apache Fire and Rescue; Sara Jones, White Mountain Lakes fire; Steve Hardy, Cholla Power Plant; and Bill Solomon, NPC Fire Science instructor and Taylor fire.

The drill used an actual confined space on First St. in Snowflake, and the NATC's five-story training tower in Taylor.

A more advanced confined space rescue class is scheduled for June 22 - 23 at the NATC facility in Taylor. "That class will use more advanced equipment, such as was used during the Blueberry Mine recovery incident," said Fisher.

Fisher hopes to acquire additional Perkins funding to add Hazardous Material rescue to the training arsenal. Following the confined space model, he will procure equipment, train fire department personnel, and then expand training opportunities to the community.

"NPC also plans to use Perkins funds to expand our faculty and adjunct expertise in other industrial safety areas as well," said Ann Hilliard, NPC's Perkins grant coordinator.

Source: White Mountain Independent