Industrial Firefighting, Technical Rescue

Industrial Rescue Teams: Advantage

By Ronald E. Kanterman

You are a responding to a refinery, bulk oil terminal, or bulk chemical processing plant for an initial report of a rescue. The dispatcher gives you additional information en route: “Attention, first-alarm assignment going to RK Oil, you got a worker in a confined space reported to be a mixing vessel.” The officer of the first-due unit looks at the driver, and the driver catches “the look” out of one corner of his eye. (Obviously, he keeps his eyes on the road!) “What’s the matter, Cap?” the driver says. The captain replies, “A confined space job? We drilled on that 10 months ago. The only saving grace is that RK Oil has a team. I hope they’re on it.”

If this sounds even vaguely familiar, you’ve got work to do but we’ll get to that later. What about this industrial rescue team? Well, if you know anything about technical rescue, you should know what resources you have on arrival. ADVANTAGE.

Also consider what could be available to you in your municipality should you need additional assistance on another job outside the plant. ADVANTAGE.

Make sure that once you see these teams and they are up to local standards or better, make arrangements to get them into your mutual aid plan. ADVANTAGE.

Not unlike municipal rescue teams, these teams are usually equipped “to the nines.” Chances are that private industry has better funding then the municipalities, so expect to see quality equipment and a good training program.

Being intimately familiar with one particular industrial rescue team, I will review what it has, what it does, and its training program.

Confined Space Rescue:
This team is equipped for confined pace rescue with harnesses, tri-pod, SAR (two-hour unit), ropes, premade mechanical advantage setups, assorted hardware (carabiners, pulleys, figure 8s, six four-hour rebreathers for tunnels and extended operations, assorted short boards and long boards, collars, and other patient packaging equipment. Each member has personal protective equipment (helmet, light, jumpsuit, rope cutter, personal rope, safety shoes). This equipment is all carried on a rescue-pumper. The team is required to train every 12 months on “like or similar confined spaces” as required by OSHA 1910.146. ADVANTAGE.

Trench Rescue:
This team took a typical landscaping type trailer and designed a workable interior to carry all it needed for a failed trench–shoring and sheeting materials with the option to use commercially available pneumatic shoring struts or lumber. The sheeting is OSHA-approved 4′ X 8′ plywood (16-ply) with 12-foot 2″ X 12″ bolted to same. When the sheet enters the hole, there is a two foot piece of that 2″ X 12″ that’s used to lower by rope and that digs into the floor of the trench. The two excess feet at the top allow for ropes and other control of movement. No trench trailer is complete without 2 X 4s,
4 X 4s, nails, hammers, chain saw, circular saw, saw horses, generator with light stands, extra plywood sheets for ground pads, and a few extra 2 X 12s. (You need a good team of horses or one heck of a pickup to pull this baby!) The team uses a fixed fire academy trench or has one dug someplace on the plant annually to “get down and dirty” in. You’re thinking, “Well, they only do it once a year, like the captain said before,” but these guys are thinking, eating, and talking rescue every day. ADVANTAGE.

High- and Low-Angle Rescue:
Ropes, knots, safety lines, hardware, ascenders, and guts! These guys do it all. ADVANTAGE.

Total Training Time: 56 hours a year.

Things to Consider:

  1. Find out if your local industry has a technical rescue team.
  2. If there is a local industrial rescue team, find out what it has and how it operates.
  3. Inquire with plant management if the team may be available for mutual aid off the plant.
  4. Arrange a joint training session.
Having this team on an industrial site: ADVANTAGE. Having it start operations prior to your arrival: PRICELESS.


RON KANTERMAN is chief of emergency services for Merck & Co. in Rahway, New Jersey, and a volunteer on call member of the Borough of North Plainfield (NJ) Fire Rescue Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science administration and master’s degrees in fire protection management and environmental science and is an adjunct professor of fire science at Middlesex County College. He is a member of the FDIC staff and advisory board and of the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board.