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WE DO RESCUE

Roco chats with Steve Hudson of PMI Rope

Monday, February 07, 2011

We recently interviewed rope guru (and president of PMI), Steve Hudson, to get some insight into the world of rescue rope. But, first, a little more on Steve’s background and what got him interested in building a better rope for rescuers.

Steve took up the sport of caving at the ripe old age of 18, with an interest in exploration, challenge, and having fun. He learned ”the ropes” on rope borrowed from other industries – sailing rope, commodity rope, etc.

At the time, life safety rope could be defined as “any rope that saved your life.” He soon found limitations to the ropes they were using for caving. The ropes were not as cavers and climbers might have wished-they wore very quickly, plus the quality was occasionally in question.

These early experiences put Steve in a perfect position to create an answer some nine years later. By 1976, he had teamed up with three other caving families, bought a rope braider, incorporated PMI and began in earnest the application of his skills and knowledge to kernmantle ropemaking. The rest, as they say, is history.

Here at Roco, we get many questions about when to retire rescue rope.  Can you give our readers any tips?

First of all, I have a PMI Webinar presentation on rope inspection and retirement that covers the subject in detail. Anyone can see it at: http://pmirope.com/rescue-tv/webinars/#march2010

For the simple answer, our basic rope retirement information can be found in the user instructions that come with each rope. What we say there is:

RETIRE IMMEDIATELY…
  • any rope whose strength may have been compromised during use.
  • any rope which is subjected to uncontrolled or excessive loading.
  • any rope which is greater than 10 years old, regardless of history and usage.
  • any rope whose history and past usage you are uncertain about.

While these are simple statements, I realize that it is difficult to determine what is “excessive loading” or what is “compromised.” And, if you think it’s hard to look at a rope after an operation and tell if it was compromised or not – think how hard it is for us at the factory to know without being there or having the rope to look at.

Unfortunately, there’s not a reasonably priced ”non-destructive” test to determine a particular rope’s strength.  Your best bet is to have trained personnel using the rope, keep good rope use logs and inspect the rope every time you use it if at all possible.  Anytime you have lost faith in what you know about the rope’s condition, for any reason, you should retire it.

A PMI rope, if properly cared for, should last at least 5 years of regular rescue training use and longer than that with intermittent use.  By 10 years, it’s simply time to replace it. There are just too many things in the environment that the rope might pick up and are potentially harmful to the yarn.

And, as always, when in doubt, throw it out… CUT RETIRED ROPE into short lengths which will discourage future use – or discard it entirely.  A retired rope should not be stored, kept or maintained in such a way that it could inadvertently be used as a lifeline. In some cases, when only a single point or a small area of a rope has been damaged and the remainder of the rope is in good condition, the user may elect to cut that section out of the rope and continue to use the remaining sections. This is a judgment call and such a decision is left to the user’s discretion.

What’s the most interesting fiber you’ve worked with?

Textile fibers typically used in ropes are all interesting as they all have such different properties. No one fiber is right for every application just as no one rope is perfect for all jobs. The most interesting one is the one that has yet to be made. It would be low elongation for highlines and haul systems, high elongation to catch a slip or fall, stronger than steel, light as a feather, as easy to handle as cotton, as abrasion resistant as nylon, flame resistant, heat resistant, floating and cost less than polyester.

There seems to be more and more rescue harness options out there each year.  As a harness manufacturer, how do you strike a good balance of comfort, design and safety?

As to comfort and design, ask any ten users to try on and hang from five different harnesses and you’re not likely to get all ten to agree on which is most comfortable – much less the most practical design.  Comfort has a lot to do with the user’s body build, how they use the harness and how well they adjust it to themselves prior to loading. Being a harness manufacturer, we try to have a lot of choices in form and fit to provide options to our customers.

Many of us at PMI are users of harnesses ourselves.  We have employees that are members of fire department technical rescue teams,  mountain rescue teams, and cave rescue teams. In addition many are currently or recently involved as rope access instructors,  cave rescue instructors, sport cavers, mountain climbers, tower erectors and in construction. All have lots of experience in harnesses of all kinds and have many different opinions of what is the most comfortable and what is the most practical design for their use.  We do our best to put all that user input in with our field evaluations from customers and come up with a mix that meets the needs of our customers.

