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Where Do You Fit Best on Your Rescue Team?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

By Pat Furr, VPP Coordinator & Corporate Safety Officer for Roco Rescue, Inc.

At the start of nearly every rescue class, I'll ask, “Okay, who here is afraid of heights?” Usually a few folks will raise their hands, but the vast majority don’t. I then qualify the same question by saying, “By afraid, I don’t mean that you are so overcome with fear that you cannot function – only that when you are at height you get a little case of the butterflies…” Then a few more hands will go up, but typically still fewer than half the class. I continue by adding that I’m always am a bit concerned for the folks that didn’t raise their hand as it means one of two things. First, it may be they are not being totally honest, but more concerning to me is they truly are not afraid of heights...and this is scary.

Human beings are born with an innate fear of heights. This is natural, and quite protective. I’m certainly afraid of heights, and I still get butterflies. It’s just that I’ve learned how to get those butterflies to fly in formation, so I can then function just fine at height. The day I climb atop a wind turbine tower or get that first peek over the edge of some serious exposure, and I don’t get that familiar feeling, that’s my sign to hang up my harness and ride the keyboard full time. This feeling is our not-too-subtle reminder that we do not have wings…and it is a healthy reminder!

There is a point to this, and I’m about to get there. Over the years, I've had some students with a serious case of YMIC (young male immortality complex). They will insist that they are not afraid of heights – or anything else, for that matter. I've found, when it comes time to go over the edge while hanging from that skinny little ½” kernmantle rope, backed up with a ½” safety line, our superheroes tend to freeze like the statue of Michelangelo. They won’t budge, can’t speak, or look any direction but down! Most often, these individuals gradually gain trust in their equipment; in the techniques they’ve learned; and perhaps, most importantly, in themselves. While they may never be "comfortable" going over the edge, they can still be valuable members of their rescue team. Some can be very strong in many other rescue skills such as knot tying, rigging, friction control, mechanical advantage, etc. They can also be excellent in logistics, developing action plans and other key areas.

First, know your weaknesses as well as your strengths. Then, identify your weaknesses and strive to make them your strengths.

A second tenet I live by is to enter a rescue knowing that you will be an asset to the effort. But sometimes, it’s not possible to do this, and having an unusual fear of heights may be one of those times. Avoid crossing the line from being an asset to becoming a liability – creating a situation in which your team would then have to deal with “two” victims. This is huge – especially in an emergency. And that’s what this article is all about. 

Before I go any further, a bit about egos. There is simply no room for egos during a rescue. When the call comes in, it’s about one person and one person only, and that is the victim. We all have our pride, but we need to “park it” until everyone, including the victim and the rescuers, are safe and sound. As trained rescuers, we all have something to contribute. Each of us has a role to fill in the rescue effort and be an asset to the overall effectiveness of our team.

So, how do we learn what our best role as a rescuer may be? Here’s one way. Practice as a team in simulated rescues that are scenario driven and mimic the types of rescues that your team may be summoned to perform. It is during these practice sessions that you will discover your strengths and your weaknesses. It is important for ALL team members to honestly critique each other as well as themselves to help determine the best way to fill the different roles on the team.

As your team practices more often, trends will start to surface. One rescuer may be particularly strong at climbing and can rig cleanly and efficiently while hanging from work positioning equipment. Another rescuer may be your “ace in the hole” for rigging anchors. A third may be so good at converting lowering systems to haul systems, that it’s an obvious choice. Then, there may be some that don’t shine at any particular skill, but are reliable haul team members or can run the SAR cart with the best of them.

All teams have a spectrum of performers, whether it’s a football team, a production assembly line or a team of cooks and chefs in a large restaurant. The same holds true for a rescue team. Some of the factors that affect performance may be physical. Let’s face it, our 5’4” 150-pound “Hole Rat” can pass through tight portals and operate in congested confined spaces easier than most 6’ 6” 280-pounders. Sometimes it’s mechanical aptitude. We see it all the time in training rescuers. Some folks have a natural mechanical aptitude and can understand and build rescue systems as if it were second nature, while others struggle to get it right on a consistent basis.

And, yes, a pronounced fear of height that may inhibit a rescuer’s ability to perform effectively at height is yet another factor to consider. Other things include leadership qualities, attention to detail, general physical strength, comfort with breathing air systems, the presence or lack of claustrophobia and the list goes on. The only way to realize and understand these abilities and limitations is to practice as a team – and practice often – while staying attuned to these individual abilities and limits. Understand them and use them to your advantage in determining who is the best fit for the various team member roles on any given rescue effort. And please, please do not take it personally. Again, we all have our pride and want to shine; however, we all can shine as a team! And the best way to shine as a team is to understand, as best we can, where each member best fits and can contribute most.

