Story by Donna M Cipolloni on 03/07/2019Mimicking a confined space rescue, firefighters from NAS Patuxent River and other fire departments around the state were lowered into a narrow hole Feb. 21 during a required exercise prior to the completion of a 33-hour Technical Rescue/Confined Space Training class.
The class, conducted by Naval District Washington Pax River battalion fire department leadership -- in partnership with the University of Maryland and the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute -- was a combination of classroom lectures and practical evolutions. Topics included safety, regulations, extrication techniques and non-entry rescues.
Using an aluminum tank as a prop to simulate a confined space and a training dummy within to represent an unconscious victim, the exercise began when a ventilation blower was first lowered into the hole to pump oxygen into the space as firefighters suited up in preparation for their descent.
"For this type of technical rescue, 99 percent of the time you don't need to worry about fire, you need to worry about atmosphere and the blower ensures a victim is getting air," explained Pax Fire Chief John Lyon. "And while we don't need [to wear] our full structural gear, we still need a breathing apparatus, coveralls that protect our skin, hard hats, gloves, and safety shoes. And we'll carry rescue equipment."
Also vital is the proper use and positioning of the harness system worn by the rescue firefighters, which is attached to a retrieval line used to lower and raise the team. Other firefighters, who remain aboveground, are tasked with setting up safety equipment, tending the lines and ropes, and monitoring various devices that measure oxygen levels and other possible deadly hazards of confined space rescue.
"During this type of exercise, we instructors will give them a scenario and then stand back and let them work it as a team," Lyon said. "We're here for safety, and if they miss something, we can stop it and interject, but they'll actually run the evolution themselves. That way, we can really see what they learned from the training we conducted and how they've grown."
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a confined space as large enough or so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work, has limited or restricted means for entry or exit, and is not designed for continuous occupancy. At Pax River, that might include manholes, pits, water tanks, aircraft and other smaller below- or above-ground spaces.
After the practical exercise, the participating firefighters returned to the classroom for a final written exam, earning themselves a completion certificate which can be submitted for national certification.
Firefighters who have already earned their technical rescue/confined space certificate must recertify and refresher training was held recently over at Pax's TC-7 catapult facility.
"I'm an instructor, but the other day I donned the equipment, got tied in, and performed the task too, because I have to lead by example," Lyon noted. "All of our officers here, all our captains and chiefs regionally, we shouldn't stand behind and push people, we should be ahead leading them. It's all about training safely, so if we get a call, we'll be ready."