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Behind the Scenes of Seattle’s New Fitness Program for Firefighters Q&A with Lieutenant Frank Brennan

Wednesday, January 16, 2019
by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator 

Welcome readers to the first installment of “Roco Chats with the Experts”. My name is Pat Furr and today we are honored to have Lieutenant Frank Brennan of the Seattle Fire Department share his thoughts on the importance of technical rescuers being physically fit.

In this article, you’ll learn about a new physical fitness training program implemented by the technical rescue company at the Seattle Fire Department, and ideas that may help you start a fitness program with your own team – whether you’re a municipal firefighter or a member of an emergency response or firefighting team at an industrial facility.

Frank has been with the fire department in Seattle, Washington for 27 years and has spent all but a few years of that time on the rescue company. The rescue company is trained and equipped to provide public safety dive, tunnel and rebreather, tower, rope rescue, structural collapse, trench, confined space, commercial and machinery entrapment rescue. The company cadre also delivers structural collapse training to the three-county area. Frank sits on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committees (1006 and 1670), the bodies that set standards for firefighter training and safety, and he was directly involved with the recent revisions to these standards. He is also a Rescue Team Manager on WATF-1 USAR Task Force and is a member of the Seattle FD Aviation Team.

When I asked Frank if he would consider contributing to our inaugural “Chat with the Experts” he enthusiastically agreed but with one point of clarification, and that is, he doesn’t consider himself an expert. So, I will attest to the fact that Frank is a lifelong student of his trade and is a true craftsman.

Pat Furr: Welcome Frank, and thank you for taking the time to discuss this topic with us. In my 38 years of being involved with various types of technical rescue, it is obvious to me that there are several elements that make a great rescuer and rescue team. First and foremost is quality training, both initial and continuing training specific to the type of rescue that may be required. Then there is equipment selection, and we both know that there are numerous tools available to today’s rescuers.

But one thing that I am afraid gets overlooked is the overall physical fitness of our rescuers. I’ve always had the philosophy that when we show up to the scene of a rescue, we are assets. I do not want to have any deficiencies that would cause my value as an asset to become a liability. That applies to training, leadership, and equipment, but in several cases, it may be due to a lack of physical fitness. Do you see any signs that some rescuers may not be as fit perhaps as they should be?

Frank Brennan: Pat, it’s hard to speak for anyone else, but I know that I personally have come up against the hard realities of the expectation/performance gap. I think task-specific physical, psychological and emotional conditioning may be the most challenging components of our job. In some way every manipulative training session should provide some insight to where you are in the scale of personal preparation, so ideally every session would require the humility to stare into that gap. So yes, I would say sometimes I see a wider gap than I am comfortable with, both in myself and others.

PF: One thing that we sometimes forget is that technical rescues can be quite taxing physically. Not just the strength and endurance that may be required, but also our tolerance to heat and other physical and emotional stressors. I think this is proven by the high rate of fatalities due to cardiac events amongst our firefighters and rescuers, both during actual responses and also during training.

FB: You have touched on a core issue of firefighter/rescuer health and safety. While I am most familiar with the information associated with the fire service based rescue model, I think the findings would extend to the entire community of rescuers serving the public.

The combination of chemical responses to the multiple external stressors places demands on the inner workings of our physiology that we don't always appreciate. Our training should extend beyond our ability to simply master a skill; it should help us master the delivery of the skill in the predicted environment. Just as we provide tools to rescuers in training to perform a task, we should leverage the training to give rescuers tools to measure and build their ability to master their emotional, psychological and physiological response to performing the skill in a demanding, but controlled environment.

Our training should extend beyond our ability to simply master a skill; it should help us master the delivery of the skill in the predicted environment.
As it stands now we are frequently guilty of leaving our people on their own to sort this out, often with the risk of stigma from identifying gaps in their performance they want to close. We are prone to overlook the obvious and make assumptions that are unhealthy or are not data-driven. As an example, we recently had a discussion revolving around the need for rescuing firefighters from burning buildings. Our training scenarios often focus on out-of-air emergencies or entrapment, which are of course important considerations, but we tend to overlook the leading cause which is a cardiac event. We realized that we hadn't really closely considered it as a component of the risk/reward profile of our actions. What are the needs? How do our predicted actions fill the need?

