9/11 @ The Pentagon: A Creative Solution to the Structural Collapse Hazard

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

We were at a standstill, and if we couldn’t come up with a solution to shore up that part of the structure,” Tim Robson recalls, “we’d be sending our people into a much riskier situation. In fact, some areas were so dangerous, we had to start thinking about things like, “Who’s not married?” and “Who doesn’t have kids?” It was awful, but it was something we had to think about.”     

911 Never Forget

On September 12, 2001, Tim Robson was sent to the Pentagon with his FEMA Urban Search and Rescue New Mexico Task Force 1 team. Their objectives were to search for survivors, recover victims, structurally stabilize the damaged area of the building, and locate several safes containing classified documents. Because the site was a crime scene, they also had to document and preserve key pieces of information for the FBI 

Tim’s team began their work in the rubble on the edges of the impact zone, but they quickly reached the area where the building hadn’t completely collapsed. It was inside the building where there was the highest probability of finding survivors, but it was also too dangerous to send rescuers into these overhead environments before stabilizing the structure. The building had already suffered pancake and lean-to collapses in the hours after initial impact. Extreme heat from the explosion and burning jet fuel weakened the building’s support columns. This created an extraordinarily hazardous environment for the search and rescue teams.  

“The left side of the impact zone, on the outermost ring of the Pentagon – part of that wall was actually moving,” Tim recalls. “The loads were so great any movement was very hazardous. It was definitely stressful. But we were extremely task-oriented and we wanted to get the job done and get out of there.” 

The textbook approach to stabilizing a heavy building with extensive structural damage like this was to stack 6x6 timbers in a box around each damaged column. “It’s just like stacking Lincoln Logs,” explains Tim. This provides a very strong and stable support structure in case the column fails.  

However, it only works if there’s something substantial overhead for the stacked timbers to support, and in the case of several weakened columns on the outer edge of the building, the ceiling didn’t exist all the way around the columns.  

The team put their heads together to come up with alternative solutions and workarounds, but nobody was very comfortable with any of the ideas floated. Tim knew that the stacked timbers approach derived its strength from the joints at the corners where the timbers overlapped. With that principle in mind, Tim came up with the idea to connect two boxes of stacked timbers together by using longer timbers on one edge of each box and overlapping those longer timbers.  

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“I stacked some pencils together to show what I was thinking,” Tim says, “and the engineers did some quick math and said, ‘Heck yeah, let’s run with this.’ It was not something anyone on the team had ever seen before, but when we all thought about the support it would provide, it just made sense.”    

This improvised solution greatly reduced the risk of the building collapsing while rescuers were inside, and the team was able to get on with their very difficult search and recovery tasks.  

There are several takeaways here. Let’s never forget the courage of our search and rescue team members in the aftermath of September 11th - they willingly ventured into hazardous territory and subjected themselves to the possibility of a follow-on terrorist attack, airborne toxins, and exposure to mass carnage. For this, they have our eternal gratitude and respect.  

L Crib FrontThe learning takeaway for rescuers is to deepen your knowledge. Because no two rescue situations are exactly alike, a rescuer who understands the principles (the “why”) will be much more effective than one who just memorizes procedures (the “how”). In a dynamic situation, the “textbook approach” may not offer a solution, so understanding the key principles allows you to adapt what you know to the specific situation. Creative solutions exist everywhere. This is a great example of how a thorough understanding of the principles spawned a creative solution to a difficult problem.  

After the mission was over, Tim’s creative technique became part of the operational procedures for FEMA’s search and rescue teams going forward. And ultimately, nobody was haunted by the decisions that were made about who to send into the building to do the work. Special thanks to Tim Robson and to everyone who took risks and made sacrifices to help others after September 11.  

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Tim Robson is a chief instructor and the New Mexico CSRT Director for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes and has been instrumental in the development of our Trench & Structural Collapse Rescue programs. In his role as a CSRT Director, he leads our on-site rescue and safety services, which includes standby rescue, confined space program management, leading safety meetings and more. Prior to joining Roco in 1996, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Rescue Diver/Swimmer, at the Albuquerque Fire Department, and as a Rescue Squad Officer for FEMA’s New Mexico Task Force 1.

