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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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Tigers trump Tide in Bassmaster College Classic

Monday, February 21, 2011

NEW ORLEANS — The Fishing Tigers of Louisiana State University met the Alabama Crimson Tide Sunday morning on Lake Verret, which lies roughly 90 miles west of New Orleans. Roco-sponsored TJ Goodwyn shows off his wares for the LSU Tiger Team. The 2011 Bassmaster Classic will be aired this week-end (Feb 26-27) on ESPN2. The Tide came into the event as reigning champs behind their victory at the inaugural Bassmaster College Classic last year.

However, the Tide proved to be a bit low this year as the Tigers won by more than 8 pounds. 

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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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