In this case, it has resulted in including drills to initiate CPR as early as possible and sustain it through the entire process of disrobing the downed firefighter after removal from the building. Which turns out is harder than you might think unless you are practiced in it. This discussion has also contributed to a heightened awareness of cardiac events and prevention efforts.

PF: I understand that your department has instituted a new program to encourage better overall physical fitness. Would you care to share a little about that program, what seems to work best and the successes you may have already seen?

FB: Well it’s just inside the rescue company right now, although we have a department and a union that places a strong emphasis on health and wellness, so it’s fertile ground.

I personally had to start with managing expectations. I have come to realize that a physical conditioning program built around long, grueling workouts at the firehouse would not be successful in the long term. There simply is not enough free time during the shift and the scheduling of the shifts is not frequent enough to really improve or condition anyone.
There are additional complications of having to perform at an emergency, and real conditioning while on duty would take people to a place that might undermine their ability to perform at an incident during the shift. Not to mention that the fitness plan is subject to the competing and ever-changing schedule of the day. So, the thought was to move towards shifting culture and awareness. I wanted the members of the crew to have an opportunity to examine their own capabilities and use this examination as a gauge for their personal plan away from the station. I was lucky enough to have Chris Stone as a new member of my crew who was experienced as an athlete, peer fitness trainer and had developed and implemented corporate training plans in his prior career. His insight and experience allowed us to implement a plan that met my criteria:

  1. That it places an emphasis on fitness - in this case, we make it part of our morning routine. Instead of showing up with shiny shoes and pressed trousers at roll call, we have the folks show up in PT gear. It helps send a message about what is important - uniforms have a place, but they won’t extend your life or enhance your capacity to perform.
  2. That it be functional - our program sticks to functional moves that relate to tasks we might be expected to perform. Typically, big muscle groups, tire flip, rowing, deadlift, drags, swings etc...
  3. That it be inclusive - we wanted it to be a crew activity, a workout that brought a sense of community or however you would like to describe it.
  4. That it prepares us for the day - it needed to warm us up, but also allow us to gauge where we were that particular day, physically. It shouldn't be so hard that we are tapped out afterward, but it sets the tone that our ability to perform physically is key to service delivery, both on that particular day as well as in the long career ahead of us.
  5. That it be accessible - there is always the issue of performance anxiety when working in a group. The program needed to be structured so it could allow people to engage it where they were without feeling they were under the microscope. In our case, we tend to stick to a Tabata or rotating timed station model where each member can do the number of reps that they are comfortable with.
  6. That it be sustainable - again, this is all about managing expectations and setting achievable goals. If we try to do too much it dies under its own weight. We keep it to a half hour or so of simple, easily implemented exercises.
  7. That it be credible - this is closely related to sustainability, but you have to be willing to commit to it. Make it as important as putting diesel in the rig. The combination of all these elements contributes to the credibility of the program. For me, the biggest validation is that the crew continued the workouts while I was gone on vacation for a month. It's THEIR or OUR workout - NOT my program...
PF: I am a big believer in positive reinforcement and peer encouragement. I know through personal experience that it is difficult to get into the habit of exercising regularly, and it is just as tough to eat the right things. Do you feel there is value in a program that gradually builds better habits versus one that jumps in full throttle right from the start? And do you have any advice to help encourage our peers to stick with it?

FB: You have hit the nail on the head. What is often seen as an obstacle can be leveraged as an asset. Every crew is different, so it’s hard to have a set formula. The key is to let the work drive the workout. If you drill regularly on the functional elements of the job, it’s easy for people to draw the line between the preparation and the performance. With a few exceptions, solo programs are much more fragile. Whether it’s an individual relying on themselves for motivation and direction for a workout routine or framing physical fitness without the context of how it impacts the work, there is little redundancy or depth.

PF: Thank you so much, Frank. You have made several valuable points and I think a couple of the most valuable ones are to make the connection between physical preparation and the performance requirements of the job. That point alone holds a lot of value. Also, I really like the idea of a program that revolves around timed stations where each individual does as many reps as they feel comfortable with. This isn’t a competition but will give each individual a gauge as to where their personal fitness is currently and will give them a goal to aim for. All great stuff, Frank.

