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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Trenches: A String of Fatalities

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

A rash of trench incidents has left behind multiple fatalities and untold devastation to families. The following incidents occurred in only a matter of weeks. We log these incidents as a reminder of how deadly trenches can be. Proper training and the right equipment are needed before attempting a rescue; or, as in most cases, a recovery.

These events came to our attention over recent weeks including one incident in which the victim was not even in the trench until the ground collapsed beneath him. Another incident happened adjacent to the department where one of our Roco Chief Instructors (Brad Warr) works in Idaho. His department also responded.

As you read these accounts, pay careful attention to how tragic and deadly these incidents can be.

We’ve also included two successful trench rescues at the end of these stories.

REMEMBER: OSHA advises to “Protect Yourself…” Do not enter an unprotected trench! Trenches 5-feet deep or greater require a protective system unless the excavation is made entirely in stable rock. Trenches 20-foot deep or greater require protective systems designed by a registered professional engineer. OSHA also requires safe access and egress to all excavations, including ladders, steps, ramps or other safe means in trenches 4-feet or deeper. The devices must be located within 25-feet of all workers.

Worker Killed After Being Trapped in 16-Foot-Deep Trench

(4/26/19) DEKALB COUNTY, GEORGIA 

Fire-Rescue crews were called out to a subdivision construction site Friday afternoon in DeKalb County after crews reported that a 16-foot trench had collapsed on top of a worker.

Firefighters said that the man was helping to guide a backhoe as it dug the trench and the ground gave way, trapping the construction worker inside.

"The ground below him caved in and he fell into the hole. The hole was about 16 feet deep and about two feet of dirt on each side of the hole fell on top of the victim and covered him up," said Capt. Dion Bentley with DeKalb Fire Rescue.

Firefighters reported that two other construction workers at the site tried to rescue the victim when it first happened.

Investigators said there was no trench box inside the hole when the collapse happened. Crews said that was because no one was working inside the trench when the collapse happened. It is unclear if that violates OSHA rules. OSHA officials will now be responsible for investigating the incident.

Man Dies Before Being Rescued from Trench

(4/25/19) ALPINE, UTAH

A man working to install a pool in the backyard of a home died in a trench collapse Wednesday afternoon, authorities said.

The victim, a 53-year-old man, was pronounced dead at the scene from injuries suffered in the collapse, Lone Peak Fire Chief Reed Thompson said.

Lone Peak Fire Department crews responded to the collapse shortly after 1 p.m. When crews arrived, they found a man with dirt up to his waist.

"We were told by others on scene that prior to our arrival, he had been encapsulated up to his neck," Thompson said.

The man died before crews could rescue him from the fallen trench, Thompson added. The Lone Peak Fire Department was helped in the recovery effort by the Utah County Technical Rescue Team, which includes crews from American Fork, Lehi, Pleasant Grove and Orem.

"In this particular incident, the victim was in a trench that did not have any security measure in place — such as shoring — and was deeper than what OSHA requires at 4 feet," Thompson said. "As a result of that, you've got heavy dirt and other materials that can potentially fall or collapse into the open hole, which is what occurred."

Trenches: A String of Fatalities

Man Dies When Trench Collapses

(4/21/19) LYCOMING COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA

One man was killed in a rural area when a trench dug to fix a water line problem collapsed around him. The man was pronounced dead in the trench but it took nearly three hours to remove the body. Rescuers first had to shore the sides of the eight-foot deep ditch. The coroner listed asphyxiation as the cause of death.

While there were no witnesses to the collapse, family members believe he was buried about 15 minutes in the 15-foot long x 6-foot wide trench. Family members had cleared the clay-based soil from around the victim’s head before emergency responders arrived at the scene.

Although no pulse was detected, rescuers continued to remove dirt down to his waist in a rescue effort. Those efforts were discontinued once a paramedic with a heart monitor determined he was dead.

Two Workers Die in Colorado Trench Collapse

(4/17/19) WELD COUNTY, COLORADO

Trenches: A String of Fatalities

Two construction workers died after having been trapped in a 15-foot-deep trench that collapsed on top of them at a Colorado residential property.

The Fire Chief of Windsor Severance Fire Rescue said that the two men were working in the trench when it collapsed, completely burying them in dirt and compact soil.

