California Responder Devotes Herself to Technical Rescue

By Daniel J.O’Connell

Ana Garcia works tirelessly to protect workers and entrants in confined space workzones, creating a safer environment for all. Exposing workers to toxic and explosive gases in confined spaces is both dangerous and a violation of several OSHA regulations. Ana insures workers are fully protected by using proactive safety and hazard analysis, initial and continuous atmospheric air testing, and careful observation of workers. Onsite rescue teams are responsible for controlling hazards before workers enter a confined space.

Ana Isabel Garcia, NREMT

Ana is a registered Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), a state certified Confined Space Rescue Technician, and an active member of the ANSI/ASSE Z117 Standard Committee for Confined Space Safety since 2007. Ms. Garcia is a passionate advocate of occupational safety and health, and is a state certified Confined Space Rescue Technician. Ana is committed to changing the status quo for women and minorities in the Technical Rescue field.

It was during her junior year in high school that she became interested in Technical Rescue, and volunteered with the Fremont Fire Department Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program. This triggered Ms. Garcia’s curiosity in emergency medical technology and life rescue and what steps she would have to take to win a place as a professional rescuer in a world dominated by male participants. After graduating high school in Fremont California, Ana began training to obtain Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification. At 17, Ana was the youngest person to ever attend the EMT class, and she worked hard to excel in her class, learning by practice how to become an emergency medical technician.

During EMT training, Ana heard about a local rescue cadet program for youth ages 16 to 20, a program hosted by a local technical rescue team. Ana was accepted into the program and during her internship realized that someday she was going to be a leader in the Technical Rescue field.

As result of the decline in fire department funding during the economic depression of 2012, standard specialty services (standby rescue) previously provided by local fire departments had now been curtailed. Local government agencies relying on their local fire departments to support them, were now faced with the added challenge of finding a replacement so they could perform maintenance and repair services safely. Many local public works and water agencies did not have an in-house rescue team, as agencies performing work in confined space are mandated by federal and state law to comply with stringent safety regulations before conducting work within these potentially dangerous locations. Agencies having identified Permit Required Confined Space [1] (PRCS) onsite, had no choice but to seek out an alternative rescue service provider. Just as she predicted at a young age, technical rescue service providers have grown exponentially in response to the demand from government agencies, manufacturing, and building sector.

To highlight the current situation agencies face [2] a recent report authored by Daniel J. O’Connell, a certified rescue professional explains, “Over the last decade when an agency needed a confined space rescue team, contact would have been made with the local fire department requesting a standby team. As fire departments were forced to reduce operating budgets, it had affected many special non-emergency services (normally provided), the entrepreneurs answered the call by establishing independent technical rescue teams, and the dawn of a new service industry was born.”

Ms. Garcia feels there’s no time to lose for women and minorities to enter the technical rescue field.

Ms. Garcia feels there's no time to lose for women and minorities to enter the technical rescue field.

Safety Mentor & Educator

For this relentless Latina, it takes a lot of energy to run a rescue team, to educate and inspire workers across generations (new workers, mid-career, seasoned professionals) about the importance of working safely in confined spaces. Workers often see the rescue team as nothing more than one more service provider, passive and how stays in the shadows until there is an emergency. As Ana explains, “Many public works crews using rescue teams don’t understand how things work, they just want to get in and get out (confined space), without thinking about the hidden dangers of confined space work, or even mandatory OSHA requirements. They often see safety and rescue responders as impediments to their job, failing to understand that the rescue team is not just hired to just sit in a corner, only responding when there’s an emergency. The big difference in the way I run things means we are directly interfaced and upfront with the work crew, guiding and directing operations to insure work is conducted safely. Being a proactive rescue team means we prevent safety and health issues from arising, including the need to be rescued.” Captain Garcia reminds all her agency crews and team members that Safety is First, as we all go home in good health and high spirits sans injury or regrets.

Captain Garcia also believes that to control and decrease the number of serious injuries and fatalities in confined space workzones, everyone must play an active role in working safely–workers, management, and rescue responders together.

Don’t give up/Persistence is the Key

It takes a lot of perseverance to break through a field not traditionally thought of for women and minorities as Captain Garcia has done. She studied hard for her professional certification, but even after all the hard work, there was one test she still is working on to conquer. Convincing workers that an aggressive and forward stance towards occupational safety is a highly respect worthy attribute, one that separates her from the completion!

Today, Ana Garcia is working alongside fire service professionals who staff the rescue crews she leads, they too learn a thing or two from Captain Garcia, and fully respect her command and decisions.

“You never know who you are going to touch,” said Ana. The last time she shared this story, she received an e-mail afterwards with a moving message from an aspiring safety officer at one of her agency wastewater sites who was frustrated with her worker’s behavior, and wanted to quit. Instead, the young woman thanked her for inspiring her to continue moving forward and promoting the safety message.

A forward direction is what has taken Ana Garcia from an internship at CSRS Rescue to her current position as Captain and Lead Rescuer for the San Francisco Bay Area Division.

There she manages a team of multi-disciplinary technical rescuers specializing in confined space, rope access, hazmat, and marine boat based rescue squad.

“Captain Garcia not only personifies the American Dream, she has dedicated herself and worked tirelessly to ensuring young Latinos and Latinas understand that nothing is out of reach for them,” said Maria Salas, President and CEO of CSRS Rescue Services, Northern California Division.

“Captain Garcia’s work, both at CSRS Rescue, as well as her passion and vision of attracting more Latinos to Technical Rescue careers, will no doubt help maintain the demand for competitiveness and second to none in opportunity for all. I am incredibly proud of Captain Garcia’s work, and I know that with her unstoppable drive towards excellence, she not only is an inspiration to young Latinos and Latinas everywhere, she is an inspiration to us all here at CSRS Rescue.”

Ana continues her dedication to young people with the rescue responder cadet program where she encourages, advises and evaluates candidates for potential professional career opportunities in technical rescue targeted at women and minorities--and the next generation of rescue professionals and occupational safety and health technologists.

For her contributions in Technical Rescue, she has received scores of accolades. Last year, she received recognition from East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) for her continuing service for onsite safety and rescue; she was named one of the safest emergency responders by her team.

Ana continues her dedication to young people with the rescue responder cadet program where she encourages, advises and evaluates candidates for potential professional career opportunities in technical rescue targeted at women and minorities–and the next generation of rescue professionals and occupational safety and health technologists.

REFERENCES

[1] A Permit Required Confined Space (PRCS) is an OSHA regulatory designation for a work zone requiring a written permit and other mandatory safety requirements. https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9797 CFR 1910.146

[2] A Rescue Team with the Right Stuff, ‘’Connell, D., August 2013, American Public Works Association, APWA Reporter. http://www.apwa.net/Resources/Reporter/Articles/2013/8/A-rescue-team-with-the-right-stuff

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