Make the connection between physical preparation and the performance requirements of the job.
Well, that wraps up our first installment of “Roco Rescue Chats with the Experts,” and what a start having someone like Lieutenant Frank Brennan as our inaugural guest. Thanks once again, Frank, and I hope you can come back and speak with us again in the future.

Pat Furr is a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he is involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. He is also a member of the NFPA 1006 Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications Standard. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, he served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).

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Rescuer Physical Fitness: Making It Happen

Wednesday, January 09, 2019
by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator 

In Part I of this article, you heard my point of view on a rescuer’s obligation to be physically fit. In this follow-up piece, I outline concrete ideas to help you reach your fitness goals, broken into three components of wellness: exercise, diet, and lifestyle.

First Responder Fitness
Before you do anything else you should assess your own fitness level. Those of you that think that you could be a bit, or maybe a lot, fitter, I have some basic suggestions to offer you. Those of you who are fit and plan on maintaining that fitness, great! Keep up the good work!


For those of you who are not in good shape and, perhaps, feel there isn’t enough time in the day to do anything about it, I sincerely hope you’ll reconsider and keep reading to see that it really doesn’t take much at all to make a positive change. And this change can be like a railroad locomotive; it may start slowly, but as momentum increases, so does the rate of positive change.

Here are my favorite tips that are simple to incorporate right now into your routine so you can start to look, feel, and perform better.

Exercise Tip #1: Set your alarm and stretch.
If you are like many people, you probably set your alarm to give you just enough time to get up, get dressed, eat, and head out the door, sometimes finishing that last bite of breakfast as you are driving to work. Here’s a little tip: Set the alarm fifteen minutes earlier.
This accomplishes several things:

• Getting up fifteen minutes earlier gives you time to do some slow, easy stretching.
• If you start your day with a morning stretch, that is a good base to build on. As you gain strength, you can eventually work in some pushups and crunches.
• Getting up earlier gives you a buffer before you start your work day, eliminating that stressful feeling of cutting your timing too close. Wouldn’t it be nice to start the day with less stress and that certain physical feeling of already having accomplished something before the workday even begins?

Give this a try for one week. What do you have to lose, other than some stress and maybe a few pounds?

Exercise Tip #2: Take the stairs.
Do you use the elevator to go up one, two, or three floors? My bet is that in the time you wait for the elevator and all the stops you make, it would be nearly as fast to take the stairs. After getting into the stairs-over-elevator habit, you may find yourself going for five, then six, seven, or even ten stories.

If we are talking 20 stories or more, then yeah, I’ll give you a pass.

Exercise Tip #3: Build in some cardio.
You don’t need to hire a personal trainer or even join a gym to get into really good shape. Look no further than the oldest cardio option known to man: running. For those of us with bad knees or other ailments that prevent running, other options include brisk walking, rollerblading, swimming, biking, and even dancing will burn off some of that extra weight.

Try a variety of activities that get your blood pumping! Maybe you’ll find there’s one thing you really get into, or maybe you prefer to mix it up. Point is, make a commitment to do something. It will be uncomfortable and there will be days when you want to skip your exercise time, so consider these two things that might help you out… accountability and distraction.

Accountability might mean you publicly declare your fitness goals to friends, family, and Facebook if that’s what it takes to keep you on track. A training partner can also provide accountability as you won’t want to let your partner down by skipping your workout. A training partner can also provide a distraction – it always helps to have someone running alongside you to talk with. Or maybe listening to music or podcasts help distract you; whatever might help you focus on something other than that voice in your head asking you to stop.

I am fortunate to live near several lakes and I have taken up rowing for my no-impact aerobic workout. Talk about involving nearly every muscle group along with the heart and lungs! This is one of the best calorie burners I have ever known, and the beauty is I am out on the lake at sunrise with the loons, ospreys, and eagles, the odd deer, turkey, fox, or mink on the shoreline, just enjoying the view of the mountains.

Exercise Tip #4: Seek out resources.
There are many resources available to us first responders, especially firefighters, who are looking to get fit. The 555 Fitness website has great lists of workouts, and if you follow them on Instagram you’ll get a new workout idea every day. The Firefighter Fitness Page offers a treasure trove of fitness tips and simple workout ideas that will fit right into your busy schedule.