Remember, so much of rescue is about mechanical systems, safety, victim packaging and other easily defined considerations. As rescuers, I invite you to take it to the next level. Think about the harder-to-define factors such as individual team member skills AND limitations. Help each other as a team arrive at the best mix of the right people in the right positions – and all for the good of the victim!
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New FreeTech™ Harness May Help Delay the Onset of Suspension Trauma!

Friday, August 12, 2016

The new FreeTech™ Harness from Roco & CMC allows the user to safely and easily transfer their body weight into a seated position. Thus, possibly helping to delay the onset of suspension trauma. This figure-8 style fall protection harness integrates the patent-pending SwitchPoint™ System which allows the user to safely and easily transfer  body weight from the dorsal connector on the upper back to the front waist location of the harness. This transfer reorients the user into a seated position.   

Key Features:

• Unique SwitchPoint™ System technology helps prevent suspension trauma
• Comfortable design for extended wear
• Easy to don and doff using the quick release buckles
• Secure quick-connect buckles are fast and simple to adjust
• Contrasting thread colors aid in inspection
• Integrated Fall-Arrest Indicator
• Corrosion-resistant hardware
• Lanyard attachment loop
• Made in USA, of domestic and foreign components
• One size fits most, 130 lb (59 kg) – 310 lb (140 kg)
• UL Classified to ANSI Z359.11

Watch the video below, or to place your order now, click here.

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Roco's New RescueTalk™ Podcast

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

RescueTalk™ Podcasts explore critical topics for technical, industrial and municipal rescue professionals, emergency responders and safety personnel. Learn about confined space rescue, OSHA compliance, NFPA standards, fall protection, trench rescue, off-shore considerations, rescue equipment, training and more. Get it now.
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Q&A: Fall Pro Recert

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

READER QUESTION:
I went through competent person for fall protection several years ago and since that time a lot has changed regarding the types of fall protection equipment and systems that are available. Should I get update training for this role?

ROCO TECH PANEL ANSWER:
Yes, definitely. In fact, ANSI Z359.2 states competent person training update training shall be conducted at least every two years. It is always a great idea for competent persons to stay abreast of not only any legislative changes, but also to stay current on consensus standards such as ANSI, and certainly on emerging equipment technologies. It is amazing how quickly new fall protection equipment is becoming available. It wasn’t long ago that harness mount self-retracting lanyards were just a drawing on an engineer’s desk, and now there are so many different versions it is mind boggling. OSHA’s recognition of suspension trauma as a workplace hazard to fallen suspended authorized persons has created an entire market segment for systems to help deal with this hazard. So receiving update training for this crucial role at least every two years is certainly a great idea.

READER QUESTION:
Can I complete competent person for fall protection training via an on-line course?

ROCO TECH PANEL ANSWER:
We discourage that type of course other than for learning the legislated requirements. There just is no substitute for hands-on training. One of the most important responsibilities of a competent person for fall protection is the performance of periodic equipment inspections. I can’t imagine having any way to show competency of this skill without demonstrating it to a live instructor/evaluator.

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Training to Become a Fall Pro 'Pro' Is a Never-Ending Journey

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Article by Pat Furr, as printed in OH&S, November 2015

Whatever training you attend and complete should be viewed as the launching point to get you started on learning everything you can about fall protection.

Gravity doesn't need to go to school. She is a master at pulling all objects toward the center of our blue planet and has been doing so since the dawn of time. So, yep, she is the grand master. Whereas we mere mortals are still learning how to counter her effects. Part of our learning is how to protect our workers at height from falling into her grasp. And OSHA recognizes we are still learning and thus requires employers to provide appropriate training to protect their workers at height—as well as from the grand master's constant grip.

There are several roles and responsibilities within any comprehensive fall protection program, and there are just as many courses of instruction that provide a baseline of knowledge and skills designed to get the individuals occupying these positions started or to enhance their ability to perform in these roles. But no single course of instruction currently covers, nor will one ever cover, every bit of knowledge needed for every work at height situation.

There is an old joke that goes like this: "What do you call the bottom graduate of medical school?" The answer is, "Doctor, of course."

What does that have to do with fall protection training, you may ask? Well, the rest of the story is that very often that bottom medical school graduate goes on to become a leader in his or her specialty. And that happens because they practice. That's why they call it practicing medicine, I suppose.

