Built in 1928, the Amherst Fire Department Central Station serves as one of the oldest operating fire stations in Western Massachusetts. Below the apparatus floor is a twisting, dusty crawl space approximately 75 feet long with a height and width of only about 42 inches square. Add to the mix that the tunnel is is pitch black, there are hot pipes and stone pillars creating choke points along the way and random debris cluttering the floor, the tunnel made for a realistic and challenging setting for the WMTRT March 3, 2016 drill.
The scenario involved a worker who entered a confined space to perform maintenance and was overcome by a toxic atmosphere.
Rescuers entered the space in pairs. First teams into the hole focused on reaching the victim to perform an initial assessment and apply breathing apparatus connected to supplied air. After the area was surveyed, a fresh team returned to the victim with equipment needed to package him and begin the slow and difficult task of a horizontal drag operation, all while protecting the victim from further injury.
In addition to activity below grade, a large amount of work was going on above to assure adequate air was available for rescuers and the victim.
The rescue operation then transitioned to removing the victim vertically, out the small opening in the concrete floor using ropes, mechanical advantage systems and highpoint anchors. Hardwired communication systems are utilized in potentially explosive atmospheres to reduce hazards and improve direct contact with teams operating in the confined space. Supplied air provide rescuers with extended time to operate in these conditions. The disadvantage of both of these systems is the need to manage the lines while entering and exiting the space, as they might easily get ensnared by an obstacle along the way, delaying the operation or potentially worse.
Teams are staged, ready to enter the space or perform additional rescues.
The rescue operation took well over an hour to complete, but eventually the victim was removed from the space.
A great deal is learn by WMTRT members each time they have the opportunity to utilize training and equipment in these realistic settings.
The team would like to thank Chief Nelson and the rest of the Amherst Fire Department for hosting the March 2016 training, and both the Western Mass Fire Chiefs Association and Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council for their ongoing support.
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