TRENCH RESCUE: MANAGING THE LOGISTICS FUNCTION

BY ROBERT RHEA

Emergencies involving trench collapse are typically multihour events that require the use of a significant quantity of equipment and strong logistics management. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have established safety procedures, operational requirements, and rescuer qualification standards related to trenching operations.1 These standards focus primarily on the nuts-and-bolts requirements of hazard control, protective systems, and rescuer entry activities. However, logistical support of the rescue operation is vital for a successful outcome.

FUNCTIONS OF LOGISTICS OFFICER

The logistics officer’s responsibilities involve preparation, organization, control, service, and forecast-acquisition.

Preparation

Preparation is an operational phase as well as a logistical function. Logistical support for trench rescue begins during the preparation phase, which takes place before the event and includes routinely inspecting and regularly maintaining equipment so that it is immediately ready for use. These tasks are typically the responsibilities of the staff at the fire or rescue station where the trench rescue equipment is stored. Inspection includes a visual check of lumber for warping, splitting, or other damage and of the general overall condition of hand and power tools.

Preparation also entails making sure there is an adequate supply of equipment and materials. Power sources, such as generators, must be checked to ensure that they are in working order. Adequate fuel supplies must also be in stock. Pneumatic and hydraulic shores should be in proper working order, and spare parts and other related supplies should be in stock.2 Expendable stock items, such as spare saw blades and chains, nails, an air supply, and spare fuel, should be checked and replenished when necessary.

The logistics function is also responsible for the work area. The logistics manager must identify an area that will be adequate for setting up the operation and work quickly to establish a well-organized work area. The work area should be large enough to allow for the following: the access and removal of equipment from the transport vehicle; an organized layout of tools and equipment for rapid assignment; an organized display of lumber; easy identification of mechanical shoring devices-pneumatic, hydraulic, pipe, and screw jacks, for example; and a cutting station where shoring can be constructed as needed. The cutting station should include a work table or saw horses for laying out the materials to be cut; a power source; power saws; adequate carpentry tools; adequate lighting; and, most importantly, a competent saw operator.

The logistics manager must maintain a well-stocked and productive work area for as long as the operation lasts. That means the logistics management must estimate the length of the operation and determine which support services and equipment will be needed. The latter include lighting for the work area; shelter for tools, the cut station, and the logistics staff; and adequate food and water for the logistics staff.3

The preparation phase is also the time to evaluate how efficiently tools and equipment can be taken from the transport vehicle and placed in service at a collapse site. Time is of primary importance for rapidly controlling hazards and stabilizing an unshored trench. Having to access several compartments before you can set up the equipment needed to initiate ventilation of a trench or to have to offload a large quantity of equipment before you can place ground pads or locate shoring panels is counterproductive.

Since transport vehicles have limited storage capacity, equipment is usually crammed in the compartment in several layers without giving much thought to how effectively it can be deployed at an incident scene. The equipment should be logically grouped in the rig’s storage areas so it can be rapidly deployed at the trench incident scene. One way to do this is to arrange the tools and other equipment according to the chronological order in which they typically are used.

The typical sequence of a trench rescue, given below, can be used to brainstorm a general chronological pattern of equipment usage.

  • Approach. Ground pads and a ladder (in case someone falls when placing the ground pads).
  • Hazard control. Vent fan, power source, atmospheric monitoring equipment.
  • Trench stabilization. Shoring equipment, carpentry equipment, power saws.
  • Extrication. Digging tools, hand and power tools.
  • Patient care, packaging, and removal. EMS equipment, patient-packaging equipment, rope rescue, and retrieval gear.

The preparation phase is also the time to develop visual displays that will be carried on the trench rescue equipment vehicle. Displaying charts or white boards listing the available air supply, fuel, and other resupply needs enhances the logistics function. These visuals include OSHA shoring charts, equipment lists, inventory lists, mechanical shore sizing charts, and manufacturers’ tabulated data.4

This information can be displayed at the equipment supply point so the logistics manager and rescue officer can check the charts for inventory status, assignments, and tracking and as a basis for making tactical decisions and performing various other management tasks. If you already have preestablished agreements (which you should) for specialized equipment, such as vacuum equipment, excavation equipment, and cranes, acquire or develop charts that show the capabilities and operational requirements of this equipment. This will help the rescue officer or incident commander to plan how the equipment will be used, set up, and supported should it be needed.

The logistics manager should update the visual displays as inventory and conditions change.

Organization

A variety of equipment is needed quickly to support a trench rescue operation (see “Equipment-Trench Rescue Operation” on this page). The logistics function can be easily overwhelmed if it is not well organized and strongly managed.

Much action takes place at the logistics work site. The logistics manager will constantly be reacting to demands for materials, cut lumber, and repairing or servicing equipment. The logistics staff should be adequate so that it is not overwhelmed by the demands. There should be at least one cutter for the cutting station and two assistants/runners for shuttling, servicing, repairing, and modifying equipment as needed.

Control

To establish and maintain control, the logistics manager should limit and control entry into the equipment storage area. Setting up some type of visible barrier with tape, snow fencing, or street barricades will serve to direct people to a single checkpoint from which equipment and supplies may be requested.

