Rescues from Industrial Machinery

Rescues from Industrial Machinery


It is two o’clock on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, and your crew has just returned from a routine brushfire. Suddenly the alarm sounds for a rescue, type unknown, at the ABC Manufacturing Complex. A standard response of an engine, a rescue squad, and an ambulance is quickly dispatched to the scene. Upon arrival at the plant, your units are met by a plant security guard. The guard directs you through a maze of narrow alleyways lined with large metal buildings, storage tanks, and various equipment and materials.

The guard stops at building 4A and directs your personnel into the building. You are led down a series of walkways and catwalks lined by pallets and machinery and up two flights of stairs. AS you reach the top of the stairs, you see a number of people gathered around a large product-loading machine, and several workers are supporting a worker who has become entangled in the machine.

What would be your first action at this scene? What would be the most effective way to handle this type of incident? Is this scenario possible in your response district? Are you personnel trained to handle such an industrial machinery rescue? These are just a few of the questions many fire/ rescue organizations are currently asking themselves.

Industries are growing at a rapid pace and new ones are cropping up every day. Where once only large metropolitan areas housed industries, today the suburban and rural areas have them as well. Only a handful of fire departments can truly say they do not have any type of industrial machinery located in their response district. Nevertheless, even these districts should be prepared.

Industrial machinery rescue is a combination of vehicle rescue, rigging, rope rescue, confined space rescue, hazardous-materials response, emergency medicine, firefighting, and other facets of the emergency services. Until your department faces the challenge of an industrial machinery rescue, you may not realize the magnitude of such a rescue.

The following should be considered at every industrial machinery accident. Hopefully, they will help your department train and prepare for such a rescue.


  • Take a ride through your district and look at the manufacturing processes you are dealing with. A short stop during a fire preplan will give you an idea of what type of machinery each plant uses.
  • Start a good working relationship with your local industry. The safety department is usually a good place to obtain information about and training for various types of equipment.
  • Training for such an incident is, of course, not easy. A number of possible variables are involved in an industrial machinery rescue. Many types of machinery are specialized and many pieces of equipment are one-of-a-kind. It is for this reason that you must generalize when training for the machinery rescue. Learn the basics and apply them correctly for best results.


  • Set up an incident command system early in the incident. An industrial machine rescue often will grow to greater proportions than you expect-
  • ed. An efficient command system will alleviate early and late problems.
  • Get the big picture early. Make a thorough, organized initial assessment of the entire rescue scene. Take some time here: Complicated and unfamiliar machinery and congestion at a manufacturing facility may not reveal additional hidden dangers.
  • Establish an adequate communi-
  • cation system early in the incident. High noise levels and the inability to send radio transmissions through large industrial buildings can hamper communications. Be prepared to use backup systems such as telephones or messengers.
  • Locate and properly remove the power source from the machinery if necessary. This may include electric, hydraulic, pneumatic, or steam-driven power sources. Designate a rescuer to stay at the power source until the rescue is complete to ensure that the
  • power remains off.
  • Obtain assistance from on-site exinvolved. This may include machine operators, maintenance personnel, or plant engineering personnel. People who work around the machinery know the specifics of its operation. If no one present is that familiar with the machinery, a quick telephone call to the manufacturer may save hours of frustration. The manufacturer also may know shortcuts that on-site personnel may be unaware of.
  • Maintain a close working relationship with industrial personnel throughout the rescue. Good communication between rescue and industrial personnel helps avoid confusion and tensions.
  • Notify all industrial personnel that a rescue is in progress. Make sure that associated machinery and processes that could hamper rescue operations are shut down.
  • Establish a rescue zone at the beginning of the incident and only allow necessary rescuers into it. Also, do not hesitate to enlarge the rescue zone to provide for better rescue conditions.
  • As with auto extrication, try to gain access to the victim as soon as possible. It is best if either one or two rescuers can make contact with the victim and stay with him throughout the ordeal. The rescuer who gains access to the victim must find out exactly how the victim is trapped. This rescuer is the eyes and ears of the rescue team.
  • The use of a safety officer during this type of rescue is imperative. He must constantly reassess the rescue zone for new developments. Work in one area of the rescue zone could compromise safety in another area.
  • Don’t let a rescuer become a victim. Make sure all rescuers, including officers, use proper protective equipment.
  • Be aware of all possible hazards in the rescue zone. This includes hot equipment and pipes, slippery surfaces, sharp metal, tripping or bumping hazards, the machinery itself, electrical, and flammable storage hazards.
  • Use proper hazard control techniques to provide a safe area for both the victim and the rescuers. This includes control of fire, unstable equipment, and debris.
  • Be prepared to deal with hazardous-material situations during industrial machinery accidents. Many industrial processes contain a variety of haz mats. Don’t be careless and walk into a haz-mat situation unprotected. Follow proper haz-mat protocols, which include identification, mitigation, and decontamination.
  • Be prepared to work in confined spaces, as that is where industrial machinery rescues usually take place. Confined space rescue is a very trying rescue in itself; combined with extrication, the rescue effort is even more difficult.
  • Be prepared for extended operations. Industrial machinery rescues can take longer than ordinary rescues. During extended operations, be sure adequate crews are available and rotate them as often as possible. Also, be prepared with the proper resources. This could mean the use of mutual aid, interaction with other agencies, or other measures.
  • Provide adequate support services throughout the rescue—such as lighting, ventilation, crowd control, and rehabilitation.
  • Extrication from industrial machinery requires mechanical knowledge. A firefighter or rescue squad member with a mechanical background is an asset in this type of rescue.
  • Make sure extrication procedures do not aggravate a patient’s injuries. Protect the patient as much as possible with blankets, backboards, and other available materials.
  • During extrication procedures, frequently and adequately stabilize the machinery being altered. Be sure ‘cribbing is properly placed and anchored and that it will hold under heavy loads and awkward positions. Other means of stabilization may be necessary.
  • Thoroughly assess where and how you are going to apply tools for disentanglement. Do not place tools
  • in locations where you cannot see.
  • Extrication procedures can cause hazards of their own, such as sparks, fumes from gasoline-driven tools, debris, and jagged surfaces. These hazards must be controlled.
  • Don’t leave out the option of only partially extricating a victim and transporting both him and the involved part of machinery to a medical facility.
  • Be prepared to disassemble machinery. Often this is the only method of extrication.
  • Some machines have release mechanisms built in to simplify’ disassembly. Don’t overlook them; they can be real time-savers.
  • Cylinders, springs, and other actuators store energy. Be especially careful and alert around these types of equipment. They can release energy without notice at any time.
  • Pay close attention when working around machines with various rotating or positioning mechanisms. Moving or altering the position of one part of the machine may cause a
  • separate part of the machine to move.
  • Watch the positions and movements of machinery with augers, rollers, chain drives, and conveyers. A would-be rescuer with a hand in the wrong place during a rescue could very easily become a victim.
  • Reversing the direction of a machine is not the best way to free a trapped victim. This method usually inflicts further injury and may further trap the patient. Use it only as a last resort.
  • If you must move or run a machine, try to use people power as the source of energy. A well-placed pipe wrench on a drive shaft will work much better than trying to turn the power on and move the machine. Machines often will not run slowly when they are turned on: There are only two speeds—off and on.
  • Be aware of trip mechanisms such as emergency shutdowns and
  • start-ups. Make sure they will not activate any of the machinery during the rescue effort.
  • Be prepared to deal with auxiliary systems of machinery. This includes lubrication, cooling, and vacuum systems. Although these systems usually are not part of a rescue, breaking into them could release chemicals.
  • Never assume that any machinery or system is shut down or disconnected. Check and recheck to make sure all machinery you may get into is turned off.
  • Hydraulic systems operate at extremely high pressure. The loss of hydraulic pressure can cause large components to collapse or change position. Always treat hydraulic fluid as a flammable fluid, and avoid handling it near open flames or sparks.
  • Assume that any electrical wire or conduit carry wiring is energized, and treat it accordingly.