The safety part of that question is possibly the easiest in that following the appropriate industry standards and getting 3rd party certification to those standards helps to ensure a harness is built well enough for the intended use. Be it NFPA 1983 for the fire/rescue service or ANSI Z359 for general industry fall protection, the test requirements are tough to meet and designed around what is likely the “worst case scenario” for that user group. Third party independent certification, like UL for instance, is important to look for to know that the testing was actually done and is being monitored by the independent lab. Good manufacturers are also certified to a quality standard like ISO 9001 as well.

Rescue has come a long way in the past 30 years…is there any one thing on the horizon that will represent a big leap forward?

I wish I could tell you that our anti-gravity boots and litter were close to being ready or even on the horizon but I can’t. In the meantime, we believe that we will see more government regulations surrounding both professional rescue and the employer in industry. Safety professionals will need to plan effectively for what to do in the event of an emergency, and rescue teams will need to be more intentional about their response capabilities.

On the equipment front, availability of a wider variety of products specifically designed for rescue will allow rescuers to customize their systems for optimum performance. For example, these days you can choose between nylon core ropes for more force absorption versus polyester ropes for less elongation. Even personal gear, such as the Pulsar handled ascender, are designed with the professional user in mind and offer more robust performance.

Finally, standards are also pushing our perceived limits. For example, ANSI’s new requirement for 3600# gate strengths in their fall protection standard has likewise created new expectations in performance of rescue gear.

In addition, an important priority for us is wrapped up in standards development – creation and implementation of standards that help to maintain the integrity of life safety ropes and keep the user safe. PMI actively participates in the rope-related standards efforts of the Cordage Institute as well as ANSI, ASTM, NFPA and UIAA, and is engaged in safety programs with several trade organizations and industry peers.

In closing, we want to thank Steve for answering our questions. It’s great to know that he’s still out there caving, rappelling, and searching for ways to make the world of life safety rope better and safer!
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Hands-On Training Most Effective in Hazardous Jobs

Monday, February 07, 2011

“Hands-on safety training for workers in highly hazardous jobs is most effective at improving safe work behavior, according to psychologists who analyzed close to 40 years of research.”

At jobs where the likelihood of death or injury was highest, the findings showed that more engaging training (e.g., behavioral modeling, simulation and hands-on training) was considerably more effective than less engaging training (such as lectures, films, reading materials and videos) for both learning about and demonstrating safety on the job.

Less engaging training, meanwhile, was just as effective in regard to improving these outcomes when the risk for death or injury was low.

“The primary psychological mechanism we can offer as an explanation for these results is something called the ‘dread factor,’” said the study’s lead author, Michael Burke, Ph.D., of Tulane University. “In a more interactive training environment, the trainees are faced more acutely with the possible dangers of their job and they are, in turn, more motivated to learn about such dangers and how to avoid them.”

For example, when hazardous events and exposures are extreme (e.g., fires, explosions, exposure to toxic chemicals or radiation), the action, dialogue and considerable reflection that takes place in more interactive training would be expected to create a sense of dread and realization of the dangers of the job. This analysis offers practical implications for employers who may be hesitant to invest in the more expensive interactive training programs.

“Distance learning and electronic learning may appear to be more cost effective. But our findings point to the value of investing in more hands-on training to help prevent the enormous financial and human costs associated with disasters like the Upper Big Branch mine explosion,” said Burke.

Excerpt from EHS Today, The Magazine for Environment, Health and Safety Leaders (ehstoday.com)  Jan 28, 2011 11:39 AM, By Laura Walter
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Rescue Airmen Angle for New Rescue Techniques

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

1/21/2011 - CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla– by Staff Sgt. Leslie Kraushaar / 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs

What do you do with an empty, 300-foot tall, metal building that, at one time, was used to build Titan rockets?

Air Force Reserve pararescuemen (PJs) and combat rescue officers (CROs) from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., found a way to put it to good use which included ropes, pulleys, climbing gear, helmets, gloves, and lots of sweat.

Dressed in air battle uniforms – tactical vests, body armor, radios and ballistic helmets – that added weight and limited mobility, the pararescuers assumed the task of hauling a “survivor” up-and-down the steel platforms, that at one time held a Titan Rocket.

