“Advanced” Confined Space Rescue

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

By Chris Carlsen, Albuquerque Fire Department

Having worked and been an instructor in the rescue field, I am often asked, “what are some advanced rescue techniques in confined spaces?” My response is always, “It depends where you think you are as a team, because advanced can mean many different things.”

Obviously there are confined space rescue scenarios that require a higher level of proficiency and teamwork than others. However, I like to begin by asking a team to do a self-assessment, as outlined below, and to think of “advanced” confined space rescue as anything that advances the ability of a team to perform as rescuers.

Is your team in the CRAWLING stage, meaning you have a trained team but the only time you touch a piece of equipment or do some rigging is during an annual refresher? Then “advanced” for your team means relearning the fundamentals every year. Practicing anchor rigging, building basic mechanical advantage systems, packaging patients in litters and drag devices, setting up SCBA or SAR systems and understanding the importance of atmospheric monitoring and ventilation strategies. All the basic tools you need to get the job done!

Is your team WALKING, having dedicated team members with solid fundamentals that attend regular training evolutions? Then “advanced” can mean organizing team equipment for a more efficient response, pre-rigging standard set-ups for rapid deployment, practicing compound and/or complex systems, identifying and preplanning confined spaces, defining team roles in an ICS type structure, and conducting full scenarios from response to termination.

Is your team RUNNING, with experienced team members who are looking to be challenged? Advanced for you is getting creative and locating spaces that are difficult to reach, difficult to access, and/or challenging to work in. Teams like this will benefit from having time restraints on training exercises to build pressure and increase the speed with which people work. Other ideas would be to limit the availability of equipment so the team has to problem-solve and prioritize actions, or add new pieces of equipment that provide more efficiency or increase safety.

Every one of the teams I just described is capable of making a successful confined space rescue today. But first, what do we consider a successful confined space rescue? For me, it is performing the rescue while providing for the safety of our team and the persons we are responding to. If we can do that, then we have been successful.

Over and above the basics of a successful rescue, what separates good teams from better ones is their efficiency and ability to solve complex problems. The more complex the rescue scenario is, the less efficient the team is going to be… unless they have experienced the scenario before or can relate it to something they have done. And where can they get experiences needed to build confidence and the mental files they can draw from? Training, training, and oh yeah training! The best teams build a sort of muscle memory that derives from all the exposure to various situations they have experienced. I have a quote scribbled on my wall that says:

“A rescue isn’t successful because of what you did today, it was the years of training that led up to the rescue that made the difference.”

I’m not sure who said that, but when I read it, it stuck, and I have spent my professional career trying to make sure I was ready for a rescue today. So I ask, are you ready? Do you know how complex the next rescue problem is going to be?

In order to be ready, we must have a solid grasp of the basics for confined space rescue. I’m not talking about building mechanical advantage systems or selecting the best anchor point. Yes, those skills are necessary, but I’m talking about managing your TIME. Because in confined space rescue, time is one of the greatest factors between a rescue or a recovery. One of Roco Rescue’s great Chief Instructors, Mike Adams, really helped me understand this concept in a simple way. He broke the entire rescue down into four parts.

  1. Put your hands on the patient: Everything you do initially must drive towards this goal. The faster you can do that, the faster you will have a complete understanding of the complexity of the rescue. Keep it simple and get in there once you have provided for the safety of your rescuer.
  2. Care and Package: Do good patient care, and treat the things that are life threatening first. Once you know the life threat, then you’ll know how much time you have to work with. Then package for the environment and the injury.
  3. Extricate: Build a world class rescue system or just put your hands on the patient and move! Either way your team should be ready to perform once the patient is ready to move. The type of space and the orientation of the patient will usually dictate the how and what.
  4. Lift and/or Lower and turn them over: Once the patient is out of the space, lift / lower them to ground level and turn them over to EMS. This is typically less hazardous but still just as important if you have a critical patient.

Focus on these concepts in your next confined space training; see how well your team performs, and ask plenty of questions.

Did you stumble a little bit? Was there some confusion about the plan or about who was doing what job? If so, that’s ok! Talk about it, sort it out and do it again - that is what training is for! On the other hand, maybe you cruised right through the scenario and everyone was pretty quiet. If so, perhaps that’s because your jobs are well defined and your team knows what is always coming next. Or was it just because you have done the same drill from the same space for the last 10 years? Either way it’s time to turn up the heat and start challenging your team to get them to the next level.