Despite an hours-long rescue operation, both men died from injuries sustained in the incident. It was early the next morning when the fire department announced that the operation had switched from a rescue to a recovery effort, which was expected to take several more hours.

When Windsor Fire Rescue arrived on the scene, workers had been able to insert a PVC pipe to one of the trapped men, allowing him to communicate with the rescue crews above ground. No contact with the second worker was made, the release said.

The soil condition of where the workers were trapped made the excavation process more difficult as only small hand shovels and buckets could be used since the ground was both unstable and compacted.

Extreme caution was used to prevent further injury to the two men, the release said.

When rescue workers reached the trapped men, they had already succumbed to their injuries.

(Photo used above is courtesy of Windsor Severance Fire Rescue.)

Two Dead After Trench Collapse

(4/10/2019) NEW PLYMOUTH, IDAHO

Two men, working for a private company installing irrigation pipes in a rural area, were killed when the trench they were working in collapsed. Emergency responders were able to extricate the two men from the trench, but were unable to resuscitate them.

Payette County dispatchers sent three different fire departments, paramedics, law enforcement, two separate highway departments and a private construction company to the scene to extricate the men.

TRENCH RESCUES:

Man Rescued after being Buried Up to His Waist

(April 2019) FREMONT, CALIFORNIA

Trenches: A String of Fatalities

A man was rescued when he was trapped up to the waist in a trench incident. The Fremont Fire Department was able to remove the individual from the trench. The victim was hospitalized with moderate injuries.

Construction Worker Rescued from Trench

(April 2019) CALDWELL, IDAHO

A construction worker was taken by air ambulance to a local hospital after getting hit by a bucket that fell off a tractor into a trench, according to the Caldwell Fire Department.

Either water or sewer lines were being installed when a bucket detached from a tractor and injured a construction worker in the approximately 20-foot-deep trench, said Caldwell Fire Chief Mark Wendelsdorf.

The bucket had to be removed from the trench before the man was rescued, though Wendelsdorf did not know if that meant the man was pinned by the bucket, or if it was only preventing him from getting out.

The Nampa Fire Department’s ladder truck was used and acted as a rigging system to get the injured man out.

The trench did have a trench box and shoring in place. OSHA is investigating the incident, according to a Department of Labor spokesperson.

The rescue took about an hour, as crews made sure that the trench would not collapse while the technical rescue took place.

NOTICE:
At some time, every emergency responder may be called to a trench incident – whether a rural area or industrial construction site. Know, at minimum, how to protect yourself. Roco Trench Rescue courses offer safe, practical techniques for dealing with trench rescue incidents. Sign up now or call to observe one of our hands-on trench classes.

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Rescuing the Rescuer: When Things Go Wrong During a Rescue

Friday, February 15, 2019
by Brad Warr, Chief Instructor

The day before 40-year-old Phoenix firefighter Brett Tarver got separated from his crew and ran out of air at the Southwest Supermarket fire, the fire service felt confident in its ability to rescue a downed firefighter. That all changed when Tarver was found unresponsive thirty minutes after his mayday was broadcast over the radio. The tragic loss of Brett Tarver on March 14, 2001, left the firefighting community wondering what it had missed.

The ensuing years of self-examination and evaluation of rapid intervention techniques and operating procedures resulted in the development of NFPA 1407: Standard for Training Fire Service Rapid Intervention Crews.
Rescuing the Rescuer: When Things Go Wrong During a Rescue
Released on December 5, 2009, the document provided a framework for fire departments to train, equip and deploy their personnel in the event of mayday. A decade later, firefighters are more prepared than at any time in history to launch a rescue operation when a brother or sister firefighter calls that mayday.

While firefighter rapid intervention techniques have continued to improve, confined space rapid intervention has not received quite as much analysis and focus for improving techniques and guidelines, despite the fact that more than 60% of confined space fatalities occur among would-be rescuers. Perhaps this is why Roco Rescue’s course “Rescuing the Rescuer: When Things Go Wrong During a Rescue”, which is being offered at the North Dakota Safety Council’s (NDSC) upcoming 2019 Annual Safety & Health Conference, sold out in a matter of days. The industry – whether they are firefighters, emergency responders, or industrial workers, recognizes the vital importance of a subject that is truly a matter of life or death.