Rescuers, active duty and reserve, are attending a two-week course, Roco Rescue, held here that hones their rescue skills in a not-so-ordinary way.

“We simulate anything – any type of situation that these guys may find their selves in and have a victim to rescue,” said Mr. Ishmael “Ish” Antonio, tactical program manager and instructor for Roco Rescue.

A retired PJ himself, Mr. Antonio travels all over the country with his team of instructors to “refresh” the rope skills of PJs and CROs.

“We don’t tell them how to do their jobs – this is just a refresher for them. These are perishable skills, ones that must be maintained,” said Mr. Antonio.

As the first scenario unfolds, it’s clear the Rescuers have some work ahead of them – this is where it gets sweaty.

Leaving a 220 pound dummy on the concrete floor of the complex, the PJs, CROs and instructors, make the climb up the metal staircases, stopping at about 315 feet or so above the ground.

Then the clock starts – first, one PJ rappels down to the “victim” to package him up for hoisting; second, the other four or five team members make up a rope and pulley system from the gear they have on them; third, the PJs and CROs then start slowly hauling up the PJ and “victim” by heaving on the pulley systems and rope systems they made; fourth, pull the PJ and “victim” to the safety of the steel platform.

As one team finishes this – a team several stories above them, starts to rappel a PJ to pick up where that team left off for the samegoal: to get the “victim” up to the highest point in the massive complex.

“You really learn how to use the tools in your pocket,” said Tech. Sgt. Adrian Durham, reserve pararescueman with the 920th RQW. “Keeping everything as simple as possible is our goal here.”

The ROCO Rescue course specializes in high-altitude, high-angle and confined space rescues. The use of the very tall building works well for them to hoist a PJ and “victim” up very high, severe areas.

This training is required for all PJs and CROs both active duty and reserve.

“We are considered rescue technicians,” said Capt. James Sluder, reserve combat rescue officer with the 920th RQW. “This course and our knowledge of ropes give us the credibility to be able to come in and do the rescue in a timely, safe fashion.”

Using this training comes in handy with deployments always looming in the future and the humanitarian rescues that can happen at any time. In fact, this exact training was put to use during their last deployment in Afghanistan where they had to extract and save over 300 Afghan Nationals from buried vehicles after an avalanche swept away a road last year. “You never know what you’re going to get until you get there,” said Mr. Antonio.

The PJs and CROs are a unique group. Their knowledge of ropes sets them apart from the other Special Forces entities and allows them to perform their duties in technically challenging areas, such as mountains, ravines, rivers and, in some cases, industrial areas, said Mr. Antonio.

“You have to be able to think quickly in these situations,” said Sergeant Durham. “Time is always against you and the best protection from being killed is speed.”

The 920th RQW is an Air Force Reserve Command’s Combat-Search-and-Rescue Unit. There are two geographically separated units, each with their own Guardian Angel Weapons System (CROs, PJs and search, evasion, resistance, escape specialists) at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. and Portland International Airport, Ore.

The wing is comprised of 1,500 Airmen who live by the motto… “These things we do, that others may live.” These rescuers are prepared to go anywhere at any time. According to one of the Pararescuemen, “Our mission tasking is on short notice, we go anywhere. In 72 hours, we’ll be wheels up, ready to go anywhere.”
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1 Dead, 2 Injured in Storage Tank Incident

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A man died Friday (January 21) after being overcome by fumes while trying to help two co-workers who lost consciousness inside a tank they were cleaning at a pharmaceutical plant north of Atwater Village, authorities said.

When Los Angeles firefighters arrived at the Baxter Healthcare Corp. about 4 a.m., one of the men had no heart rate and was not breathing although paramedics were able to restore his pulse, said Erik Scott of the LAFD.

All three were taken to hospitals, where one of the men died. The other two remain in critical condition.
The men had been cleaning the inside of a 4-foot-tall cylindrical tank with a 5-foot diameter, said the LAFD’s Brian Humphrey. The tank has a 24-inch diameter opening at the top, through which workers enter to clean it. When firefighters arrived, two men were inside and one was partially inside, Humphrey said. Firefighters pulled all three men from the “confined space” and brought them outside, he said.