  • Standard industrial machinery
  • rescue equipment includes:
    • Hydraulic rescue tools and portapower sets—for pulling, lifting, pushing, spreading, and cutting.
    • Air bags and hydraulic jacks—for lifting and stabilization.
    • Cribbing and chocks—for stabilization.
    • Come-a-long—excellent stabilization and pulling tools.
    • Bolt cutters—good tools for cutting round stock, drive chains, and belts.
    • Air chisels—excellent for sheet metal removal.
    • Oxyacetylene torches.
    • Pipe wrenches—good also for turning drive shafts.
    • Hand tools used during disassembly operations.
  • Standard rescue tools will not’ ahvays work on heavy industrial machinery. Know the limitations of your tools and be prepared to change your rescue plan.
  • Be prepared to use heavy rigging equipment such as gantries, overhead ‘ cranes, and mobile cranes. Large in-
  • dustrial equipment is both heavy and awkward to handle. Heavy rigging equipment will make the job easier.
  • Don’t be afraid to use industrial tools present at the rescue site. With a little coaching from on-site industrial personnel, equipment such as air tools, hoists, and other tools will tprove to be very efficient and save valuable time.


  • Be prepared to deal with a multiole-trauma patient with severe injuries. During industrial machinery accidents, compound fractures, crushing injuries, and amputations are possible. Treat all victims for shock with oxygen therapy, IV fluids, and other shock-control care. Also treat victims for cervical spine injuries. Often victim location severely hampers your efforts, but try to fully immobilize the cervical spine.
  • Greases, lubricants, hydraulic fluids, and other chemicals found in industrial processes can cause irrita-
  • tions and burns, especially to open wounds. Be sure to thoroughly rinse all materials from both victims and rescuers.
  • Don’t hesitate to call in advanced medical personnel. An emergency doctor, trauma nurse, or paramedic may be able to perform advanced medical procedures during a prolonged extrication.
  • Use a separate crew to evaluate and form a means of egress from the accident site. Most industrial buildings are not designed for patient removal on a stretcher or backboard. Personnel may need to move materials or set up rigging systems to remove the patient. Nothing is worse than extricating a victim only to discover that you have no way of removing him from the accident site.


After the incident, properly secure the scene to avoid another accident. A few extra minutes could prevent another injury.

  • Critique the incident. Since these
  • types of rescues are not commonplace, the information and ideas gathered during the incident will make for meaningful training.

Industrial machinery rescue is an emergency that tests any department’s resources. Often it requires special equipment never used before. Remember to keep your options open and always make alternate plans.

It is very easy to become discouraged during these types of rescues. They usually involve many variables, and sometimes little background on the machinery is available. It is the job of the incident commander to acquire the necessary resources and coordinate operations.

Don’t underestimate the complexity of an industrial machinery rescue. The area of attack and the rules of rescue are a little more complicated than in other rescues. Apply basic rescue and mechanical theory, establish a good command system, and maintain a safe scene.

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