About the Course
Taking lessons learned from both successful and unsuccessful rescues of downed firefighters, students attending “Rescuing the Rescuer” will apply those lessons to the world of confined space rescue. The day-long session will bring together rescuers of all experience levels seeking strategies for effectively responding to what nearly everyone agrees is the most stressful call a rescuer will ever receive.

The course will emphasize the following:

    • - Having a plan before something goes wrong is the only chance you have.
    • - Simple systems are easier to use in a stressful situation than complex systems.
    • - There are no systems that can replace a clear-thinking, highly-trained rescue technician.

While NFPA 1407 gives a clear picture of the responsibilities of a firefighter during a mayday, the picture is not nearly as clear for rescuers responding to the mayday call or loss of contact with a rescuer inside a confined space. The sometimes-murky relationship between OSHA and NFPA standards will be explored including a review of both the construction and general industry OSHA confined space standards (1926 Subpart AA and 1910.146).

Tackling a Rarely-Explored Topic

Although training for a downed rescuer is a topic that is rarely visited in rescue training due to time constraints and the extensive requirements rescue technicians already must meet in order to carry their title, Roco Rescue believes it is a topic that shouldn’t be overlooked. The popularity of the course in North Dakota demonstrates that this is a subject of extreme interest to the safety industry.

This is the first time Roco Rescue has offered the course in this format, but it most likely won’t be the last. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to learn about new course offerings. Safety professionals interested in this training who are unable to attend the sold-out course in North Dakota may also wish to explore Roco Rescue’s advanced tech level course, FAST-TRACK 120™.

Rescuer fatalities have declined in recent years, but they aren’t declining quickly enough. Let’s do our part to ensure that workers in the safety and rescue fields make it home to see their families when their work is done.

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Brad Warr

Brad Warr is a Chief Instructor for Roco Rescue and a Captain at the Nampa Fire Department. Brad joined Roco Rescue in 2003, teaching a wide variety of technical rescue classes including rope rescue, confined space rescue, trench rescue, and structural collapse. Brad became a firefighter for the Nampa Fire Department in 1998 and was promoted to Captain in 2006. Before joining the fire department, Brad worked for three years as an Emergency Response Technician for a large computer chip manufacturer in Boise, Idaho, where he was responsible for OSHA compliance, emergency medical response, confined space/rope rescue response and hazardous materials response.

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Behind the Scenes of Seattle’s New Fitness Program for Firefighters Q&A with Lieutenant Frank Brennan

Wednesday, January 16, 2019
by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator
Welcome readers to the first installment of “Roco Chats with the Experts”. My name is Pat Furr and today we are honored to have Lieutenant Frank Brennan of the Seattle Fire Department share his thoughts on the importance of technical rescuers being physically fit.

In this article, you’ll learn about a new physical fitness training program implemented by the technical rescue company at the Seattle Fire Department, and ideas that may help you start a fitness program with your own team – whether you’re a municipal firefighter or a member of an emergency response or firefighting team at an industrial facility.Behind the Scenes of Seattle’s New Fitness Program for Firefighters Q&A with Lieutenant Frank Brennan

Frank has been with the fire department in Seattle, Washington for 27 years and has spent all but a few years of that time on the rescue company. The rescue company is trained and equipped to provide public safety dive, tunnel and rebreather, tower, rope rescue, structural collapse, trench, confined space, commercial and machinery entrapment rescue. The company cadre also delivers structural collapse training to the three-county area. Frank sits on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committees (1006 and 1670), the bodies that set standards for firefighter training and safety, and he was directly involved with the recent revisions to these standards. He is also a Rescue Team Manager on WATF-1 USAR Task Force and is a member of the Seattle FD Aviation Team.

When I asked Frank if he would consider contributing to our inaugural “Chat with the Experts” he enthusiastically agreed but with one point of clarification, and that is, he doesn’t consider himself an expert. So, I will attest to the fact that Frank is a lifelong student of his trade and is a true craftsman.
Behind the Scenes of Seattle’s New Fitness Program for Firefighters Q&A with Lieutenant Frank Brennan
Pat Furr: Welcome Frank, and thank you for taking the time to discuss this topic with us. In my 38 years of being involved with various types of technical rescue, it is obvious to me that there are several elements that make a great rescuer and rescue team. First and foremost is quality training, both initial and continuing training specific to the type of rescue that may be required. Then there is equipment selection, and we both know that there are numerous tools available to today’s rescuers.

