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Has emergency response improved since 9/11?

Monday, September 26, 2011

We recently read an article from the NFPA Journal about the improvements that have been made since 9/11. Out of this tragedy came some very hard lessons learned – from an emergency response standpoint as well as national security and building codes, especially for high-rise structures. Are we better prepared? Is your department better equipped today for acts of terrorism or natural disaster? Has communications improved among responding agencies? Are you better trained as an emergency responder? An article in the September/October 2011 issue of the NFPA Journal cites three main areas that have improved as a direct result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

These improvements include: (1) interoperability for emergency responders; (2) high-rise building safety; and, (3) emergency preparedness. Staff Writer Fred Durso Jr. cites several NFPA standards developed or enhanced based on the lessons learned from the response, such as the need for an “all-hazards” approach. For example, NFPA 1981, a standard about SCBAs for emergency services, now requires these respiratory products to protect against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents.

NFPA 1851, a standard about protective ensembles for structural and proximity firefighting, now covers cleaning and decontamination of the PPE, and NFPA 1561, Emergency Services Incident Management System, requires using “clear text” terminology during an incident instead of radio codes.

He cites several NFPA standards developed or enhanced based on the lessons learned from the response, such as the need for an all-hazards approach. For example, NFPA 1981, a standard about SCBAs for emergency services, now requires these respiratory products to protect against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents. NFPA 1851, a standard about protective ensembles for structural and proximity firefighting, now covers cleaning and decontamination of the PPE, and NFPA 1561, Emergency Services Incident Management System, requires using “clear text” terminology during an incident instead of radio codes, Durso writes.

NFPA’s High-Rise Building Safety Advisory Committee, formed in 2004, developed proposals for NFPA’s Fire Code, Life Safety Code, and Building Construction and Safety Code to implement recommendations from the NIST investigations (published in 2005 and 2008) into why three of the World Trade Center buildings collapsed after the 9/11 attacks. One change in NFPA 5000, the Building Construction and Safety Code, specifies wider exit stairs when a cumulative occupant load of 2,000 or more people is expected to use them, he writes.

NFPA 1600, the standard for disaster/emergency management and business continuity, has been available free since 2005; the 2010 edition is now available (click here to download). NFPA is developing a program to train people who are charged with auditing private-sector programs that use the 1600 standard, according to the article.

The National Fire Protection Association and the International Code Council, whose model building and fire codes are the blueprint for most U.S. communities, followed most of the 9/11 investigators’ recommendations. They made significant changes in the 2009 and the upcoming 2012 codes, which apply to new high-rise buildings.

The national code improvements include glow-in-the-dark exit markings in stairways; a third or fourth stairway depending on the building’s height; greater separation between those stairways to lessen the chance of a single calamity disabling all of them; stickier, more robust fire-proofing, with inspections to ensure its proper application; backup water supplies for sprinklers; impact-resistant walls around elevator and stairwell shafts; fortified elevators that firefighters and, in some cases, occupants can use in an emergency; stricter and more consistent fire-resistance standards for skyscrapers’ structural components; radio amplifiers that help rescuers better communicate inside buildings; and improved emergency evacuation plans and disaster drills.

 


Illustration by William Neff, John Mangels.

Referring to the image above:

a) More, better sprinklers - must cover all floors, with backup water supply in case the primary system fails.

b) Tougher windows – panels laminated with clear, adhesive film or backed up with Kevlar curtains to prevent flying shards in case of explosion.

c) Spread-out utilities – piping and mechanical equipment for water, electric power, telephone, and air conditioning ducts to be put in separate locations so a single explosion doesn’t take out all systems at once.

d) Structural improvements – to lessen the risk of progressive collapse, additional support columns for redundancy; diagonal bracing to transfer loads if a column fails; improved fireproofing materials; no open web bar trusses, which collapse easily in a fire.

e) Non-obvious obstacles - rather than ugly walls and Jersey barriers, designers employ mix of planters, decorative fencing and benches, to deter car bombers.

f) Added distance – building is set back at least 50-10o feet from street, to blunt blast impact.

g) Access control – building entrances equipped with fingerprint or retina scanners, facial recognition cameras, card readers, metal detectors, explosives sniffers and other screening devices.

