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Trench Collapse Fatality: Las Vegas, NM

Friday, June 03, 2011

What does getting struck by a pickup traveling 45 mph and being in the path of a trench wall collapse have in common? The outcome is typically not going to be positive…

A six cubic yard section of trench wall that collapses into an 8 foot deep trench has the weight and speed of a full size pickup traveling 45 mph.

These forces are the reason why a proactive and compliant trench safety program is paramount to your safety as a worker or as a rescuer!

Unfortunately, there was another tragic incident last week in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in which two workers were killed following a trench cave-in. Dirt buried 49-year-old Frank Romero and 32-year-old Gene Hern. The men were installing sewer and water lines in the 8 to 10 foot deep trench. City spokesperson Dave Romero says other workers frantically tried to dig the men out but didn’t make it to them in time. Hern and Romero were pronounced dead on the scene by medical officials.

This serves as another reminder of how important it is to be trained in the proper precautions and dangers of trenches and excavations. Once it happens, it’s too late, there’s no time to prepare. As a first responder, be aware when this type work is going on in your district or response area – don’t take chances, know how to protect yourself. And, if you’re involved with the project from the beginning, preplan each job with the utmost precaution.

According to OSHA, excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous construction operations. This type work presents serious hazards to all workers involved. Cave-ins pose the greatest risk and are much more likely than other excavation-related accidents to result in worker fatalities. Other potential hazards include falls, falling loads, hazardous atmospheres, and incidents involving mobile equipment. The regulation that covers requirements for excavation and trenching operations is OSHA 1926.650.

What’s the difference between an excavation and a trench?
OSHA defines an excavation as any man-made cut, cavity, trench, or depression in the earth’s surface formed by earth removal. This can include excavations for anything from cellars to highways. A trench is defined as a narrow underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide, and no wider than 15 feet (4.5 meters).

Why is it important to preplan the excavation work?
No matter how many trenching, shoring, and back-filling jobs you have done in the past, it is important to approach each new job with the utmost care and preparation. Many on-the-job accidents result directly from inadequate initial planning. Waiting until after the work has started to correct mistakes in shoring or sloping slows down the operation, adds to the cost, and increases the possibility of a cave-in or other excavation failure.

A big part of being safe, is being prepared. Knowing as much as possible about the job or work site and the materials or equipment needed is a best practice. Here are a few things OSHA recommends you consider about the site.

        1. Traffic
        2. Proximity and physical conditions of nearby structures
        3. Soil
        4. Surface and ground water
        5. Location of the water table
        6. Overhead and underground utilities
        7. Weather  conditions

OSHA Excavation and Trenching Standard applies to all open excavations made in the earth’s surface, including trenches. Strict compliance with all sections of the standard will greatly reduce the risk of cave-ins as well as other excavation-related accidents. See the resource below to learn more.
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Toddler Killed in Arkansas Building Collapse

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

As a first responder, it’s your worst nightmare… pulling up to a scene of a building collapse with a woman trapped under a beam screaming out for her child who’s buried in the rubble. That’s what happened yesterday in a small town in Arkansas that’s located about 55 miles west of Little Rock. With an incident like this – or the recent tornados with destruction everywhere in sight – would you know how to make the best use of the tools on your apparatus while waiting for USAR back-up?

Most rescues from collapsed structures are done within the first few hours by local responders – usually before USAR teams can respond. How long do you wait for USAR back-up, and what would you do in the meantime? You already know the structure is unstable, where do you start? Do you know how to protect rescue crews from further collapse as they enter these areas? Could your team handle the job that these responders had to deal with?

It’s a reminder to all of us of how important it is to be prepared for the unexpected. As an emergency responder or team leader, make sure you know how to protect yourself and your team in situations like this. Knowing the proper safety precautions along with simple, practical techniques using tools readily available can make a big difference in the first few minutes of a building collapse emergency.

Reported by Washington Post National

MORRILTON, Ark. — As residents and rescue workers arrived at the scene of a building collapse in central Arkansas, one woman trapped under a beam screamed out for her baby, and rescuers pulled a toddler’s body from the rubble of a century-old building.

Firefighters used everything from backhoes to their bare hands to sift through the wreckage of the two-story brick building hours after 2-year-old Alissa Jones’ body was found in the rubble and authorities had accounted for everyone else inside. At least six other people were injured when the building suddenly collapsed Monday.

Brian Matthews was at his auto detailing shop nearby when he heard the building crumble. When he looked up, “there was nothing but smoke,” he said. He was among those who rushed over and heard a woman screaming, “My baby is still inside.” He and other men pulled bricks and wood off the woman, exposing her injured legs as she continued to cry out.

Matthews said the girl showed no signs of life when would-be rescuers found her in the rubble of a bridal boutique and cosmetic store. Coroner Richard Neal later said the child was dead. The relationship between the woman and the toddler was not immediately clear.