But one thing that I am afraid gets overlooked is the overall physical fitness of our rescuers. I’ve always had the philosophy that when we show up to the scene of a rescue, we are assets. I do not want to have any deficiencies that would cause my value as an asset to become a liability. That applies to training, leadership, and equipment, but in several cases, it may be due to a lack of physical fitness. Do you see any signs that some rescuers may not be as fit perhaps as they should be?

Frank Brennan: Pat, it’s hard to speak for anyone else, but I know that I personally have come up against the hard realities of the expectation/performance gap. I think task-specific physical, psychological and emotional conditioning may be the most challenging components of our job. In some way every manipulative training session should provide some insight to where you are in the scale of personal preparation, so ideally every session would require the humility to stare into that gap. So yes, I would say sometimes I see a wider gap than I am comfortable with, both in myself and others.

PF: One thing that we sometimes forget is that technical rescues can be quite taxing physically. Not just the strength and endurance that may be required, but also our tolerance to heat and other physical and emotional stressors. I think this is proven by the high rate of fatalities due to cardiac events amongst our firefighters and rescuers, both during actual responses and also during training.

FB: You have touched on a core issue of firefighter/rescuer health and safety. While I am most familiar with the information associated with the fire service based rescue model, I think the findings would extend to the entire community of rescuers serving the public.

The combination of chemical responses to the multiple external stressors places demands on the inner workings of our physiology that we don't always appreciate. Our training should extend beyond our ability to simply master a skill; it should help us master the delivery of the skill in the predicted environment. Just as we provide tools to rescuers in training to perform a task, we should leverage the training to give rescuers tools to measure and build their ability to master their emotional, psychological and physiological response to performing the skill in a demanding, but controlled environment.

Our training should extend beyond our ability to simply master a skill; it should help us master the delivery of the skill in the predicted environment.
As it stands now we are frequently guilty of leaving our people on their own to sort this out, often with the risk of stigma from identifying gaps in their performance they want to close. We are prone to overlook the obvious and make assumptions that are unhealthy or are not data-driven. As an example, we recently had a discussion revolving around the need for rescuing firefighters from burning buildings. Our training scenarios often focus on out-of-air emergencies or entrapment, which are of course important considerations, but we tend to overlook the leading cause which is a cardiac event. We realized that we hadn't really closely considered it as a component of the risk/reward profile of our actions. What are the needs? How do our predicted actions fill the need?

In this case, it has resulted in including drills to initiate CPR as early as possible and sustain it through the entire process of disrobing the downed firefighter after removal from the building. Which turns out is harder than you might think unless you are practiced in it. This discussion has also contributed to a heightened awareness of cardiac events and prevention efforts.

PF: I understand that your department has instituted a new program to encourage better overall physical fitness. Would you care to share a little about that program, what seems to work best and the successes you may have already seen?

FB: Well it’s just inside the rescue company right now, although we have a department and a union that places a strong emphasis on health and wellness, so it’s fertile ground.

I personally had to start with managing expectations. I have come to realize that a physical conditioning program built around long, grueling workouts at the firehouse would not be successful in the long term. There simply is not enough free time during the shift and the scheduling of the shifts is not frequent enough to really improve or condition anyone. Behind the Scenes of Seattle’s New Fitness Program for Firefighters Q&A with Lieutenant Frank Brennan
There are additional complications of having to perform at an emergency, and real conditioning while on duty would take people to a place that might undermine their ability to perform at an incident during the shift. Not to mention that the fitness plan is subject to the competing and ever-changing schedule of the day. So, the thought was to move towards shifting culture and awareness. I wanted the members of the crew to have an opportunity to examine their own capabilities and use this examination as a gauge for their personal plan away from the station. I was lucky enough to have Chris Stone as a new member of my crew who was experienced as an athlete, peer fitness trainer and had developed and implemented corporate training plans in his prior career. His insight and experience allowed us to implement a plan that met my criteria:

  1. That it places an emphasis on fitness - in this case, we make it part of our morning routine. Instead of showing up with shiny shoes and pressed trousers at roll call, we have the folks show up in PT gear. It helps send a message about what is important - uniforms have a place, but they won’t extend your life or enhance your capacity to perform.
  2. That it be functional - our program sticks to functional moves that relate to tasks we might be expected to perform. Typically, big muscle groups, tire flip, rowing, deadlift, drags, swings etc...
  3. That it be inclusive - we wanted it to be a crew activity, a workout that brought a sense of community or however you would like to describe it.
  4. That it prepares us for the day - it needed to warm us up, but also allow us to gauge where we were that particular day, physically. It shouldn't be so hard that we are tapped out afterward, but it sets the tone that our ability to perform physically is key to service delivery, both on that particular day as well as in the long career ahead of us.
  5. That it be accessible - there is always the issue of performance anxiety when working in a group. The program needed to be structured so it could allow people to engage it where they were without feeling they were under the microscope. In our case, we tend to stick to a Tabata or rotating timed station model where each member can do the number of reps that they are comfortable with.
  6. That it be sustainable - again, this is all about managing expectations and setting achievable goals. If we try to do too much it dies under its own weight. We keep it to a half hour or so of simple, easily implemented exercises.
  7. That it be credible - this is closely related to sustainability, but you have to be willing to commit to it. Make it as important as putting diesel in the rig. The combination of all these elements contributes to the credibility of the program. For me, the biggest validation is that the crew continued the workouts while I was gone on vacation for a month. It's THEIR or OUR workout - NOT my program...
PF: I am a big believer in positive reinforcement and peer encouragement. I know through personal experience that it is difficult to get into the habit of exercising regularly, and it is just as tough to eat the right things. Do you feel there is value in a program that gradually builds better habits versus one that jumps in full throttle right from the start? And do you have any advice to help encourage our peers to stick with it?
Behind the Scenes of Seattle’s New Fitness Program for Firefighters Q&A with Lieutenant Frank Brennan
FB: You have hit the nail on the head. What is often seen as an obstacle can be leveraged as an asset. Every crew is different, so it’s hard to have a set formula. The key is to let the work drive the workout. If you drill regularly on the functional elements of the job, it’s easy for people to draw the line between the preparation and the performance. With a few exceptions, solo programs are much more fragile. Whether it’s an individual relying on themselves for motivation and direction for a workout routine or framing physical fitness without the context of how it impacts the work, there is little redundancy or depth.

PF: Thank you so much, Frank. You have made several valuable points and I think a couple of the most valuable ones are to make the connection between physical preparation and the performance requirements of the job. That point alone holds a lot of value. Also, I really like the idea of a program that revolves around timed stations where each individual does as many reps as they feel comfortable with. This isn’t a competition but will give each individual a gauge as to where their personal fitness is currently and will give them a goal to aim for. All great stuff, Frank.

Make the connection between physical preparation and the performance requirements of the job.
Well, that wraps up our first installment of “Roco Rescue Chats with the Experts,” and what a start having someone like Lieutenant Frank Brennan as our inaugural guest. Thanks once again, Frank, and I hope you can come back and speak with us again in the future.

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Pat Furr

Pat Furr is a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he is involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. He is also a member of the NFPA 1006 Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications Standard. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, he served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).

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Rescuer Physical Fitness: Making It Happen

Wednesday, January 09, 2019
by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator 

In Part I of this article, you heard my point of view on a rescuer’s obligation to be physically fit. In this follow-up piece, I outline concrete ideas to help you reach your fitness goals, broken into three components of wellness: exercise, diet, and lifestyle.

First Responder Fitness
Before you do anything else you should assess your own fitness level. Those of you that think that you could be a bit, or maybe a lot, fitter, I have some basic suggestions to offer you. Those of you who are fit and plan on maintaining that fitness, great! Keep up the good work!

Rescuer Physical Fitness: Making It Happen
For those of you who are not in good shape and, perhaps, feel there isn’t enough time in the day to do anything about it, I sincerely hope you’ll reconsider and keep reading to see that it really doesn’t take much at all to make a positive change. And this change can be like a railroad locomotive; it may start slowly, but as momentum increases, so does the rate of positive change.

Here are my favorite tips that are simple to incorporate right now into your routine so you can start to look, feel, and perform better.