h) Blast protection – lower level support columns encased in concrete; exterior walls reinforced with steel plates and backed with Kevlar fabric to absorb explosion energy from a car or truck bomb.

g) Protected Deliveries – mail room and loading docks – where bombs may enter – should be hardened and isolated from critical building systems.

h) Ventilation protection – air-intake shafts should be at least 20 feet above ground level to reduce chances of noxious gases getting inside.

i) Stairwell improvements – minimum of 3 per floor, separated by at least 30 feet; branching at lower floors to allow multiple exits from building; should have fire and impact resistant concrete walls; high-flow ventilation to remove smoke; battery powered emergency lights and loud speakers; luminous paint guide strips and signs in case of power failure; extra wide 66- inch stairs to accommodate evacuees and rescuers.

j) Shielded elevator - building lifts should be shielded from impact with fire resistant shafts and fitted with waterproof electronics, so they can be used to evacuate occupants in fire or blast emergencies.

k) Reliable communication - internal antennas will allow fire and police radios to work throughout the building.

As the fire service began to rebuild and recover from 9/11, departments large and small across the country evaluated their level of preparedness and found it lacking according to an article by Bob Vaccaro,who has more than 30 years of fire-service experience. A key factor in enhancing preparedness was increased funding from DHS and grants from the AFG and SAFER programs.

Thanks to this funding, many municipalities have been able to upgrade apparatus, radio communications and personal protective equipment. We’ve seen decon units and WMD trailers with caches of equipment purchased and stored in various areas of the country. Post-9/11 funding also helped some poorer areas purchase much-needed apparatus. For some departments, it was their first new apparatus in many years; for others, it was their first-ever new rig.

Radio communications and wireless communications have improved vastly since 9/11. Many large cities and counties have purchased command vehicles and have learned and practiced the incident command system. Although we’ve by no means solved the problem of all agencies being able to talk to one another, significant advances have been made.

References:
Occupational Health & Safety
Cleveland.com
Fire Fighter Nation
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Rescue Robot from DOE Lab

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Chilean and Pike River mine disasters in 2010 revealed the dangers and difficulties faced in extracting those trapped beneath the earth. The earthquakes and hurricanes on the east coast of the US this month are an indication that extrication training and resources have never been needed more. Structural collapse, trench rescue and extrication from confined spaces (including mine incidents) have a common element. Many have unknown dangers: poisonous gases, flooded tunnels, explosive vapors, unstable structures… all obstacles that can significantly slow rescue operations.

Roco offers core classes in Extrication, like Trench and Structural Collapse. All Roco courses offer hands-on training from human instructors. When we  found this article about recent technological developments in robotics, we were compelled to share.

Sandia National Laboratories robotics researchers showed off their Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot at the Unmanned Systems North America 2011 conference in Washington, D.C., in mid-August. According to Sandia’s news release, the Gemini-Scout Mine Rescue Robot has been designed to negotiate hazardous conditions encountered after an underground mine disaster, and report findings so that rescuers can be more prepared. NIOSH funded the robot’s development for the past three years, and MSHA is likely to be the primary customer, they said.

“We have designed this robot to go in ahead of its handlers, to assess the situation and potential hazards and allow operations to move more quickly,” said Jon Salton, Sandia engineer and project manager. “The robot is guided by remote control and is equipped with gas sensors, a thermal camera to locate survivors, and another pan-and-tilt camera mounted several feet up to see the obstacles we’re facing.”

Less than 4 feet long and 2 feet tall, Gemini-Scout can navigate around tight corners and over safety hatches a foot high. It can carry food, air packs, and medicine to trapped workers and is equipped with two-way radios. It can be configured to drag survivors to safety.

The use of technology in rescue is becoming more and more common. As all good rescue pros know, you can never be too prepared. If the use of robotics can detect hazards in a timely manner, before loss of life, we’re all for it. Research, development and the test of time will tell the story. Great inspiration!

Image: Randy Montoya
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Princeton rescue squad member dies from injuries sustained in Hurricane Irene rescue attempt

Monday, August 29, 2011

Princeton Township, NJ-The sad news of a rescue squad member losing his life in Hurricane Irene reminds us of the courage it takes to serve others, and the dangers that are faced in the line of duty. A Princeton First Aid and Rescue squad member who was swept away in swift moving flood waters while attempting to search a submerged car during Hurricane Irene has died from his injuries, police said this morning.