Healthy Diet Tips for First Responders
Getting and staying fit isn’t just about working out, but also what we put in our mouths every single day. There is a lot of truth to the old saying “you are what you eat.” I’ll be the first to admit I love a chili cheeseburger and fries (chased with a big bowl of ice cream, of course), but I am fortunate to have an amateur nutritionist in the house who mandates adherence to a grocery list full of heart-healthy items.

Changing what we choose to eat is just a matter of education and some simple strategies, but don’t try to make wholesale changes overnight. It is best to develop habits that you can build slowly over time.

Food Tip #1: Make a grocery list.
Radical diet changes almost always fail. Instead of jumping on the next bandwagon diet, resolve to make – and stick to – grocery lists full of items that are good for you, rather than “winging it” and running to McDonald's on your way home from work every day. When it comes to eating well, the old adage holds true: failing to plan means planning to fail.

The key to keeping a healthy diet is to do just a bit of research on the sort of foods that should go onto your list. The good news is there are plenty of resources to help guide you, like this list of healthy food options to help first responders perform better.

The next time you visit the grocery store, pay attention to the layout. I’ll bet you will notice that the healthy items tend to be on the outer perimeter of the store and the less healthy items are in the middle aisles. For example, if you are looking for nuts, see if there are choices near, or in, the produce section on the edge of the store. Then compare the nuts in the bins or light packaging to the choice of nuts on the snack aisle. The nuts from the produce section will likely have few or no additives, whereas the nuts from the snack aisle will be loaded with oils and all sorts of hard-to-pronounce ingredients.

Food Tip #2: Read labels.
Always assess your food for its nutritional quality. Limit, or better yet, flat-out avoid processed foods and packaged items with long lists of ingredients on the label. The fewer the ingredients on the label, generally the healthier the item will be. Also, go easy on the carbs. Most of us love pasta in all its forms, but there are alternatives to pasta that taste great using the same marinara sauce or whatever your favorite topping may be. Consider couscous or quinoa as a pasta alternative.

Don’t worry too much about the few fun and tasty items that still manage to make it onto your list. Even some junk-food snacks are acceptable from time to time. We are human, after all, right? Just be sure that they are special treats and not a daily indulgence!

Food Tip #3: Commit to the long haul.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Stick to your list! Go shopping after you’ve eaten, not when you are starving and craving processed snacks like cookies or chips. Shopping on an empty stomach spells trouble for most of us.

Remember that the best “diet” is the one that fits your lifestyle. Focus on eating meals loaded with nutrients, and don’t stress if you deviate from time to time. If you set an unattainable standard at the outset, you are less likely to stick with it.

Cultivating Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Committing to getting and staying fit so that you can perform well and live long is about a comprehensive lifestyle change. This means not only that we have to shop smarter and build in more time to move our bodies, but also that we need to stave off stress by sleeping enough, planning ahead, and not using travel as an excuse to deviate from our goals.

Lifestyle Tip #1: Get enough sleep.
First of all, we need to get enough sleep. A report from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) called The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Fire Fighters and EMS Responders found that sleep deprivation affects our attentiveness levels, our mental functioning, and our energy, and it can lead to health issues like obesity and cardiovascular disease.

With our long and strenuous work hours and the stress involved in our jobs, this can be extremely dangerous to our health. It is critical to sleep enough in addition to eating right and exercising to protect ourselves from life-threatening health problems.

Ok, but how? Try setting an alarm for your bedtime. If you’re the sort of person that puts off bedtime because you’re trying to finish up a few things you’ve been working on, try putting those things on a list. That way you won’t worry about forgetting them, and you can tackle them fresh the next day.

Lifestyle Tip #2: Stick to healthy travel habits.
Traveling disrupts our routines, and unless you stay in a suite with a well-equipped kitchen, the meal choices are limited to restaurant offerings and complimentary hotel breakfasts.

It is tough to resist the fancy menu photos and the aroma of restaurants but make a promise to yourself that you will follow the guidelines for the vast majority of your meals out. It isn’t the end of the world if you slip now and then, especially if you are traveling with a group. It is nice to get together socially and have a nice meal, but make that the exception, not the norm.