Exercise Tip #1: Set your alarm and stretch.
If you are like many people, you probably set your alarm to give you just enough time to get up, get dressed, eat, and head out the door, sometimes finishing that last bite of breakfast as you are driving to work. Here’s a little tip: Set the alarm fifteen minutes earlier.
This accomplishes several things:

• Getting up fifteen minutes earlier gives you time to do some slow, easy stretching.
• If you start your day with a morning stretch, that is a good base to build on. As you gain strength, you can eventually work in some pushups and crunches.
• Getting up earlier gives you a buffer before you start your work day, eliminating that stressful feeling of cutting your timing too close. Wouldn’t it be nice to start the day with less stress and that certain physical feeling of already having accomplished something before the workday even begins?

Give this a try for one week. What do you have to lose, other than some stress and maybe a few pounds?

Exercise Tip #2: Take the stairs.
Do you use the elevator to go up one, two, or three floors? My bet is that in the time you wait for the elevator and all the stops you make, it would be nearly as fast to take the stairs. After getting into the stairs-over-elevator habit, you may find yourself going for five, then six, seven, or even ten stories.

If we are talking 20 stories or more, then yeah, I’ll give you a pass.

Exercise Tip #3: Build in some cardio.
You don’t need to hire a personal trainer or even join a gym to get into really good shape. Look no further than the oldest cardio option known to man: running. For those of us with bad knees or other ailments that prevent running, other options include brisk walking, rollerblading, swimming, biking, and even dancing will burn off some of that extra weight.

Try a variety of activities that get your blood pumping! Maybe you’ll find there’s one thing you really get into, or maybe you prefer to mix it up. Point is, make a commitment to do something. It will be uncomfortable and there will be days when you want to skip your exercise time, so consider these two things that might help you out… accountability and distraction.

Accountability might mean you publicly declare your fitness goals to friends, family, and Facebook if that’s what it takes to keep you on track. A training partner can also provide accountability as you won’t want to let your partner down by skipping your workout. A training partner can also provide a distraction – it always helps to have someone running alongside you to talk with. Or maybe listening to music or podcasts help distract you; whatever might help you focus on something other than that voice in your head asking you to stop.

I am fortunate to live near several lakes and I have taken up rowing for my no-impact aerobic workout. Talk about involving nearly every muscle group along with the heart and lungs! This is one of the best calorie burners I have ever known, and the beauty is I am out on the lake at sunrise with the loons, ospreys, and eagles, the odd deer, turkey, fox, or mink on the shoreline, just enjoying the view of the mountains.

Exercise Tip #4: Seek out resources.
There are many resources available to us first responders, especially firefighters, who are looking to get fit. The 555 Fitness website has great lists of workouts, and if you follow them on Instagram you’ll get a new workout idea every day. The Firefighter Fitness Page offers a treasure trove of fitness tips and simple workout ideas that will fit right into your busy schedule.

Healthy Diet Tips for First Responders
Getting and staying fit isn’t just about working out, but also what we put in our mouths every single day. There is a lot of truth to the old saying “you are what you eat.” I’ll be the first to admit I love a chili cheeseburger and fries (chased with a big bowl of ice cream, of course), but I am fortunate to have an amateur nutritionist in the house who mandates adherence to a grocery list full of heart-healthy items.

Changing what we choose to eat is just a matter of education and some simple strategies, but don’t try to make wholesale changes overnight. It is best to develop habits that you can build slowly over time.

Food Tip #1: Make a grocery list.
Radical diet changes almost always fail. Instead of jumping on the next bandwagon diet, resolve to make – and stick to – grocery lists full of items that are good for you, rather than “winging it” and running to McDonald's on your way home from work every day. When it comes to eating well, the old adage holds true: failing to plan means planning to fail.

The key to keeping a healthy diet is to do just a bit of research on the sort of foods that should go onto your list. The good news is there are plenty of resources to help guide you, like this list of healthy food options to help first responders perform better.

The next time you visit the grocery store, pay attention to the layout. I’ll bet you will notice that the healthy items tend to be on the outer perimeter of the store and the less healthy items are in the middle aisles. For example, if you are looking for nuts, see if there are choices near, or in, the produce section on the edge of the store. Then compare the nuts in the bins or light packaging to the choice of nuts on the snack aisle. The nuts from the produce section will likely have few or no additives, whereas the nuts from the snack aisle will be loaded with oils and all sorts of hard-to-pronounce ingredients.