If you’ve trained with us at Roco Rescue, then you’re familiar with our version of the K.I.S.S. principle: “Keep It SAFE and SIMPLE.” I’ve used it many times, and it works, but as our depth of knowledge grows and the complexity of the incident grows, the “devil” is really in the details. The masters of any craft only became masters through practice. So you want to know some Advanced Confined Space Rescue Techniques? You want to be a Confined Space Rescue Technician?

Train, Learn, Practice.

And as always, be safe.

 

Chris Carlsen resides in Albuquerque, NM and has been a firefighter with Albuquerque Fire Rescue since 1998.  He currently works as the Heavy Technical Rescue Program Manager within Special Operations.  Chris took his first Roco course in 2000 and became part of Roco’s instructional cadre in 2006.  As a Roco Rescue Chief Instructor he leads courses in rope, confined space, trench and structural collapse rescue.

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Non-Entry Confined Space Rescue…Are You Sure?

Tuesday, May 07, 2019
by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator

There are three generally accepted types of confined space rescue: self-rescue, non-entry retrieval, and entry rescue. Just as with the hierarchy of hazard mitigation, confined space rescue should be approached with an ascending hierarchy in mind. 

  1. Self-rescue is typically the fastest type and eliminates or at least greatly reduces the chance that anyone else will be put at risk. For these reasons, it is the first choice, but it is unrealistic to think that an entrant would be able to rescue themselves in all situations.
  2. Non-entry retrieval is the next choice. OSHA stipulates that non-entry retrieval must be considered as a means of rescue – more on that shortly.
  3. Entry rescue is the last choice, largely because it exposes the rescuers to the same hazards that the original entrant faced.

Non-Entry Confined Space Rescue…Are You Sure?

OSHA recognizes the inherent danger of entry rescue, which is why the organization mandates “retrieval systems or methods shall be used whenever an authorized entrant enters a permit space.” However, OSHA goes on to qualify this statement with two very important exceptions. OSHA requires non-entry retrieval, “unless the retrieval equipment would increase the overall risk of entry or would not contribute to the rescue of the entrant.”  Let’s examine each of these two provisions more closely... 

  1. Non-entry retrieval is required “…unless the retrieval equipment would increase the overall risk of entry.” For example, if the retrieval line would create an entanglement hazard that would impede the entrant’s ability to exit the space, then the retrieval system should not be used and entry rescue should be the choice.
  2. And non-entry retrieval is required unless the equipment “…would not contribute to the rescue of the entrant.” The key here is that the non-entry method employed must be viable. It must work when called into action.

For non-entry retrieval systems, we are relying on that retrieval line to exert forces on the entrant to pull them out of the space without help from any other device or human intervention within the space. It must perform without someone inside the space maneuvering the victim or otherwise providing assistance to the retrieval system. It has to work independently of any other forces other than what is generated from outside the space. This extremely important point is often overlooked and has resulted in many fatalities. Sadly, many of those fatalities were the would-be rescuers that attempted entry rescue when the retrieval system failed to do its intended job.

Situations that may render the retrieval system useless would be any configuration or obstruction inside the space that would prevent the system from pulling the victim clear of the space in an unimpeded manner. This could be pipework or obstructions on the floor for a horizontal movement. Likewise, pulling an unconscious victim around corners may render a retrieval system ineffective. If the entrant moves over any edge and down into a lower area offset from an overhead portal even at moderate angles, the retrieval system will probably not be able to pull an inert victim up and over that edge, even if the drop were only a foot or so.

It must be clearly understood that retrieval systems may quite possibly be applying forces on a limp human body, which, as harsh as this sounds, becomes a sort of anchor. It requires a very thorough and honest evaluation of where the entrant will be moving in the space in order to perform their planned work, and what obstructions or structural configurations are in that path. If there is any possibility that the system will not be able to pull an unconscious, inert victim along that path, then the retrieval system is NOT viable.

Human Nature vs The Best Laid Plans - An Example

Okay, so you have done a thorough and honest evaluation of the space, its configuration, and internal obstructions and determined that there is a clear path from the entrant’s “planned” work area, which is offset ten feet from the overhead portal eight feet above. Clearly, the retrieval system will be able to pull the victim out of the space should the need arise. Enter human nature, and with that comes bad decisions. Murphy’s Law has a very nasty way of changing things for the worse. 