So this is where it will begin to make sense. Fall protection training is the beginning and should not and cannot be thought of as the "end all" for whatever role and responsibility for which you are training. Whatever training you attend and complete should be viewed as the launching point to get you started on learning everything you can about fall protection. This includes compliance requirements; fall protection system capabilities and limitations; the dynamics of a fall, including clearance requirements and swing fall; post-fall rescue; and, as importantly, what is the best fit for your Authorized Persons.

Gaining the knowledge and understanding of these and many other facets of fall protection requires continuous self-study and research. It also requires getting out and visiting your facility to find out what the structural geometry is and to learn about the processes, as well as the Authorized Persons' needs and concerns.

During the past 35 years, I have attended training for all sorts of occupational duties, and the one common denominator has been that all of them provide a foundation to build from. For the most part, I felt I could function in the role I was being trained for, but I would equate it to functioning at the "apprentice" or "journeyman" level. I knew I still had much to learn before mastering the task.

This is especially true for fall protection training. To learn every single OSHA requirement regarding fall protection is a very tall order. I don't know of any fall protection Competent Person course that covers it all or would attempt to cover it all. And to know the particular challenges of every location where work is performed at height can only be gained through experience. In order to move toward mastering the craft, it is important to take the initiative to learn beyond the formal training.

However, self-study is so much easier than it was 15 or 20 years ago. The ease of accessing OSHA standards, letters of interpretation, summaries and explanations of final rules, and other OSHA resources pertaining to fall protection on the World Wide Web opens up a wealth of information.

It is also my good fortune that I visit many different client sites where I encounter a smorgasbord of fall protection challenges that provide learning opportunities. Oftentimes, I am able to recite the information nearly verbatim that pertains to the issue, but as often as not, I need to do some research to locate the answer or to refresh my memory once again. This is expected and, in lieu of a photographic memory, there is just too much information to learn and retain with 100 percent accuracy.

With the emerging technologies in manufacturing and design of fall protection equipment and systems, it is often a great learning exercise to visit some of the leading equipment manufacturers' and retailers' online catalogs. It is actually pretty exciting to peruse these sites and see many of these modern solutions. And the equipment isn't limited to lanyards and body support, either: There are solutions such as temporary or permanent retro-fitted guardrail systems, harness mount SRLs, nonpenetrating anchor connectors, temporary user-installed horizontal lifelines, and the list goes on. Inviting a fall protection dealer representative to your site may prove to be very educational and beneficial time spent.

Sharing Lessons Learned

Back in my military days, we had a program known as "CROSSTELL," which was a formal messaging system designed to share lessons learned and to disseminate new ideas or techniques between common users. Within the private sector there are similar programs known as BKP (best known practices) or BKM (best known methods) that often provide a vehicle to share useful information within a common industry or within a single corporation. The warning here is to cross-check the BKM or BKP to ensure it is indeed compliant with any applicable legislated requirements. And if you develop what you feel is a BKM or BKP, don’t be bashful about sharing.

Much of the continuing education we have talked about so far is in "black and white" in the form of regulations or interpretations, or a form of equipment that has accompanying printed user instructions. The intangibles are often the most difficult and dynamic pieces of the puzzle to learn. Getting out into the work environment is a very big part of your ongoing self-education.

Performing a fall hazard survey as outlined in ANSI Z359.2 is a great starting point for learning the various means of protecting workers from falls. Always keeping the hierarchy of fall protection in mind, performing a comprehensive assessment of the known and potential areas for work at height will definitely provide an education. Now is the time to take your knowledge of compliance requirements, the BKM/BKPs, a broad knowledge of the equipment that is available, and then determine what will work best for the configuration of the structure, the environmental conditions, and also through interviewing the workers who will be employing the equipment to learn what their needs are. Will they need equipment that provides a high degree of mobility? Are they concerned about heavy or bulky equipment or exposed to hot working environments? Do they need equipment that can be set up and taken down quickly to facilitate moving from point to point? This can only be determined by talking to and listening to the Authorized Persons and their foremen.

By considering a formal fall protection course of instruction the endpoint for your fall protection training, no matter what capacity you are working in, is doing a disservice to your co-workers and to yourself. Accepting the onus of continuing your "training" through self-study, visiting the equipment offerings, and assessing the working environment and the needs of the workers to do their jobs is all a part of your continuing—ongoing—fall protection education.

About the Author


Pat Furr is a chief instructor, technical consultant and VPP Coordinator for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes, including Confined Space Rescue, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue, Fall Protection, 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 new member of the NFPA 1006 Technical Rescuer Professional Qualifications Standard. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, he served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).

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