Michael Kenwood, 39, had been hospitalized since he was pulled from the water early Sunday with undisclosed injuries. He is the fifth person to have been killed by the storm in New Jersey and the first reported death in Mercer County.

Kenwood, a member of the squad’s swift water rescue team, was dispatched to the area of Rosedale Road near Johnson Park at 4 a.m. Sunday to investigate a submerged car, according to Greg Paulson, deputy director of the squad. It was feared someone was trapped in the car, but it was later determined to be empty.

Kenwood was tied to another rescuer and entered the water, but they quickly realized the current was too strong and attempted to turn back when one of the men fell, Paulson said. The two men were tied to a line being tended by other rescue squad members on the shore, but they came free from the line.

Kenwood was swept away and later pulled from the water by a first aid backup team, Paulson said.

Reported by NJ.com
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Confined Space Fatality Follow-up

Monday, August 29, 2011

Here’s a follow up to a Confined Space Fatality story we published earlier this year. One of the injured persons (a “would be” rescuer and co-worker of the initial victim) remains hospitalized since January. According to a Cal/OSHA Chief, “it is unfortunately common for other employees to be injured or killed while attempting impromptu rescue of the initial victim.” In fact, NIOSH states that prior to enactment of the permit-required confined space regulation, 60% of all fatalities in confined space incidents where multiple fatalities occurred were “would-be” rescuers.

This article also addresses the importance of proper planning for confined space operations. These incidents continue to happen all too often when workers aren’t properly trained to deal with the hazards of confined spaces and the appropriate actions to take prior to entering a space – especially if a co-worker is already down. Keep in mind, most likely, there’s something very wrong in the space! As a rescuer, or a “would be” rescuer/co-worker, don’t rush into a confined space. You must protect yourself first!

Cal/OSHA fines prominent pharmaceutical firm $371,000 for safety violations leading to worker fatality

Los Angeles – Cal/OSHA issued eleven citations totaling $371,250 to Baxter Healthcare Corporation dba Baxter Bioscience this week for deliberate and willful workplace safety violations which resulted in the death of one of their technicians and serious injury of two others. The violations included four willful citations, indicating intentional violation or knowledge of a violation. Baxter has 15 business days to appeal or pay the citations. “We will not tolerate employers who intentionally sacrifice the safety of their workers,” said DIR Acting Director Christine Baker. “Our goal is to prevent these needless tragedies and ensure employers live up to their responsibility of protecting their workers.”

On January 21, Baxter technician Henry Astilla, 33, collapsed when he entered a seven foot deep, 6,000 liter tank in which nitrogen gas was being bubbled through plasma as part of a protein extraction process. Air in the tank had been displaced by the nitrogen gas resulting in an oxygen deficient atmosphere in the tank. Cal/OSHA regulations require employers to have special protective procedures in place prior to the entrance by employees into these types of confined spaces. In this case, the employer had not tested the atmosphere prior to entrance to insure there was sufficient oxygen, which led to Astilla’s death.

Cal OSHA’s investigation further revealed that when Astilla was discovered, a supervisor ordered two other employees to enter the tank and retrieve him, without testing the atmosphere of the tank or providing proper equipment and other safeguards necessary for a safe rescue. As a result, Astilla died and the two employees sent to retrieve him were seriously injured. One remains hospitalized since January.

“The hazards of working in confined spaces are well documented and this is a classic example of the kind of injury that occurs when employers fail to adequately protect their employees,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Ellen Widess. “When confined space operations are not properly planned, it is unfortunately common for other employees to be injured or killed while attempting impromptu rescue of the initial victim.”

Cal/OSHA determined that Baxter’s confined space program failed to comply with all requirements, including appropriate atmospheric testing, protective equipment as well as rescue equipment and procedures. Baxter Bioscience is a multi-national pharmaceutical company with a Los Angeles plant located in Atwater Village. The facility is the largest of its kind in the nation, utilizing advanced technology to produce plasma proteins.