Most hotel rooms are equipped with a drip coffee maker and a microwave oven. For a healthy breakfast, scoop some servings of oatmeal into Ziploc bags before leaving home. Mix in some cinnamon and chopped nuts, or grab an apple once you arrive at your destination and chop it up for some added flavor and vitamins. Consider making a quick stop at the grocery store to buy some Greek yogurt and fruit like strawberries, blueberries or bananas. Mix them together for a high protein breakfast loaded with vitamins. If your work frequently has you dining on the road, here is a resource to help you make healthier choices.

As far as your workout routine is concerned, remember that the time before work starts is yours. If you get into the habit when you’re at home of doing some stretching and basic calisthenics first thing in the morning, it will be much easier to do the same thing before showering and heading out of your hotel room. If you have a say in your lodging arrangements, try to find a hotel with either a well-equipped fitness center or one that has an arrangement with a local gym. If you travel to the same locations repeatedly, find the lodging that best fits your needs.

I hope you feel, as I do, that we all benefit from being fit. We feel better about ourselves. We are less prone to injury. We are less stressed. And most importantly of all, we are able to perform better and serve our rescue subjects well. I hope that in reading this you can take some or all of these tips, or even expand upon them, and start heading in a direction of improved fitness in the new year and beyond.

Pat Furr is a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he is involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. He is also a member of the NFPA 1006 Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications Standard. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, he served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).

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Your Physical Fitness As A Rescuer: Why It Matters

Wednesday, January 02, 2019
by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator 

In January of last year, I wrote a piece called The Fit Rescuer & Why It's Important, and it was one of my most widely-read articles, so I thought I would tackle the topic again this year. The information in this article applies to all rescuers; whether you're a member of an emergency response team at your plant, a paramedic or a firefighter, you can benefit from learning more about fitness.

I’ve taught a lot of students and worked alongside many rescue professionals over the years. Each and every one wants to do the very best for the patients or victims they serve... Clearly, learning rescue skills and practicing them is a critical part of this, but so is maintaining a reasonable level of physical fitness. In fact, a standard for rescuer physical fitness is directly addressed in NFPA 1006, Section 4.2. So not only do we have an obligation due to our role as rescuers, but we also owe it to ourselves to be in good shape.
If that’s not motivation enough, its January resolution time! That said, remember that this is a journey… you probably aren’t going to see radical changes right away, so don’t get discouraged. Take pride in every day you work toward your fitness goals, and if you fall off the horse and into a hot fudge sundae one weekend, don’t despair – just get back on track and stay with it!

Why Staying in Shape is Working for Me
I will be the first to admit that I go through periods (some of them extended) where I allow myself to get a tad soft. Well, okay, maybe more than just a tad soft. And when I do, I feel certain limitations that I know hinder my ability to do right by my rescue subjects. If I am winded and drenched in sweat after climbing a few flights of stairs, that is going to ultimately count against my rescue victims. And if I need to go in “on air” and my mask is fogged from perspiration, I will need to run a constant purge just to keep my mask clear – and that may deplete our air supply prematurely.

I remember all too well how heavy my gear and tripod felt during one of my “Jabba the Hutt” periods a few years back. It was discouraging! But after a few months of working out and eating well, I remember how great it felt to grab that same tripod and sling it up onto my shoulder as if it was filled with helium.

Physical Fitness as a Matter of Life and Death
I think we can all agree that physical fitness can enhance our performance as rescuers. But there are so many other benefits to improving our individual physical fitness, for instance:

reduction in soft tissue injuries like pulled muscles and ligament strains
• increased resistance to illnesses
• better mood and higher energy-level
reduced stress levels
• greater stamina and strength
• higher tolerance for heat and cold
• increased situational awareness and ability to formulate and understand rescue plans (this one is key!)

But there is so much more to the job performance and health benefits of working out, eating well, and staying in shape. Frankly, we can’t afford NOT to make our health a priority. A study from the First Responder Health and Safety Lab at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, affirmed: “Firefighters face many dangers, but the greatest risk is from underlying cardiovascular disease in combination with the physiological strain that the work places on the firefighter.” And further, the American Heart Association recently named cardiac arrest the leading cause of firefighter deaths. There are many, many more sources just like these, and it’s time we take them seriously.

