Ky. firefighters train for rescues in tight places


By Joanie Baker
Messenger-Inquirer
Copyright 2007 Messenger-Inquirer
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News

OWENSBORO, Ky. — Connected to a tripod and a rope, Owensboro firefighters were lowered into mock-sewer tubing last week to practice saving "Rescue Randy" from the inside of a simulated storm drain.

During annual confined-space training, the 180-pound mannequin is usually pulled from an underground concrete room at the Walter Freeman Regional Training Area at 14th Street and J.R. Miller Boulevard. But last week, the Owensboro Fire Department used a training device loaned by State Fire Rescue Training Area 3 that looked much like a funland of tunnels for kids.

The pitch black tunnels set up at the training area weren't quite as much fun for firefighters. But they did provide a much smaller area to prepare for rescues in spaces that are more restrictive than previously practiced at the tower.

Assistant Chief Bill Van Winkle said the department is not often faced with situations requiring confined-space rescue, such as someone trapped in a storm drain. But he said it's important to train with up-to-date resources so when they are called upon for rescue, firefighters are as well-prepared as possible.

Part of the training includes firefighters testing the air supply for sufficient oxygen or combustible gases before other rescue workers can be lowered into an area.

Van Winkle said in the past there have been sewer workers who have died from the lack of air quality needed to support life while working underground. Without improvements in equipment, such as the tripod and air monitor, rescue workers could have been harmed when responding to the scene, he said.

After testing the air quality, firefighters can ventilate an area to provide assistance while still keeping themselves safe, he said.

"We have to make sure our safety is taken care of to make sure we can get to this part," Battalion Chief David McCrady said.

The firefighters standing on top of the 10-foot-tall tower used a hose to lower a stream of fresh air down the small tunnel. Then they lowered two firefighters down into the area where Rescue Randy was harnessed with a vest to the tripod's rope and raised him out of harm's way.

Van Winkle said confined-space training and equipment have come a long way in the last 15 years.

"A lot of it is an awareness throughout the profession, where as before it just wasn't thought about," he said.

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