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The ROI of Safety

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

I hear it very often from students, attendees at safety shows, and during site needs assessments. It is usually something the safety representative says, but more and more, I hear it from the employees, and it goes something like this: “Our management wants us to be safe, but when it comes time to sign the check to pay for it, all of a sudden they have second thoughts.”   

In my experience, investment in safety is often cyclical; it ebbs and flows with the macroeconomy generally, and with a specific industry sector's performance in particular. Investment in safety tends to wane when profits are lean.   

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One of the old TV commercials put it clearly.  It was a motor oil commercial and the mechanic says, “You can pay me now for an oil change, or pay me later for an engine rebuild.” The broader message is: it's much cheaper to invest in preventative measures now than to pay for the failure later.   

 An article published in NSC’s Safety + Health magazine earlier this year points out some strategies that may help you as a safety professional demonstrate to your management the economic sense of investing in proactive safety.    

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Essay/Photo/Video Contest Celebrating Safe+Sound Week

Monday, August 05, 2019

Okay, all you wannabe authors, photographers and videographers, now is your chance for fame and glory. In recognition of OSHA’s Safe+Sound Week (August 12-16), we are holding our first ever Roco Rescue "Safety Essay/Photo/Video Contest!"  

Because safety is the foundation of all Roco programs, we wanted to show our support for Safe+Sound Week, which helps raise awareness and understanding of the value of safety and health programs in the workplace.  Graphics_Participant_Badge_Transparent

How Does The Contest Work? 

The topic is: What have you learned about safety on the job, and how has it affected you personally? Submit an original piece of writing, a photograph with a descriptive/explanatory caption, or a video on this topic, along with your name and contact info to pfurr@rocorescue.com by midnight EDT on August 16. Your entry will be reviewed by a panel of esteemed judges, and the winner will be awarded a Roco Pocket Guide. The winner will be notified on Friday, August 23.  

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Why We Are Doing This? 

We believe that you, our customers and web visitors, also believe in a “Safe Way, and a Safer Way,” and we want to give you the chance to share your stories. 

We look forward to receiving your creative and enlightening entries, and we hope y’all have some fun too. As an added bonus, we may even share some of your entries on our blog page and/or social media, with your permission, of course.   

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Taking Safety Home From Work

Friday, July 26, 2019

Hopefully your employer has a strong safety program and furnishes you with the proper guidelines, policies, equipment, and training that allows you to do your job safely and efficiently. I have a window into various worksites thanks to my line of work, and for the most part, the employees have everything they need at their disposal to help keep them safe. But, as I drive around my little town and through local neighborhoods, I see homeowners performing some pretty scary stuff as they do their chores. I see everything from folks mowing their lawns wearing flip-flops, to doing roof work on some very steep pitched roofs with no fall protection whatsoever.

Why is it that we are pretty darn safe while on the job, but at home, not so much? I’ll address several important factors that I believe drive this behavior, and I’ll offer some practical tips on how you can change working conditions at home to keep you safer.

One factor that explains the difference in workplace and home safety protocols is liability. OSHA provides the law that covers your activities at work – employers are bound by law to provide a safe working environment for their employees -- but the agency has no say when it comes to how you conduct yourself at home. While an employer can be found liable for a workplace injury or fatality and face fines or very serious litigation, if you injure yourself at home, it will most likely not result in any civil action against anyone. Essentially, it was your own darn fault (however, if you have a friend or neighbor helping you and they get hurt, you may certainly be held accountable).

Another consideration is the fact that safety equipment is generally more likely to be available at the workplace than at home. How often do people jack their cars up at home to work underneath?  Speaking for myself it is rare that I am under my car more than one or two times a year, and as a result, I may not have the best, most effective and safest equipment on hand (in contrast, a commercial garage will have cars up off the ground constantly and will have multiple sets of jack stands). If you pay attention and look to see what homeowners are using as jack stands in their driveways, it can be a horror show. I have seen everything from cinder blocks turned up on end, to a spare tire and some 4” X 4” blocks fashioned into rather sketchy jack stands.

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The rationale most of us use for these dangerous practices is: “I can’t justify the cost of purchasing jack stands that I’ll only use once a year.” While it might seem like a waste of money, please weigh that expense against the enormous cost of an accident, which might include significant medical and physical therapy expenses, lost income and possibly even lower future income due to decreased physical functionality. While all that is important to consider, it still doesn’t change immediate budgetary constraints, so if buying your own still isn’t in the cards, think outside the box a bit. Maybe your neighbor has a good set of jack stands that they can lend you or you can go to a tool rental center and rent a set.