Investigators, including the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, were trying to determine whether ongoing construction at the bridal shop was to blame. “We don’t know how or why they collapsed,” said Brandon Baker, the director of emergency management in Conway County. “We just know it was fast.”

One wall inside the building that remains standing is still a cause for concern, Mayor Stewart Nelson said Tuesday morning. “I’m standing here looking at it,” Nelson said. “It’s been creaking and groaning all night … We’re just waiting for that wall to collapse, too.” He said Monday that people had noticed similar noises at the building in recent days.

Of the 10 people inside the building, Baker said one died and four others were injured. Neal said one of the dead girl’s relatives was among the injured. A local hospital said six people were treated. Christy Hockaday, chief executive of St. Vincent Morrilton, said five of the six were released and the remaining person was in good condition.

Morrilton police resumed looking for any possible victims Tuesday, although they believed everyone was accounted for. Workers inserted tiny cameras into crevices between crumbled bricks to make sure no one else was trapped.

The collapsed building, on a corner in the heart of downtown, forced officials to shut down a portion of the town’s business district. Broken bricks and twisted metal slumped over the street corner where the building once stood. A broken clothes rack showed off a few colorful dresses, mostly untouched by the barrage of debris.

Down the street, Kylie Cole, 32, thought a train from the nearby depot collided with a car when she heard the building collapse. By the time she made it near the stores, all she could see was dust. “We heard people screaming and crying,” she said.
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USAR Update from VA Task Force 1 in Japan

Friday, March 18, 2011

Our thoughts and prayers go to the people of Japan as well as the many incredible personnel involved in the rescue and recovery efforts. Sharon Bulova, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, provided this update on VA Task Force 1, who was deployed to Japan a few days ago.

March 16, 2011 - Last night, I participated in a conference call arranged by Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department with Chief Joe Knerr, co-head of our Urban Search and Rescue Team, VATF-1, in Japan. According to Chief Knerr the nature of the devastation in Ofunato has resulted in no live rescues.

None the less, his team has maintained good spirits, and they are holding out hope that they will find victims. They recognize that with each passing hour, the likelihood of doing so dwindles.

Unlike in Haiti or in other rescue operations, the destruction in Japan has left very few “survivable voids,” which is a space created within a collapsed building that contains enough oxygen and room for people to survive. A Tsunami “wipes everything out, and then takes it out to sea,” Joe said on the call.

VATF-1 is stationed in an elementary school 10 miles from the search area. On Tuesday, with a temperature of 23 degrees and a couple of inches of snow on the ground,VATF-1 searched an area of Ofunato two square kilometers in size, and located eight deceased victims.

Our team and other international rescue teams are under the command of local first responders, in our case the Osaka Fire Department, so many of whom have lost so much. Despite the overwhelming devastation that surrounds them, these brave souls have chosen to lead teams of visitors into the wreckage that was once their homes, their schools and their neighborhoods, and search for signs of life in a sea of destruction.

Our team will remain on the ground until they are told by the Japanese leadership to stop. They are constantly monitoring the radiation levels and using every means available to stay informed of what’s happening. The troubled reactors are to their south, and they are monitoring winds to make sure they avoid any potential problems. They’ve been experiencing some small aftershocks on a regular basis, but Joe joked that the last one was not severe enough to wake his team at 3:15 a.m. local time.

My thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the victims and their families as well as the rescue workers and their families back home waiting for their return.  I also assured the Task Force that the work they are doing makes all of us so proud to call Fairfax County home.

For more information and videos, go to www.fairfaxcounty.gov.
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Grain Storage: Rescuers Beware!

Monday, February 21, 2011

“Two teenagers (ages 14 and 19) were killed in a tragic incident involving a grain elevator in Illinois. Both young workers suffocated after being engulfed in a grain bin they had entered to help clear. A third young worker was pulled out of the storage bin alive, and was hospitalized after being trapped for 12 hours.”

Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence. Researchers at Purdue University documented 38 grain entrapments in 2009 alone. (*)

During recent months, OSHA has issued strong warnings concerning the dangers of grain storage facilities. This article is intended to remind emergency responders, in particular rural firefighters/rescuers, of the special hazards and other rescue considerations when called to the scene of a grain bin or silo accident.

In our rural communities, especially in the “Bread Basket of America,” we continue to see too many accidents involving farm-based and commercial grain bins and silos. The causes of these accidents run the gamut from machinery entanglement to atmospheric/ respiratory hazards and engulfment, just to name a few. However, these same hazards also pose potential threats to the responders who must exercise caution in order to protect themselves and their victim(s) when attempting a rescue.

In fact, OSHA 1910.272 Appendix A recommends that grain handling facility employers coordinate with local Fire Departments for the purpose of preplanning for emergencies. This standard (1910.272) also provides guidance to the facilities to help ensure a safe work environment for employees. Unfortunately, these accidents continue to happen.