It doesn’t help that we are more overweight than ever before. According to the report Addressing the Epidemic of Obesity in the United States Fire Service, the rates of overweight and obese firefighters are higher than those of the public at large. The study claims that 88 percent of firefighters are obese compared to 73 percent of the general population. This is a huge problem since obesity contributes to health issues like diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. While many of the stats pertain to municipal firefighters, there’s no reason to believe that emergency responders in industry are not facing the same issues.

Staying in shape is about more than just being able to effortlessly lift a tripod. It’s a matter of life and death. Hopefully, you are convinced that fitness is a rescuer's duty just as much as knowing what to do in a given emergency situation. So what to do? How about stop reading right here and bang out 20 push-ups? Or stand up and stretch. Worried that your co-workers will think you’ve lost your mind? Focus on what they’ll think about you in a few months when you are crushing your fitness goals. Maybe you’ll see a few more people taking periodic breaks from sitting at their computer to do push-ups or stretch! If you’ve chosen to do something now, you have taken the first baby-step!

There are numerous resources out there, from website articles to official publications, that provide guidance for first responders and firefighters in particular when it comes to getting – and staying – healthy. One example is the U.S. Fire Administration’s Guide to Fitness and Wellness.

In Part II of this article, I will offer specific tips for fitness, diet, and lifestyle. But for now, I encourage you to take a look at these resources and consider how they apply to you. How can you commit to being healthier in the long term? How can you optimize your health and fitness to be the very best first responder you can be? I invite all of you – every single person reading this article – to join me in the quest to continually get healthier, fitter, and happier.

Continue to Part II, Rescuer Physical Fitness: Making It Happen

Pat Furr is a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he is involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. He is also a member of the NFPA 1006 Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications Standard. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, he served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).

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Is Your Rescue Team Ready?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Guidance for improving and maintaining rescue team proficiency...

We all want to succeed, no matter what we are doing. And success is always better than the alternatives…whether a mediocre performance or worse yet, failure. When it comes to rescue, all of a sudden, the difference between success and failure takes on much greater significance.Not only are the lives of the rescue subjects held in the balance, but also the rescuers. Multiple risks are involved with technical rescue and failure may cost the rescuers mightily, and this has been proven too many times. There are many things, however, that rescuers can do to help improve their chances of success, and that's what we will talk about here. 

We have found that the one thing that seems to be a lagging factor is a "lack of proficiency" in performing the required skills either as individuals or as a team. Having rescue preplans, the newest and best equipment, sufficient manning, and reliable communications are all pieces of the puzzle. But all of that becomes nothing more than window-dressing if the team or individuals on the team are unable to perform their duties safely and effectively. This is such an important consideration that several regulations and standards make a point to remind us that proficiency is a high-interest issue. 

For instance, OSHA 1910.146 paragraph K and Appendix F, as well as 1926.1211, require designated rescuers to practice making permit space rescues at least once every 12 months by means of simulated rescue operations in which they remove dummies, manikins, or actual persons from the actual permit spaces or from representative permit spaces. It is our position that this does not even come close to the training time needed to maintain an appropriate level of proficiency. 

Additionally, NFPA 1006 requires rescuers to demonstrate competency on an annual basis. One of NFPA’s recommendations is to attend workshops and seminars, read professional publications, and participate in refresher training as ways technical rescue personnel can update their knowledge and skills. 

I am routinely asked how often a rescue team should practice. And they're always a bit surprised when I do not give them a hard and fast answer such as quarterly or monthly for a minimum of 4 hours. My answer is and will always be, “as often as it takes to ensure you are proficient, as individuals and as a team, to safely and effectively rescue potential victims from any situation you may be called to respond.”

You would be amazed at the spectrum of training schedules that are out there. Some teams practice on a bi-weekly basis and mix in different scenarios to ensure they will not miss any opportunities to improve their skills or to identify any gaps they may have in technique or equipment. Whereas other teams may feel that once a year is all that they need. Knowing how perishable these skills are, we tend to disagree.