Food Tip #2: Read labels.
Always assess your food for its nutritional quality. Limit, or better yet, flat-out avoid processed foods and packaged items with long lists of ingredients on the label. The fewer the ingredients on the label, generally the healthier the item will be. Also, go easy on the carbs. Most of us love pasta in all its forms, but there are alternatives to pasta that taste great using the same marinara sauce or whatever your favorite topping may be. Consider couscous or quinoa as a pasta alternative.

Don’t worry too much about the few fun and tasty items that still manage to make it onto your list. Even some junk-food snacks are acceptable from time to time. We are human, after all, right? Just be sure that they are special treats and not a daily indulgence!

Food Tip #3: Commit to the long haul.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Stick to your list! Go shopping after you’ve eaten, not when you are starving and craving processed snacks like cookies or chips. Shopping on an empty stomach spells trouble for most of us.

Remember that the best “diet” is the one that fits your lifestyle. Focus on eating meals loaded with nutrients, and don’t stress if you deviate from time to time. If you set an unattainable standard at the outset, you are less likely to stick with it.

Cultivating Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Committing to getting and staying fit so that you can perform well and live long is about a comprehensive lifestyle change. This means not only that we have to shop smarter and build in more time to move our bodies, but also that we need to stave off stress by sleeping enough, planning ahead, and not using travel as an excuse to deviate from our goals.

Lifestyle Tip #1: Get enough sleep.
First of all, we need to get enough sleep. A report from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) called The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Fire Fighters and EMS Responders found that sleep deprivation affects our attentiveness levels, our mental functioning, and our energy, and it can lead to health issues like obesity and cardiovascular disease.

With our long and strenuous work hours and the stress involved in our jobs, this can be extremely dangerous to our health. It is critical to sleep enough in addition to eating right and exercising to protect ourselves from life-threatening health problems.

Ok, but how? Try setting an alarm for your bedtime. If you’re the sort of person that puts off bedtime because you’re trying to finish up a few things you’ve been working on, try putting those things on a list. That way you won’t worry about forgetting them, and you can tackle them fresh the next day.

Lifestyle Tip #2: Stick to healthy travel habits.
Traveling disrupts our routines, and unless you stay in a suite with a well-equipped kitchen, the meal choices are limited to restaurant offerings and complimentary hotel breakfasts.

It is tough to resist the fancy menu photos and the aroma of restaurants but make a promise to yourself that you will follow the guidelines for the vast majority of your meals out. It isn’t the end of the world if you slip now and then, especially if you are traveling with a group. It is nice to get together socially and have a nice meal, but make that the exception, not the norm.

Most hotel rooms are equipped with a drip coffee maker and a microwave oven. For a healthy breakfast, scoop some servings of oatmeal into Ziploc bags before leaving home. Mix in some cinnamon and chopped nuts, or grab an apple once you arrive at your destination and chop it up for some added flavor and vitamins. Consider making a quick stop at the grocery store to buy some Greek yogurt and fruit like strawberries, blueberries or bananas. Mix them together for a high protein breakfast loaded with vitamins. If your work frequently has you dining on the road, here is a resource to help you make healthier choices.

As far as your workout routine is concerned, remember that the time before work starts is yours. If you get into the habit when you’re at home of doing some stretching and basic calisthenics first thing in the morning, it will be much easier to do the same thing before showering and heading out of your hotel room. If you have a say in your lodging arrangements, try to find a hotel with either a well-equipped fitness center or one that has an arrangement with a local gym. If you travel to the same locations repeatedly, find the lodging that best fits your needs.

I hope you feel, as I do, that we all benefit from being fit. We feel better about ourselves. We are less prone to injury. We are less stressed. And most importantly of all, we are able to perform better and serve our rescue subjects well. I hope that in reading this you can take some or all of these tips, or even expand upon them, and start heading in a direction of improved fitness in the new year and beyond.
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Pat Furr

Pat Furr is a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he is involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. He is also a member of the NFPA 1006 Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications Standard. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, he served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).

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