Roco Rescue



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.

Occupational Health & Safety
Fire Fighter Nation
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Proper Training Required: Why it’s so important!

Monday, August 08, 2011

In this article, we want to provide some background on our experiences with users of rescue equipment, and why we feel proper training is so important.  In the past 30 years, we’ve had the honor of having thousands of students attend our rescue training classes.  Attitudes toward the statement “Do not use this equipment without proper training!” runs the gamut. It goes from “I never read the instructions,” to “I read, understand, and follow them to the T.” As our students come in all shapes, sizes, experience levels, attitudes, and needs, this is understandable.  However, there’s one common denominator, they have come to us for training – and that’s our critical role.

In many cases, an entire rescue team will show up for training with all their rescue gear in tow. They will then tell us that they have never received training on, nor really understand the proper use of their equipment.

So, it really boils down to this – what are the advantages of receiving training on the proper use of the equipment?

Obviously, the primary concern is safety – safety of the users and the rescue subjects. Another critical point includes using the equipment contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions, which can lead to questions of liability. While some manufacturers provide complete and “easy to understand” instructions for use of their equipment, others provide just enough to get the box open.

Note:  While it’s not an NFPA 1983 requirement, most manufacturers do include a statement concerning proper training prior to use.  In fact, there is no NFPA requirement that instructions for use be provided by the manufacturer.

Here are some important questions to consider

What are the working load limitations of the item?  If the gear is used for both planned work activities and for rescue activities, the maximum working loads may be different depending on the application.  In some cases, additional rigging configurations are required for exceptional uses and heavy loads.
What are the effects of using the equipment in a variety of configurations? Are there load multipliers involved in certain configurations that need to be addressed? What are the effects of eccentric loads on the equipment?  Many equipment items are to be used in static load applications only, and can be damaged or catastrophically fail if subjected to dynamic loads.  Oftentimes these issues are not addressed in the user manual, but may be a need to know and understand consideration.

Also, using the item as part of a system may not be covered in the user manual.  It’s important to understand this so that the equipment can be used to its full advantage – and to make sure it’s not subjected to unacceptable loads when used in a system.  Many times the user manual provides bare bones instructions for use and doesn’t cover any instruction for use as part of a system. Nor does it cover the precautions for use as part of a system.

While it seems that more and more manufacturers are moving towards pre-built, engineered systems, it’s not always feasible (or advantageous) to use a pre-built system. However, it is very common to use multiple bits of hardware, software, and rope to create a “build-as-you-go” system that’s appropriate for the job.  Without receiving the proper training on the compatibility of components used in a system, the user may be creating an unsafe condition or missing out on an opportunity for a more efficient solution. Or, miss out on the expanded use of equipment they already have in their cache.

In addition, more rescue gear is being designed to perform multiple functions.  It’s not uncommon for us to hear students say something like, “Wow, I didn’t know it could do that, too!”  Items that are put into the rescue equipment cache with the belief that it is designed to perform one function only, may be another opportunity lost.

Needless to say, we are big advocates of multifunction equipment.  This provides for a smaller, lighter, and quite possibly less expensive rescue equipment cache. It also provides the ability to adapt a given rescue plan and shift the role of the equipment from one function to another.  Typically, there are opportunities to use equipment in a manner that it can be quickly converted from one function to another as part of the plan.  Without the proper training, this may not be obvious by simply reading the user manual.

Finally, how clear is the user manual in explaining criteria for inspection and removal from service?  Depending on what’s provided by the manufacturer (i.e., text and graphics), a piece of equipment may require additional training for the proper inspection points and reasons for taking it out of service.

With that said, we hope it’s perfectly clear that the statement, “proper training is required prior to use” should be taken to heart. It always saddens us to hear of incidents where rescuers are hurt or injured while training for, or in the performance of their duties…especially when the root cause is listed as inadequate training.  Hopefully, you are seeking quality training from a reputable training institution on the proper use of your equipment.  Not just to satisfy a liability issue, but to keep your rescuers safe.  It also allows them to understand and take full advantage of the equipment in their rescue cache – keeping it safe, simple, and effective!
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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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What’s the talk about individual retrieval lines?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Because it is important to keep our readers and students updated, we wanted to share the following information with you. Please note that this issue is not resolved as of this time, and we have a letter submitted to OSHA for clarification. However, we wanted to keep you in the loop so that you can make better decisions when it comes to your rescue preplanning and operations.