The citations Cal/OSHA issued this week included one classified as general and ten classified as serious, four of which were classified as willful. Willful classifications are issued when an employer either commits an intentional violation and is aware that it violates a safety law, or when an employer is aware that an unsafe or hazardous condition exists and makes no reasonable effort to eliminate the hazard.
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A Special Tribute…

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

With last week’s tragic helicopter crash, our nation suffered a tremendous loss. Having provided training for these special teams for more than ten years, we know first-hand the dedication and commitment these individuals have to our country and our freedom. Because of this, ROCO has supported the Special Operations Warrior Foundation for many years now and is very committed to its cause, which is to support the families of these brave individuals. We feel that the BEST thing we can do now is to pray for these families and HELP support their children’s education. We hope you will take a look and pass the word.

The mission of Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF) is to provide a college education to every child who has lost a parent while serving in Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Special Operations during an operational or training mission. Because the SOWF will add as many children to the program from last week’s helicopter crash as it normally does in an entire year, we wanted to bring your attention to this most worthy organization.

The SOWF Board of Directors decided earlier this week that the Warrior Foundation will offer full college scholarships to the children of ALL of the American servicemen who perished in the recent CH-47 helicopter crash in Afghanistan.  “This was a tragic day for our military and our families. While the majority of personnel onboard the CH-47 were special operators, and they are automatically covered by the foundation, we wanted to offer our services to all who were on that fateful mission,” said retired Air Force Col. John T. Carney, Jr., the foundation’s president.

The Warrior Foundation is in the process of contacting all of the families affected by this tragedy to inform them about the SOWF college program, which provides funds for a full post-secondary education, including tuition, books, fees, room and board and a computer and printer. Currently, the SOWF has 144 children of fallen Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps special operations personnel enrolled in colleges and universities across the country; and 182 students have graduated via SOWF scholarships. The foundation has pledged to provide a college education for another 600 boys and girls who are not yet college age.

Because the SOWF expects to add many children to the scholarship program from last week’s loss of 30 U.S. servicemen, your donation would not only be a fitting tribute to these brave and selfless warriors, but help ensure their sons and daughters are among those who receive the education that their fallen parents would have wanted them to have.

Click to donate – thank you!
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Is your team ready for a 750-ft cell tower rescue?

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Burleson (TX) Fire Department recently got a chance to put their skills (and stamina)to the test when they rescued a worker from atop a 750-ft cell tower. It sounds like they did a great job, and serves as an important reminder of the challenges these towers can pose to local emergency responders. Preplanning for this type of incident is critical – especially when it occurs in the middle of summer! Temperatures were 100+ degrees at the time of the dramatic rescue.

In situations like this, rescuers not only need the proper technical skills and equipment for a rescue of this intensity, but also adequate manning for such a physically demanding endeavor.

Here are a few things to keep in mind. Rescue rope is heavy, especially when climbing a 700-plus foot vertical face in extreme heat. Hydrate, or you run the risk of crossing the line from asset to liability. Be willing to adapt as needed – for example, you may need additional manpower just to deal with the weight of the rope. Plan for the unexpected – the worker had removed his harness!

Hopefully, if faced with a situation like this, you will have personnel who are trained, equipped and physically able to deal with it. Fortunately, it was a great outcome for this team. However, let’s not miss the opportunity to learn from their experience and be prepared if we get this type of call!

Visit Fox's website to read the story and view a video from this heroic rescue.
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First Nationwide Emergency Alert System Test Planned

Thursday, August 04, 2011

FEMA and the FCC will conduct the first “nationwide” test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. Eastern time. The test may last up to three and a half minutes, FEMA announced. The test will involve broadcast radio and television stations, cable TV, satellite radio and TV services, and wireline video service providers in all states and the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. The two agencies said this test will help the federal partners and EAS participants determine the reliability of the system and its effectiveness at notifying the public of critical information that could save lives and protect property.

“Because there has never been an activation of the Emergency Alert System on a national level, FEMA views this test as an excellent opportunity to assess the readiness and effectiveness of the current system,” according to Damon Penn, FEMA’s assistant administrator of National Continuity Programs. “It is important to remember that the Emergency Alert System is one of many tools in our communications toolbox, and we will continue to work on additional channels that can be a lifeline of information for people during an emergency.

“The upcoming national test is critical to ensuring that the EAS works as designed,” said Jamie Barnett, chief of FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. “As recent disasters here at home and in Japan have reminded us, a reliable and effective emergency alert and warning system is key to ensuring the public’s safety during times of emergency. We look forward to working with FEMA in preparation for this important test.”

