Watch Your Own Safety During Rescue Operations
The Volunteers Corner
Rescue work can involve fire fighters in more danger than what the trapped victim faces. That not only calls for some thought by rescuers, it demands that they take precautions to protect themselves from injury.
The highway crash or structural collapse and its attendant problem of extricating the injured generates a multitude of possibilities for injury to the men doing the rescue work. Therefore, the physical safety of fire fighters engaged in rescue work must be of prime concern not only to the officer in charge, but also to each fire fighter.
Rescue work consists of individual efforts welded together by teamwork. Often only one or two men can work in the target area, but they depend on other men to keep them supplied with tools and materials and to stabilize the safety of the working conditions. Every man on the team must be alert to spot any change in conditions that raises an additional threat to safety, and what is equally important, whoever notices a new peril must quickly speak out. This is no time for the silent thinker or the alarmist. Report what you see. If possible, take immediate action to avert a threat, or suggest action requiring efforts by others. Apprised of the changed conditions and possible remedy, the officer-in-charge can then make his decision.
Basic safety protection: Fire fighters approaching any highway or structural rescue job should be wearing full turnout clothing—helmets, coats, boots and gloves. In warm climates where boots are not worn, men should wear safety shoes for rescue work, but in other areas, boots with steel toes and steel insoles protect against punturing and crushing injuries to the feet. The purpose of wearing a helmet is obvious, but it is not always recognized that a turnout coat can provide some protection against impact, cuts and abrasions. Besides falling objects, you can be endangered by contact with rapidly moving ropes and chains.
Gloves with leather palms—or all leather—are recommended for rescue work because the major consideration is protection against cuts and rope burns. Helmets should have a shield to protect the eyes, particularly while using power saws and chipping metal.
A shifting mass, whether it is a vehicle or part of a structure, is a common danger that must be minimized in rescue work. Highway wrecks must be checked so that there is no danger of their moving while you are opening them up to extricate victims. A similar danger of further collapse or shifting of the debris exists after a structural collapse. Shoring may be a necessary first step before actual rescue work can be conducted.
Use of blocks: Whenever hydraulic or mechanical jacks are used to raise anything, there is always danger that the jack or object will slip and fall. Therefore, as a vehicle or heavy timber is raised, wooden blocks should be inserted between the object and the ground or floor. As a jack is raised, a wedge-shaped piece of heavy wood can be pushed into the increasing space between the raised object and the ground or blocks already in place so that any fall would be but a fraction of an inch.
An assortment of blocks should be carried on a rescue truck. They should be cut in 1 and 2-foot lengths from 2 X 8, 4 X 8 and 4X4 stock. A few lengths of 1-inch wood also come in handy. Wedges can be cut from 4X4 stock.
Contractors or industries in your area that receive shipments of steel or heavy machinery will probably be willing to give you wood used as dunnage that can be cut into blocks. Rough-cut spruce, 2 inches thick, commonly used for scaffold planks, is available in long boards in many lumberyards. Fourinch-thick boards are more difficult to find.
Whiplash danger: If a crane or a winch is used on a rescue job, you must guard against the danger of strained wire rope or chain snapping. It should be obvious that no one should ever stand near or under an object being raised by a crane. What may be less obvious is that the whiplash of a taut wire rope or chain that has parted can be lethal. Except for the operator of the crane or winch, everyone should stand beyond the reach of the wire rope or chain.
What we have said about wire rope and chain under tension also holds true for fiber rope. Although the whiplash of fiber rope may be less deadly than that of wire rope, it is still something to be feared, as any man who has handled the towing bitts on the stern of a tugboat will tell you.
Whenever working on a rescue job, keep in mind that your objective is to solve the problem and not become part of the problem yourself by failing, even momentarily, to work safely.