It has recently come to our attention that there is a pending OSHA Letter of Interpretation (LOI) regarding the requirement for an “individual retrieval line” for each entrant. This pending interpretation is different from our understanding of what’s required by the regulation (1910.146). While this particular technique is one option of providing external retrieval, there are other alternatives currently being used by rescuers.

As mentioned above, Roco has submitted a detailed letter to OSHA for a clarification, stating our position that the use of individual lines for entrants in all cases is problematic for a number of reasons. Although OSHA’s response in its letter of interpretation is ambiguous as to its applicability to entry rescue operations, in our commitment to follow the intent of all OSHA standards, Roco is assuming that OSHA’s response was intended to apply to all entries, including rescue entries. Therefore, we will teach and use “individual lines” for the time being until we get further clarification from OSHA.

Question to OSHA:
In a request for clarification, a gentleman from Maryland had asked this question, “Does OSHA 1910-146 (k)(3) require that each individual entrant, including workers and/or rescuers, entering into a confined space be provided with an independent retrieval line or can more than one entrant be connected to a single retrieval line?”

OSHA’s Response:
OSHA’s response in the LOI states, “OSHA 1910.146(k)(3)(i) requires that each authorized entrant into a permit-required confined space must have a chest or full-body harness attached to their ‘individual’ retrieval line or life line to ensure immediate rescue of the entrant.”

Roco Note: It is important to note that “individual” retrieval line is not used in (k)(3)(i); it simply refers to “a” retrieval line. The standard states, “Each authorized entrant shall use a chest or full body harness, with a retrieval line attached at the center of the entrant’s back near shoulder level, above the entrant’s head, or at another point….”

Additional Roco Comments:
First of all, OSHA’s Permit-Required Confined Spaces Standard is, for the most part, a “performance-based” standard, meaning that it generally provides a result that is to be met, but leaves the manner by which that result is to be obtained to the judgment of the employer. This is particularly true of the rescue and retrieval requirements, as the specific circumstances and conditions of each entry or rescue will dictate what equipment and techniques may be required. However, this pending Letter of Interpretation (LOI) regarding the use of retrieval lines in Confined Spaces crosses over into the area of specific equipment and techniques that must be used.

Consistent with the performance-based nature of the standard, Roco has taught for years a technique that uses a single retrieval line for multiple entrants as an option to reduce line entanglement hazards during a rescue. The use of this technique was based on testimony given to OSHA prior to the Permit Required Confined Spaces Standard (29CFR 1910.146) being published, and indeed our interpretation of the intent of the standard. The particular technique in question is a common practice for rescuers in which one retrieval line is used and multiple entrant/rescuers are attached at different intervals with butterfly knots to reduce entanglement hazards during a rescue (see example below.)

This pending interpretation would put restraints on techniques used by rescuers when entanglement issues could be a problem. It would result in the management of multiple retrieval lines in the space which could affect the effectiveness of the rescue or result in an increased danger to the entrants and/or rescuers. In effect, this OSHA interpretation could cause an “all or nothing” response regarding the use of retrieval lines for rescuers and entrants. This LOI would eliminate the opportunity of using an external rescue technique for certain situations.

Paragraph (k)(3)  allows entrants to forgo using a retrieval line in certain situations –
“To facilitate non-entry rescue, retrieval systems or methods shall be used whenever an authorized entrant enters a permit space, unless the retrieval equipment would increase the overall risk of entry or would not contribute to the rescue of the entrant.”

The technique in question is an option that falls between each individual having an “individual” retrieval line, and having to opt out of using a retrieval line at all, and it allows for external retrieval to still be an option in many cases. And, as most of you know from personal experience, for most confined space portals only one individual can pass through at a time anyway. Even with multiple retrieval lines, it is still a “one at a time” event.  A shared retrieval line allows the same to take place.

It is Roco’s position that the rescue and retrieval techniques used in rescue should be performance based to allow for the ever-changing conditions and problems that are unique to rescue. We also feel this pending LOI could affect the safety and ability of rescuers to adjust to these situations. However, until this issue is clarified, Roco will not teach or use the technique of having multiple rescuers/entrants attached to the same retrieval line in consecutive order using midline knots as their attachment points.
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