What if, in the course of the planned work, our entrant drops his wrench down into a sump immediately adjacent to his work zone but further from the overhead portal? The fixed ladder down into the sump is only five feet and he can clearly see the wrench stuck in the sludge below. He asks for slack on the retrieval line, climbs down into the sump, bends down to grab his wrench and is nearly immediately rendered unconscious due to an undetected atmospheric hazard. 

The attendant/rescuer sees that the entrant’s head and shoulders do not reappear and within several seconds calls to ask if he is ok, only to hear no answer. He calls several more times, but still no answer. He begins to haul with the retrieval system, which consists of a wire rope winch mounted to a tripod.  The cable becomes tight and the tripod shudders and shifts slightly, then all progress stops. The would-be rescuer tries with all his might to pull the entrant’s limp body up and over the 90-degree concrete edge, but cannot. 

In a panic, the attendant/rescuer climbs down into the space and over to the sump where he sees the entrant pulled tightly against the wall of the sump but not off the floor. He climbs down into the sump to attempt to lift the entrant’s 200-pound limp body up and over the five-foot wall. As soon as he bends down to cradle him, the hazardous atmosphere overcomes him also. Two fatalities later, we wonder how our non-entry rescue retrieval system could have failed us. It would not have, had human nature not interfered and caused two people to make bad decisions. 

That story was intended to point out that things do not always go according to plan. Not only do we humans make bad decisions on occasion, but we also have accidents due to trips, slips, and falls that may send us to an area that the retrieval system may not work. Conditions inside the space may change in such a manner that it affects the retrieval system. 

For all these reasons I implore you to evaluate the capability of the retrieval system to work not only when things go according to plan, but also to evaluate the system based on the “what ifs.” For the “what ifs” that involve bad decisions, that is a matter of training and communicating to the entry team why they cannot deviate from the work plan, even to fetch that dropped wrench. For the “what ifs” that include trips, slips, falls, or equipment failures, it may be time to consider a back-up plan, which may include an entry rescue capability. 


Pat Furr
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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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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The Importance of Trench/Excavation Safety: A Conversation with Roco Rescue Chief Instructor Tim Robson

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Tim Robson’s involvement with trench rescue started in 1994 when his technical rescue team from the Albuquerque Fire Department responded to what the dispatcher called a trench event.

“When we arrived on the scene, no one was there other than a police officer and a grandmother,” Tim recalls. “She couldn’t find her grandson.”

A company doing trench work in front of her home had offered to pay the woman’s teenage grandson hourly to help them. The teenager was inside the trench when it collapsed.

The Importance of Trench/Excavation Safety: A Conversation with Roco Rescue Chief Instructor Tim Robson

“The company left, and they left him in the trench,” Tim explains. “Unfortunately, it was a fatality. When we found him, he had already succumbed.”

As a result of that experience, Tim understands firsthand the risks involved in trench work and the importance of trench safety. Now, Tim supervises Roco Rescue’s technical rescue teams across the globe and, as a Chief Instructor, leads training courses in – among other things – trench rescue.

Tim is presenting a course on “Managing Excavations” at the North Dakota Safety Council’s 46th Annual Safety & Health Conference later this month. We sat down to talk with Tim recently to find out more about trench safety and why it’s so important.

Roco Rescue: Good afternoon, Tim, and thank you for talking with us today about trench/excavation safety. Let’s start with the overarching question: How dangerous is trench work?

Tim:  Trenching/excavation is one of the major fatality-causing occupations in the U.S. right now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the 130 trench/excavation fatalities that occurred between 2011 and 2016, 80% of those occurred in the private construction industry.

What scares us even more is that the number of fatalities is trending up. In 2014, there were 13 fatalities in trench/excavation. In 2015, that number rose to 25. And in 2016, there were 36 fatalities. So nearly half of the fatalities that occurred over a fifteen-year period happened in 2015 and 2016. Despite the fact that the regulations have gotten stricter, the numbers are trending up.  

The Importance of Trench/Excavation Safety: A Conversation with Roco Rescue Chief Instructor Tim Robson

Roco Rescue: We’re going to touch on the OSHA regulations in a moment. First, please explain why the number of fatalities is trending upwards.

Tim: The increase in fatalities goes hand in hand with the uptick in employment and construction; as the economy improves, there’s more construction and, with that, more trenching and excavation.

In addition to more construction, there’s less space. As a country, we’re building more roads, more buildings, and more infrastructure but we have less physical space to do it in.