It has been our experience that the teams who practice on a very regular basis and really mix it up when they design their training scenarios are the ones who perform best when they come to our facility or we go to theirs for a team performance evaluation (TPE), which can also include an individual performance evaluation (IPE), if desired. The teams and individuals that struggle most during our TPE/IPE visits are the ones that seldom train. And, even though we all call these TPE/IPE visits, we do provide tips and spot training to help correct any deficiencies observed. 

But frequency is no guarantee of excellent performance. It isn’t just about the quantity of training; it must be the quality of training as well. One of the best ways to supplement in-house training is to attend third party refresher training. Or, if it has been a while since a full-on training class, by all means a more extensive and complete training package may be a great option. Roco's annual Rescue Challenge provides an excellent learning experience as well as a way to confirm the true rescue capabilities of your team. 

Technical rescue skills are one of the most perishable skills I have known. Without regular practice and quality training, it is not long before the individual and team skills erode to the point of becoming a liability to the victim and to other team members.

Again, none of us wants to fail - especially on a rescue mission. A good way to avoid this is to dedicate adequate resources to training along with regular refreshers and practice drills. Prepare and practice for your "worst case" scenarios because you just never know when your team may be put to the test. Be ready!

Written by Pat Furr, VPP Coordinator for Roco Rescue, Inc.

About the Author:
Pat Furr has been employed with Roco since 2000 and has been actively involved with technical rescue since 1981. Pat is a Chief Instructor for Roco as well as its VPP Coordinator and Safety Officer. He is also a presenter at national conferences such as ASSE and VPPPA. Prior to Roco, Pat served 20 years in the USAF as a Pararescueman (PJ). His background includes eight years as a member of the 71st Pararescue team in Anchorage, Alaska, where he specialized in mountain and glacier rescue. Pat was a team leader of the 1986 and 1988 PJ teams that summited Mt. McKinley and augmented the National Park Service mountain rescue team. He also spent two tours of duty in Iceland where he put in multiple “first ascent” ice routes.


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OSHA-1926 Dockside Rescue Requirements

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Roco now offers marine rescue standby services for the Baton Rouge-New Orleans industrial corridor. As with other Roco services, our personnel are experienced emergency responders trained to provide lifesaving skills when it matters most.

All Roco marine standby personnel are First Responder/ CPR/First Aid trained, and most are EMT’s. Our boats are fully equipped with First Aid kits, AEDs and O2 for prompt emergency care.

For construction work over or near waterways, OSHA 1926.106 requires certain safety precautions – including the timely response of a boat to rescue a fallen worker. In fact, according to one OSHA LOI, the retrieval of an employee from the water is required no more than 3 to 4 minutes from the time they entered the water. And, depending on hazards present, it could be required even sooner.

Section 1926.106(d) states:
At least one lifesaving skiff shall be immediately available at locations where employees are working over or adjacent to water.

The intent of the paragraph is to ensure prompt rescue of employees that fall into the water, regardless of other precautions taken to prevent this from occurring. Thus, OSHA requires that employers supply a skiff to affect a prompt water rescue. As a skiff supplies a backup to potential failures of fall protection devices, the use of fall protection systems is not a substitute for the skiff.

The requirement in 1926.106(d) addresses the hazard of falls that may occur in the event of a failure of the operation of fall protection devices or a lapse in their use. An employer is also required to comply with all other applicable standards including, but not limited to, the requirements that an injured employee be treated by medical personnel or an employee certified in first aid within 3 to 4 minutes from the time the injury occurred. This could mean that first aid treatment would have to begin in the lifesaving skiff or boat.

For more information on this service, please contact Roco at 800-647-7626 or email info@rocorescue.com.

Resources: OSHA 1926.106 as well as Letters of Interpretation (LOI’s) dated 8/23/04; 12/5/03; 12/6/91; and 06/13/90.

NOTE:  In this article, Roco cites OSHA 1926.106 which applies to construction activities while working over or near water. For other industries such as shipyard (Part 1915), marine terminals (Part 1917), or longshoring (Part 1918), please refer to those standards for specific requirements, particularly for PFDs and rescue skiffs. OSHA does not require rescue skiffs for all industry activities. However, keep in mind, OSHA sets minimum standards. And, remember, there’s a safe way and a safer way!

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