Every city has its assets–its fire trucks, its parks, its water treatment plants, e.g.–but there are other assets that often are overlooked because they are not physical in nature, but organizational. One such asset in the City of Aiken is its Technical Rescue Team, a group of two dozen or so individuals who work together to assure the maintenance of a rescue capability for the citizens of Aiken and, via cooperative agreements, to other CSRA communities. As such, they are an important asset of our local public safety environment.
Several weeks ago, Examiner had the opportunity to observe the Aiken Department of Public Safety’s Technical Rescue Team (ADPS, TRT) while it held a confined space qualification training exercise. Confined space training is an annual requirement for the team, requiring the obtaining of required permits and the use of some of its more specialized equipment to assure the safety of its members while they work to accomplish their assigned mission.
The training began at 18:00 hours (that’s 6PM, civvie time) with MPSO (Master Public Safety Officer) Spann’s call to Central Dispatch requesting alert tone initiation and notification of TRT members to respond to the City Training Site off DuPont Drive (across from Aiken High’s football stadium,) for the exercise.
Along with the required annual training, a number of items were to be checked. With the response time of the various members always an agenda item, the response time of the TRT equipment trailer and the Air Unit were also examined. The Air Unit arrived first, at 18:12. The rescue trailer, recently having been positioned at the City’s Banks Mill Road facility, arrived somewhat later. While awaiting the equipment, the team members discussed the scenario and examined the confined space (a real-world confined space, for sure,) that being about 20 feet long by 12 feet wide by 20 feet deep. Entry to the space was via a standard drainage manhole.
It seems someone (one of the TRT members) had fallen into the tank (the scenario.) His condition was initially unknown, but one thing was certain: rescue would require a tripod, a hoist, and two team members in Tyvec suits with supplied air from either the Air Unit or, as a backup, from personal self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) equipment. First aid requirements would be determined when the “victim” was first examined.
When the word was given to start the exercise, the thirteen, or so (my initial count) responding team members divided into groups. The very first action was to begin ventilation of the confined space using a high speed fan set well to the side of the access manhole, delivering the air through portable duct lines. Concurrent with setting up the fan, an air monitor probe was dropped into the confined space to measure the air quality and check for potential poisonous gasses. A remote camera was also used to better assess the problem before team members were inserted into the pit.
A tripod and powered winch was set up above the manhole. In addition to the winch line, a separate safety line was to be attached to each entering rescuer. Add to these lines an air line from the Air Unit and a certain amount of line handling logistics became an obvious concern.
Team members, now completely decked out in yellow Tyvec outer garments, came two at a time to accomplish their annual training goal and accomplish the “rescue.” As each member was lowered into the pit, good natured comments about whether or not any given member was going to “fit” were bandied about. A standard manhole provides plenty of room for an average person, even an average somewhat large person, but…given the added dimension provided by the SCBA tank, the comments seemed more than just a bit relevant (everyone did “fit,” by the way.)
Examiner noticed as the training progressed, team members rotated assignments. While some were going into the pit, others were monitoring air quality and maintaining the ventilation unit. Still others were tending to the line requirements and assisting the “rescuers” with their equipment. Others manned the tripod and the winch or manned the supplied air unit with its backup compressed air tanks. Everyone received training on every required task–a good plan, well executed.
The training began as a day time operation and continued well into the night. As darkness fell, portable lighting was employed. All things considered, everything went well. This is not to say that no problems were encountered. This is to say that when problems were found, they were overcome. A problem with the winch necessitated going to manual operation for a brief time (the problem with the powered portion was later solved.) A problem with some new SCBA equipment and an incompatibility with the Air Unit was also found and a fully usable work-around was accomplished enabling completion of the mission. Both these items were, no doubt, resolved during the team’s after-action briefings. A question concerning the time to deploy the Rescue Trailer was also something that could be handled administratively.
Actually, finding problems during training is always a big plus. Finding problems during an actual emergency could be disastrous.
Examiner left as the team was putting away its equipment. It was noted that everything was being returned to the two trailers very methodically leaving the trailers fully functional should an actual emergency require their use later that day. It was also noted that everyone was fully employed in this final task.
One thing seems certain: If the TRT is needed tomorrow, be it to provide services to a train derailment in Graniteville (which some of them did) or a cat up a tree (probably not a full-scale team deployment,) citizens of the Central Savannah River Area will be able to count on their professionalism and their competence thanks to the work they will have done in advance training in the support of their mission.
Examiner thanks the ADPS and its TRT for giving it the opportunity to examine and report on their activities.