And in addition to doing more construction in less space, in our world, we have to do more with less. Ten years ago, there were six people working on a construction trenching job; today, there are 4, and that naturally lends itself to more safety violations.

Roco Rescue: What makes trenches so dangerous?

Tim: First, let me explain the difference between a trench and an excavation: an excavation is wider than it is deep, meaning there’s less chance of dirt collapsing because the vertical walls of the trench are sloping. If my wall slopes away from the bottom of the hole I dug, there’s less chance of that wall falling in.

A trench, on the other hand, is deeper than it is wide. If I have to dig a trench with a perfectly vertical wall, because there’s a road right next to where I’m digging the trench, I can almost guarantee a collapse.

To give readers an idea of the physics and mechanics involved when soil collapses, I often use this analogy: A typical collapse involves a couple of yards of dirt. A couple of yards of dirt collapsing into a 6-foot deep trench has the same force as a pickup truck moving 45 miles an hour. If you’re at the bottom of the trench and the soil falls in on you from 6 feet, you’re getting hit with the same amount of force as a pickup truck traveling 45 miles per hour.

When that force hits you, you can’t survive. And that’s just the force. There’s also the compression and blocked airways that the victim experiences. Every time you take a breath, the soil gets closer to your body so now it’s compressing you and you’re not able to expand your chest wall.

That’s why this is such a big concern for OSHA.

Roco Rescue: Let’s talk more about the OSHA regulations. What is OSHA doing to help reduce the number of fatalities caused by trench collapse?

Tim: Last year, OSHA put out a compliance letter urging the construction industry to improve the safety of their trenching and excavation operations.

OSHA requires that any time someone makes an excavation or trench in the ground as part of their occupation, they have to designate what’s called a competent person. That’s usually someone in a management or supervisory position who is tasked with “identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings, or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.”

Roco Rescue: Besides designating a competent person, what precautions can supervisors take at work sites to reduce trench injuries/fatalities, and what can workers do to keep themselves safe?

The Importance of Trench/Excavation Safety: A Conversation with Roco Rescue Chief Instructor Tim Robson

Tim: Construction businesses have to meet the OSHA requirements for trench and excavation safety. To make the trench safe takes more time, more manpower and more labor. Ultimately, safety costs money, which is a challenge for small business in particular.

But the implications for failing to meet the requirements comes with an even bigger cost. Worker safety notwithstanding, the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice now agree that if a fatality occurs on a job site due to a willful violation of an employer, it is now a criminal act.

However, workers are equally responsible for their safety. They are also accountable for their actions. If a trained worker willfully gets into that trench, knowing it’s unprotected, they’re just as culpable as the company that put them there.

In short, the employer’s responsibility is to make sure individuals are trained at work and the employee’s responsibility to understand and follow those requirements.

Roco Rescue: What are three things attendees at your upcoming course at the NDSC Annual Conference can expect to take away from your presentation?

Tim: First, don’t take trench and excavation lightly. There’s a risk that comes with saying, “We’ve always done it this way.”

Second, they’ll leave with an understanding of OSHA’s trench/excavation competent person requirements.

Third, they’ll understand the requirements of AHJ (the authority having jurisdiction), which is generally the host employer. The AHJ is the entity that must deem someone a competent person. As an instructor, I don’t have that authority. Taking my class doesn’t qualify someone as a competent person.

Roco Rescue: How will the course you’re giving at the NDSC Annual Conference differ from Roco Rescue’s training courses in trench rescue?

Tim: At the Roco Training Center, we offer open enrollment courses in trench rescue and can even do a private training based on a specific industry. Our courses teach how to construct a trench so that it won’t collapse and, if it does collapse because of some catastrophic event, teaches workers ways to protect themselves.

Both the courses at the Roco Training Center and my course at the NDSC Annual Conference are focused on compliance, but the course at the NDSC is geared toward a broader audience.

Roco Rescue: What’s your final piece of advice for trench workers, Tim?

Tim: It’s simple: until you know it’s safe, don’t get in the trench.

Roco Rescue: Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us, Tim.

For more information about Roco Rescue’s open enrollment or private training courses in trench safety and trench competent person, check out our training options.


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Tim Robson

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, from rescue stand-bys to confined space program management to leading safety meetings and the list goes on. Prior to joining Roco in 1996, he served in the US 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, participating in several deployments for FEMA, including the Pentagon following the Sept. 11th attacks.

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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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