Inventory tracking is an important function at a trench event.5 The logistics manager must know what tools have been checked out, who has the tools, and the locations at which the tools are being used. Logistics must also know what equipment is available on other apparatus on the scene should it be needed. As an example, many jurisdictions have trench rescue vehicles that carry primarily shoring and carpentry equipment. Rescue company apparatus generally carry power sources, extrication tools, patient packaging, and rope rescue equipment.

Inventory control entails updating the visual displays in use. As an example, charts showing lumber sizes and available stock should be revised as stock is added from resupply or used up during the operation. Sizing charts for pneumatic and hydraulic shores are absolutely critical for quick reference during the selection process, especially when mixing shores, swivels, and extensions. It can be extremely frustrating for a rescue officer to receive a shore in any other size than the size he requested. Visual displays can also list available air supply, fuel, or other resupply needs.

Service

The obvious function of Logistics, then, is to ensure that the resources, equipment, and services needed to safely and efficiently conclude the incident are available and ready for immediate use, as already described.

Forecast-Acquisition

Trench collapse rescues are frequently long-term operations that may require the services of specialized outside resources. The logistics manager must forecast what the support requirements of a long-term operation will be and arrange to acquire and set up that equipment, which may include specialized lighting for nighttime operations in the rescue area, at the command post, and in the logistics work area.

Logistics should assess weather conditions and arrange for rain or sun protection over the trench area to protect victims and rescuers. If rainwater runoff will be a problem, Logistics must have on hand pumps to remove the water and materials for diking or diverting runoff water from the trench. In cold weather, heaters must be on hand to warm victims and rescuers in the trench.

Difficult rescue situations such as total burials; intricate entrapment by boulders, building materials, or heavy equipment; and collapse involving running or saturated soils may require equipment from sources not on the scene. This specialized equipment may come from internal or external resources. Internal resources might be other rescue companies, ladder companies, or other fire department sources. The local public works department or private contractors may have to provide additional shoring, vacuum trucks, trench shields, heavy equipment, and engineering expertise. In these situations, the logistics function should be prepared to identify the sources and locations of specialized equipment that may be needed.6 The logistics manager works in coordination with Command to acquire whatever resources are needed.

Trench rescue incidents do not occur every day. When they do occur, logistical support requirements can challenge rescuers’ skills and overwhelm the incident commander. Therefore, a competent logistics officer (and additional staff, if indicated) should be assigned.

Endnotes

1. OSHA CFR 1926.650, 651, and 652 and NFPA 1670, Standard for Operations and Training for Technical Rescue Incidents-1999, and NFPA 1006, Standard for Rescue Technician Professional Qualifications-2000.

2. OSHA 1926.651, Excavations, General Requirements, (k) Inspections.

3. The incident commander, who will manage rehabilitation needs of all personnel on the incident scene, typically addresses overall incident support needs.

4. OSHA 1926.652, Excavations, Requirements for Protective Systems, (2) Option (2) Designs Using Manufacturer’s Tabulated Data (i), (iii); (3) Option (3) Designs using other tabulated data (iii).

5. NFPA 1006, Chapter 9, 9-1.3.

6. NFPA 1006, Appendix A-9-1.1, 51.

ROBERT RHEA is a 21-year veteran of the Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue Department, where he is a battalion commander assigned to the Operations Division. He had served for 16 years with the department’s Technical Rescue Team and Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team. He is a principal committee member on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1670, Standard on Operations and Training for Technical Rescue Incident, and 1006, Standard for Rescue Technicians Professional Qualifications. He is co-owner of ARK Technical Rescue Training Services.


The preparation phase is the time to evaluate the deployment effectiveness of the tool-equipment storage scheme. The question to be answered is, How quickly can the tools and equipment be deployed from the transport vehicle and put into action at the collapse site? (Photos courtesy of author.)


The tools and equipment that would have to be procured and prepared include lumber, shoring materials, carpentry tools, digging and soil-removal equipment, hazard-control equipment, extrication tools, patient-removal devices, rope and rigging equipment, generators, fuel, ladders, and lighting and heating equipment.

Equipment-Trench Rescue Operation

The tools and equipment Logistics must acquire and prepare for a trench rescue operation include lumber, shoring materials1, carpentry tools, digging and soil-removal equipment, hazard-control equipment, extrication tools, patient- removal devices, rope and rigging equipment, generators, fuel, ladders, lighting, and heating equipment.2

Tools and equipment may have to be modified for special unusual entrapment problems. At one incident, a small rock wedged the victim’s foot, and the extrication efforts required that a thin digging tool be inserted between the rock and the victim’s foot. The typical small entrenching shovel or other garden trowel carried on the trench unit was too wide. Logistics cut the blade of an existing entrenching shovel down to the required size, and the rock was easily removed.

The logistics manager also is responsible for having the personnel and equipment to refuel power tools, provide air for pneumatic tools, make field repairs to damaged equipment, and perform on-site service to keep power tools and generators running smoothly.

Endnotes

1 NFPA 1006, Standard for Rescue Technician Professional Qualifications-2000, Appendix B-Rescue Technician Kit, 53.

2 Shoring materials can include timber shoring, pneumatic or hydraulic shoring, trench panels, and various sizes and types of lumber.

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