Tool rental centers are a great resource in many ways. You would be amazed what they have available not for just tools, but also in the way of safety accessories. I recently rented a chainsaw to chop down a dead tree in our front yard. When I went to pick up the saw, the man at the counter asked if I needed a face shield, chaps, and steel shoe covers. I said, “Sure! How much extra will that cost?” He proudly said, “No charge, we want you as a return customer.” Now that’s what you call safety first.

Work at height is another activity where skimping on safety can be deadly. Every year approximately 500,000 people are treated for ladder-related injuries, 97% of which occur at home or on farms, and more than 400 people die from these injuries.

We have some steep roofs here in the northeast. Their pitch helps homes shed snow but is also just part of the regional style. Between the snow, ice dams, and all the leaves and twigs that end up in the gutters, homeowners are frequently up on their roofs clearing debris and repairing damage, but very  few think to use any type of fall protection, and to make matters worse, most times they are working alone. When we are on the job, we most likely have a selection of ladders and fall protection that we can choose from. Those ladders are most likely in great condition and have been inspected. My Dad’s old wooden extension ladder is still under the porch at my parent’s house. I remember that ladder from when I was 5 years old. To put that into context, I just applied for Medicare this month. That ladder belongs in a museum, not propped up against the eaves!

Even if your ladder is in great shape and is the proper ladder for the job, are we using it safely at home? I have never actually seen a homeowner that secured their ladder to the structure. I have seen ladders that had just enough overlap at the top to stay in place, sometimes as little as just a few inches. I’ve also seen ladders used on uneven surfaces with a couple chunks of 2” X 4” jammed under one leg to balance it. I’ve seen folks hanging off ladders to reach a branch or a part of their house, looking like they were trying out for the circus high-wire act. We do things at home that would get us run off most employers’ worksites.

Lack of liability / disciplinary consequences, lack of proper equipment, and possibly a false sense of security (thinking that the home environment is somehow safer than that at work) are the primary factors causing unsafe work conditions at home. The fact is, gravity is the same at both places, our flesh and bones are prone to the same injuries no matter if we are on the job or at home, the tools are just as sharp and the vehicles just as heavy at home as they are at work. So, my advice to you is to take the same attitude toward safety that you have at work and bring it home with you. Beg, borrow, rent, or buy the safety equipment you need. Use the buddy system. Most importantly, remember that it doesn’t matter where you are, at work or at home, the injury you sustain will have the same devastating impact on you and your family. (Actually, sustaining an injury at home will probably have a worse impact from a financial standpoint, as you will most likely not have the same compensations if injured at home versus at work.)

It’s satisfying to tackle home improvement projects and repairs. It gives us a sense of pride when our home and yard look good, and it protects/boosts the value of our property. But don’t lose sight of this: our homes and our property are replaceable, but our bodies and our health are not. Be safe out there!

 

 

About the Author:

Pat Furr is a Corporate Safety Officer, VPP Coordinator, Chief Instructor and technical consultant for Roco Rescue. In addition to penning articles on a variety of safety and technical rescue topics for Roco Rescue's blog, Pat teaches Confined Space Rescue, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Fall Protection programs across the country. He sits on the National Fire Protection Association’s Committee for Technical Rescue and helped author NFPA 1006, which outlines the professional qualifications standard for technical rescue personnel.

A retired U.S. Air Force MSgt/Pararescueman, Pat also helps design innovative equipment that improves safety in the industry, including a Class III rescue harness, a revolutionary fall protection harness, and a specialized anchor hook used for container access operations.

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Tunnel Rescue in Charleston

Monday, July 15, 2019

By Skip Williams

Contributors: Deputy Chief Kenneth Jenkins, Captain Tom Horn and Captain Anthony Morley, Charleston Fire Department, Rescue 115, and Russ Fennema, Jay Dee Contractors

Note: The following article recounts a very successful rescue that took advantage of available resources at the scene. Roco Rescue wants to share stories like this one to remind our readers that lessons learned can be gleaned from successful rescues just as they can from rescues that didn’t go so well. The important point is to take the time to perform a debriefing as soon as possible after the rescue effort. This is the time to capture the thoughts and comments from the team members while it is still fresh in their memories. Any important lessons learned need to be captured through documentation and then SHARED. The learnings can become part of your SOP/SOI or they can become integrated into your formal training. 