LAFD Capt. Jaime Moore told the Los Angeles Times that the man who died had called 911 and then went in to help his unconscious colleagues, but was himself overcome by the fumes. The workers were using detergent to clean the container of blood plasma. They were overcome by ethanol, which was used as a separating agent for blood plasma, Moore said.

“We pulled special resources on scene, and they have the technical expertise to perform these operations,” said Moore. “Were it not for the actions they took when they got on scene, all three would be dead,” he added.

According to a company spokesperson, Baxter’s Los Angeles facility “is the world’s largest and most advanced plasma-fractionation facility, and has been in operation for more than 50 years.”

(Story from NBC Los Angeles, the LA Times and KTLA5News)
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Atmospheric Monitors: “Calibration vs. Bump Testing”

Friday, January 21, 2011

“The fact that we rely on these instruments to detect hazards that may be colorless, odorless, and very often fatal, should be reason enough to motivate us to complete a very strict schedule of instrument calibration/maintenance and pre-use bump testing.”

Here at Roco, we’re often asked for an explanation of the difference between “calibration” and “bump testing” of portable atmospheric monitors. There seems to be some confusion, specifically regarding bump testing. Some folks believe that bump testing and calibration are the same thing. Others think that bump testing is no more than allowing the monitor to run its “auto span function” during the initial startup sequence – or by running a “manual auto span” in order to zero out the display if there is any deviation from the expected values.

To preface this explanation, it is important that the user maintain and operate the monitor in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions for use. There are some general guidelines that apply to all portable atmospheric monitors and some of the information in this article is drawn from an OSHA Safety and Health Information Bulletin (SHIB) dated 5/4/2004 titled “Verification of Calibration for Direct Reading Portable Gas Monitors.”

Considering that atmospheric hazards account for the majority of confined space fatalities, it is absolutely imperative that the instruments used to detect and quantify the presence of atmospheric hazards be maintained in a reliable and ready state. Environmental factors such as shifts in temperature, humidity, vibration, and rough handling all contribute to inaccurate readings or outright failure of these instruments. Therefore it is critical to perform periodic calibration and pre-use bump testing to ensure the instruments are capable of providing accurate/reliable information to the operator.

Calibration of the monitor involves using a certified calibration gas in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. This includes exposing the instrument sensors and allowing the instrument to automatically adjust the readings to coincide with the known concentration of the calibration gas. Or, if necessary, the operator will manually adjust the readings to match the known concentration of the calibration gas.

In addition to using a certified calibration gas appropriate to the sensors being targeted, do not ever use calibration gas that has passed its expiration date. The best practice is to use calibration gas, tubing, flow rate regulators, and adapter hoods provided by the manufacturer of the instrument.

The frequency of calibration should also adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions for use; or, if more frequent, the set protocol of the user’s company or facility. Once the monitor has been calibrated, it is important to maintain a written record of the results including adjustments for calibration drift, excessive maintenance/repairs, or if an instrument is prone to inaccurate readings.

Each day prior to use, the operator should verify the instrument’s accuracy. This can be done by completing a full calibration or running a bump test, also known as a functional test. To perform a bump test, use the same calibration gas and equipment used during the full calibration and expose the instrument to the calibration gas. If the readings displayed are in an acceptable range compared to the concentrations of the calibration gas, then that is verification of instrument accuracy. If the values are not within an acceptable range, then a full calibration must be performed and repairs/replacement completed as necessary.

Modern electro-mechanical direct reading atmospheric monitors have come a long way in recent years in terms of reliability, accuracy, and ease of use. But they are still relatively fragile instruments that need to be handled and maintained with a high degree of care. The fact that we rely on these instruments to detect hazards that may be colorless, odorless, and very often fatal should be reason enough to motivate us to complete a very strict schedule of instrument calibration/maintenance and pre-use bump testing.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the November 20, 2002 ISEA position Statement “Verification of Calibration for Direct Reading Portable Gas Monitors Used In Confined Spaces”; “Are Your Gas Monitors Just expensive Paperweights?” by Joe Sprately, and James MacNeal’s article as it appears in the October 2006 issue of Occupational Safety and Health magazine.
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