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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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How often should I replace my rescue harness?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We get many calls asking about the “life expectancy” of rope, harnesses and other nylon products. Of course, there are many factors involved and no one “set in stone” answer, but a lot depends on how much you use your harness and the ways you use it. Even where you store your gear is a factor. 

For example, for emergency responders working in industrial environments, atmospheric exposures may be a key consideration for nylon products even while in storage. Another consideration is “when” the harness or rope was made… manufacturing parameters change as technology improves and you may just want a product that’s been tested to the latest standards. However, as with all of your rescue equipment, it’s important to account for its use as well as to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.


Never take chances when there’s any doubt about the serviceability of a life safety product. For more details on the service life of nylon products, our harness manufacturer, CMC Rescue, has provided the following information:

The service life of a rescue harness is closely related to the life of a rescue rope – both are used in the same environments, both are made from nylon or polyester, and both receive similar levels of inspection and care. Since harnesses are worn on the body, they are generally better protected than the ropes. On the other hand, harnesses rely on the stitching to hold them together, and due to its small diameter, the thread can be more susceptible to abrasion, aging, and chemical damage than web or rope.

The fall protection industry recommends 2 to 3 years as a service life for a harness or belt in use. They recommend 7 years for the shelf life. The military was using 7 years as a service life for nylon products. The Climbing Sports Group of the Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America says that a climbing harness should last about two years under normal weekend use. At this time, the rescue industry does not have a recommended service life for harnesses.

Through the ASTM consensus standards process, the rescue industry set 10 years as the maximum service life for a life safety rope, see ASTM Standard F1740-02 Guide for Inspection of Nylon, Polyester, or Nylon/Polyester Blend, or both Kernmantle Rope. The guide stresses that the most significant contributing factor to the service life of a rope is the history of use. A rope that is shock loaded or otherwise damaged should be retired immediately. Hard use would call for a shorter service life than would be acceptable for a rope that sees very little use.

If we apply the same analysis to the rescue harness, then the actual use and the conclusions drawn from inspection would be the significant criteria for retirement. We do know that with any use, a rope will age, and thus a harness is likely to do the same, so a 10-year maximum service life may well be appropriate for harnesses as well assuming inspection has not provided any reason for early retirement.

As with ropes, if the harness has been subjected to shock loads, fall loads, or abuse other than normal use, the harness should be removed from service. If there is any doubt about the serviceability of the harness for any reason, it should be removed from service.
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WARNING ABOUT COUNTERFEIT RESCUE GEAR!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Equipment manufacturers are becoming increasingly concerned about substandard equipment making its way into the rescue market. Most often, this equipment is not tested to the appropriate standards and presents a risk to rescuers and end users. We recently received a notice from Petzl concerning Chinese counterfeit versions of their products. Although none have been reported in North America as of yet, it’s something to be aware of and concerned about.

According to the notice, there is a significant risk that these counterfeit Petzl products could open or otherwise fail at low loads and under normal use. The counterfeits do NOT meet UIAA or CE safety standards nor do they meet Petzl’s safety and quality requirements. What’s more, these counterfeit products have been reproduced in a way that makes them very difficult to identify. Design features of several Petzl products (see illustration below) have been reproduced nearly identically – including product markings, color, instructions for use, and packaging.

To avoid these inferior (and potentially unsafe) products, only buy rescue gear from a reputable dealer – it’s simply not worth the risk. If you have any doubt about the authenticity of a product, contact the manufacturer immediately – or call us here at Roco, and we’ll be glad to assist.






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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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