The other point that this article makes is to know and understand your equipment. We regularly train with our ropes and hardware, and we all tend to learn the operating limits and capabilities of said equipment. However, we need to be just as familiar with our peripheral equipment such as atmospheric monitors, radios, and etcetera. Consider spending some of your team training time learning more about that equipment and how to properly use it and what its idiosyncrasies may be. All the equipment we use should be considered life support equipment, and the word “life” should grab your attention and motivate you to know all you can about it. 

In March 2019, Rescue 115 of the Charleston Fire Department was dispatched at 09:02 hours to “man down” at an address on Shepard Street some 5 1/2 blocks NW of station 15 on Coming Street. En route, Captain Tom Horn realized the address was familiar as the entrance to the Coming Street retrieval shaft of the Charleston tunnel project (Figure 1). Now they were 2 blocks from the scene and he immediately called for Ladder 4 also from station 15, and nearby Engine 6 and Battalion 3 from nearby station 6. R115 arrived at 09:06 hours.

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The Coming Street retrieval shaft is a vertical shaft 168 feet down and 20 feet in diameter to a 15-foot diameter tunnel being bored for flood control (Figure 2). Just as R115 arrived at the scene, the 12-man cage had been weight tested and prepared for lowering by crane. As R115’s four-man crew was about to be lowered into the shaft, Captain Horn eyed Captain of Ladder 4 and transferred command to him.

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Just as R115’s crew got to the bottom, the patient arrived at their location from three quarters of a mile in the tunnel on a horizontal flat car driven by a battery-powered locomotive (Figure 3).

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Captain Horn called for the lowering of the backboard and Stokes basket. The topside crew decided to use the crane again rather than lower with ropes. The county EMS was not included as joint training is not done. Back down at the tunnel, the patient was secured, placed in the  12-man cage, along with R115 members and 2 construction workers. The patient at the top of the shaft was treated by county EMS and was off to the hospital at 09:40 just 38 minutes from the initial call.

There are always lessons learned at any rescue. From prior experience, a member was assigned to the crane operator to ensure that the crane was moved under Fire Department control. The Fire Department used the construction company’s gas detectors because they knew that the detectors were calibrated daily. In retrospect, the Fire Department would use its own gas detectors. Also, the backboard and Stokes basket should have gone down on the first lowering to the tunnel.

The usage of gas monitors had been delayed because of differences in calibration between the fire department monitor and a plant monitor. There is no one gas that is best for calibration of fire department gas detectors because many different exposures are encountered. For a particular industrial site, the explosive gases are most likely known. 

Figure shows that the Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) varies according to which hydrocarbon is present. Figure shows correction factors if the monitor is calibrated with one gas and exposed to another. The Fire Department meter was calibrated with methane so that 0.5% by volume of methane reads 10% of LEL. A meter calibrated with pentane has a correction factor of 2 for methane. So, if a meter calibrated with pentane reads 10% LEL in pentane, the meter would read 5% LEL in methane. lf anything, the gas in the tunnel would be methane, but in actuality, the meters read zero no matter what calibration gas was used. 

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Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 1.56.08 PMThe reason pentane is sometimes used for calibration is that it overestimates the actual LEL. The caveat is that if the meter is poisoned for methane, a methane bump test is indicated. A sensor can be poisoned by chemicals like silicone.  Note well, silicone is a component of Armor All which should not be exposed to a LEL meter on a fire truck. The lesson learned here is to understand the effect of different gases on a sensor and a Fire Department may encounter many different gases.

Author Bio:

Skip Williams was a volunteer firefighter for 20 years. His last position was captain of the high-angle rescue team and emergency medical technician. He has a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech and M.S. and Ph.D. from Rutgers University and has held teaching positions at Rutgers University and the Medical College of Georgia. He designed and patented an artificial heart assist device. He is a Registered Professional Engineer in New Jersey and is a practicing engineer with Condition Analyzing Corporation engaged in condition monitoring of ships. 

Note: Captain Tom Horn is a graduate of two Roco Rescue courses.

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