(as reported in OH&S; Jun 09, 2011)
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Valero’s Measure of Success: Safety

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Valero Energy Corporation pledges “consistent, high-quality products” but its most important measure of success is the “health and safety of its employees, contractors, customers and neighbors.” So, it’s no surprise that Valero sends its rescue teams to the Roco Challenge. One Valero team member professed that while Roco’s Rescue Challenge was indeed “very challenging,” he also added that his team benefited from the communication, leadership, safety awareness, problem-solving experience and teamwork.

Valero invests in emergency preparedness and response training to ensure that employees are prepared to respond quickly to any emergency. The company is committed to “frequent training for all personnel in emergency management, incident command and tactical operations.”

Each of Valero’s four rescue teams, one for each of their shifts, completes quarterly training that covers IPE’s (Individual Performance Evaluations), TPE’s (Team Performance Evaluations), High Angle Rescue, Confined Space Rescue and Team Building.

With its recordable-injury rate among the lowest in the industry, the Valero teams have been fortunate not to have to use their skills in a real rescue,  but without a doubt will be ready in case an emergency arises.
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Back In Beaumont for Industrial Rescue I/II

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Here’s an “ON THE ROAD” segment by Roco Chief Instructor and Director of Training, Dennis O’Connell.

I just got back from Beaumont, Texas, where I taught our new 50-hour Industrial Rescue I/II. In this class, we focus on preparing responders for the unique challenges of industrial rescue – whether you’re a member of an industrial team or a municipal firefighter who may respond to plants or manufacturing facilities.

And if you’ve taken ROCO classes in the past couple of years, you know we’re constantly updating our techniques and equipment as we try to find safer and more efficient ways to do rescue.

It’s been a number of years since ROCO has conducted training in Beaumont and it was good to be back. The BEST Complex offers excellent facilities for industrial and municipal emergency response training – both in firefighting and rescue. The multiple confined space props and 6-story training tower make it an ideal place to conduct high angle and confined space rescue classes. These training props give students realistic anchoring and industrial confined space rescue situations that enhance the techniques taught during the class.

Roco’s Industrial Rescue I/II class provides rescue skills and techniques to handle the vast majority of rescues a team would face in a plant or refinery. The class covers both inert rescue procedures as well as on-air IDLH entry rescue. The first three days are dedicated to skills and techniques while the last two include a variety of scenario-based exercises using the skills learned. One of the nice things about the Beaumont facility is the ability to practice rescues from all six types of confined spaces as referenced in OSHA 1910.146 as well as practicing rescue from height which is often overlooked during confined space training.

This particular class consisted of a mix of firefighters and industrial plant and refinery workers – some brand new to the rescue world and others with a lot of experience. Some of the more experienced rescuers took the class as a “back to basics” review and to meet their annual “confined space types practice” for the year. However, even the experienced rescuers in the class found a few new ways to use the equipment and get the job done.

Most of the students were from the local Beaumont-Port Arthur area, but we did have students from other parts of Texas and some as far away as Alaska. I think the Alaskans were ready to head back to the “minus 30 degree” weather north of the Arctic Circle after experiencing a week of temperatures hovering around 100 degrees!
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Roco Teams Up with BEST in Southeast Texas

Monday, June 20, 2011

Roco Rescue, Inc. and the Beaumont Emergency Services Training Complex (BEST Complex) have announced a partnership to deliver more options in rescue training for fire departments and industry.

In addition to open-enrollment rescue training, Roco’s private courses will also be available.

Upcoming Roco events scheduled at BEST include:

Oct 5-6,  2011 – Rescue Challenge
Dec 5-8, 2011 – Rescue IV-Advanced Rescue Scenarios

The partnership marks a return for Roco to the Southeast Texas facility. For many years, BEST (the former Beaumont Fire/Rescue Training Center) provided a great venue for Roco’s rope rescue and confined space training programs. The location is convenient and economical for many clients in the Texas industrial corridor and surrounding states.

Based on the early success of the partnership, both Roco and BEST say they will be adding more dates and courses to the 2012 open-enrollment training schedule. New offerings will include Confined Space, High Angle, Structural Collapse and Trench Rescue. This will provide additional training options for municipal and industrial rescue teams in the area. It’s a win-win-win.

For more information about Roco training at the BEST facility, contact  Aimee Sims at Roco (800-647-7626).
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