So what are some of the hazards and considerations for responders when summoned to this type of rescue? First of all, as with any emergency situation, a thorough “size-up” must be made prior to committing any rescue personnel. Of course, any time confined spaces are involved, an understanding and evaluation of atmospheric hazards is critical to rescuer safety. Don’t allow your responders to become additional victims!

Depending on the product, atmospheric hazards may include airborne combustible dust, oxygen depletion, oxides of nitrogen, fumigants, and in some instances hydrogen sulfide. Therefore, one of the first considerations should be to ventilate the space in an attempt to eliminate the atmospheric hazard(s). If ventilation is not possible or effective, then appropriate PPE or intrinsically safe equipment must be employed. It is also critical for all machinery to be shut down and locked out/tagged out (LO/TO), especially discharge augers and any equipment that may cause vibration.

Let’s look at the scenario where a worker becomes engulfed while working on top of the grain. OSHA requires that workers walking on grain wear a body harness that is tied off with a restrain line unless it can be demonstrated that there is no engulfment hazard. It is also recommended that the worker be attached to a winch to aid in retrieval should they become engulfed. Unfortunately, there are many instances where these provisions are neglected and thus the worker becomes partially or fully engulfed with no immediate means of rescue.

Engulfment can occur due to a number of conditions. Walking down grain while the outlet auger is running is a recipe for disaster. It is shocking how quickly moving grain can engulf a worker. The funneling effect of moving grain is just something that a worker will not be able to outrun. It is forbidden for employees to walk down grain with the auger running and not using LO/TO.

A second situation that may lead to engulfment is breaking through “grain bridges.” Grain bridges develop when the top layer of grain becomes encrusted or freezes and the outlet of the grain below forms a pocket or void below the bridge. Employees and rescuers should always probe the surface of the grain with a rod to detect the presence of bridging to prevent this type of engulfment. Even wearing a harness and restraint line can lead to an engulfment if the bridge collapses while the individual is several feet laterally from their tie-off point.

A third way workers or rescuers may become engulfed is due to product avalanche. This occurs when product builds up on the walls of the bin and releases while the worker or rescuers are in the bin. For the responder that is called to a grain bin engulfment, one option of rescue is to cut outlet holes in several places on the outside wall of the structure just below the level of the victim. This will rapidly drain the product out and away from the victim. However, this may prove difficult if access to the required level of the bin is not readily available.

Another option is to remove the material from around the victim by using whatever means possible, including vacuum hoses, shovels, scoops, or buckets. Keep in mind that if rescuers enter the bin and are working on the surface, they also need to wear harnesses and restraint, preferably with a means of immediate retrieval. Avoid using self-retracting lifelines (SRL) as the quicksand effect of the grain may not cause a fast enough drop to activate the brake of the SRL.

To distribute the weight of the rescuer(s) and help prevent sinking into the product, consider using ladder sections placed on the surface of the grain. It is also imperative to use some type of cofferdam structure either manufactured specifically for this type of rescue or improvised using sheets of plywood or even backboards to prevent the material from filling back in around the victim as you dig them out. For a victim that is engulfed in a vertical or near vertical posture, a “rescue tube” (see video below) is a great option and comes in sections that are easily passed through the bin opening and can be assembled right at the victim’s location.

Typically, once a victim is buried mid-thigh to waist deep, they cannot escape without assistance. Fatalities from engulfment are usually suffocation due to blockage of the breathing passages with grain – even the partially engulfed victim may succumb to mechanical asphyxiation due to restricted movement of their chest walls and diaphragm.

In the case of cold grain engulfment, consider treating the victim for hypothermia as the material draws body warmth through conduction instead of convection. For the victim that is rescued after being engulfed in cold grain, continue resuscitation efforts even if they have no signs of life, similar to treating cold water drowning. In fact, OSHA reports of a near tragedy that occurred in February when a worker was trapped in soybeans up to his chest in 25 degree weather. Fortunately, he was ultimately rescued after a four-hour ordeal.

The bottom line for emergency responders… these types of rescues are time and labor intensive; it’s a slow and tedious process. What’s more, the probability of accessing the victims through elevated portals will often require the use of a ladder truck or high angle rope rescue once the victim is removed from the engulfment unless they are able to climb down on their own.

Also, take heed when performing the initial scene assessment. One of the first things to try to determine is “what happened to the victim?” (i.e., mechanism of injury). Stop and ask, “What do I need to do to keep this from happening to me?” Don’t end up in the same predicament as the victim – your personal safety and that of other responders is always paramount.

To summarize, rural firefighters/rescuers should be prepared by paying a visit to representative grain handling facilities in their response area. Become familiar with the types of hazards, equipment and machinery that may be encountered and the types of rescues that may be required. This preplanning may reveal the need for specialized training or equipment to help ensure that responders are capable, and most importantly adequately protected, when the emergency call for assistance is received.

(*) Excerpt from OSHA letter, dated August 4, 2010. Click here to read entire letter with additional incidents.
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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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