The IAFC recently called for a STAND DOWN asking that fire chiefs stop all non-emergency activities and review their department procedures on responses involving “technical rescue.” Perhaps a well intentioned declaration, but the mark was missed.
What led to the issue? Two incidents: Middletown, Ohio, Local 336 and Liberty Township, Indiana (volunteer with mutual response by Muncie, Indiana, IAFF Local 1348). In Middletown the first responding company attempted to rescue a worker which they believed slipped and fell down a manhole to the bottom of the sewer. The worker appeared to be breathing, air was monitored and initially noted to be ok, and rescue was attempted. Two fire fighters were thereafter overcome from lack of oxygen (nitrogen in sewer displaced oxygen in air). The worker died, fire fighters were treated and survived. What should also be noted here is that the Middletown Fire Department disbanded their technical rescue team and confined space unit two months ago due to budget issues.
In Liberty Township, 2 volunteers, in private vehicles and in civilian clothes, responded to a residential well pit where a worker was overcome using muriatic acid (hydrochloric acid) which generated hydrogen chloride fumes. These fire fighters and an additional worker were overcome attempting to remove the worker from the well pit. All four men were unconscious in the well pit when Muncie fire fighters arrived. They evaluated the situation, kept all other fire fighters back, properly suited themselves up as well as a Liberty Township fire fighter, lowered him in the well pit, and within minutes using ropes and a collar harness, rescued all 4 individuals. One worker died, the other remains critically injured, and two fire fighters were also hospitalized with critical injuries and have now recovered. Ironically, the Muncie fire fighters were involved in their confined space rescue training earlier that same day. The above is based on published news reports and discussions with our Indiana and Ohio members. Others will investigate, provide greater details, and critique these incidents.
However the STAND DOWN does not provide any of the above information and only asks that “fire chiefs have their personnel immediately review and discuss applicable local departmental policies and procedures to minimize the risk to fire fighters in confined space and related technical rescue incidents”. That alone is not enough.
If lessons are to be learned from these operations, and I believe there are numerous lessons, then we must act responsibly and lead on the real issues. This is not a public relations opportunity, but a time to very seriously address the issues – since the safety and health of our members is very serious business. Let us demand, advocate, and scream for the proper tools to protect responder health and safety, and cover what is really needed for offensive actions during numerous types of non-fire rescues. These types of events happen every day in today’s fire service world of all hazard response. Let us STAND UP and address the minimum resources that are needed by all departments for such responses, including staffing; training — as a minimum to operations level of the NFPA standards (in this case 1670 and 472) and OSHA standards (Respiratory, HazWoper and Confined Space) — as well as continued refresher training and in-service company training. Let us STAND UP and demand the provision of, training on and use of the correct personal protective equipment; hazard recognition and identification; pre-incident planning; situational awareness, scene management and of course incident command. The list goes on and is required for ALL responding fire fighters. Since the first tier units responding to these incidents are the engine, truck, or rescue companies and not the special ops or hazmat units, everyone needs to be staffed, resourced, equipped and trained. The officers and members of these companies will and do make decisions; either as the Muncie Rescue did in the one above incident or as FDNY Truck 4 and Engine 54 officers and members did when they made the correct decisions in the Times Square incident a few weeks back as further detailed on the home page of our website.
So let’s STAND UP, let’s be heard, and for those who don’t believe in these safety and health needs … stop getting in our way.