Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Confined Space

Back in the day, all that was required to perform a confined space operation was a high guts to sense ratio and a flashlight. After the tragic loss of many would-be rescuers, ropes, SCBA and two forms of communication were required.

Although the number of rescuer deaths dropped, too many people were still dying and getting hurt in confined spaces. Recognizing the need for improvement, additional requirements were put in place, training offered and equipment developed. Today, a systemic approach is applied to confined space operations and to confined space rescues and investigations. It is a system that was borne from blood and loss and one that should be applied when working in these areas.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to photograph one such operation. It was an investigation of a suspicious odor and though there was no emergent situation, it did call for the expertise of the technical rescue team assisted by the haz-mat team.

The scene - dusk at a rail car unloading facility. The situation - a suspicious odor coming from a drainage system. The mission - determine if the cause of the odor.

The conditions present situation mandated a permitted entry. Thus - a lot of things needed to happen before entry could be made.

There are knots to be tied.

There is a multitude of equipment to be set up and checked out.

Checklists must be completed and marked.

The entry and back-up teams have to be equipped and made ready to go. After all, these procedures are designed to protect people, both the victims and the rescuers.

The ambient air in the confined space must be monitored before entry and continuously during the operation.

Before entry is made, a final briefing is held to everybody knows what the game plan is and that everybody knows exactly what they are supposed to do.

And of course everything is checked off and documented.

After all of the boxes are checked, the people briefed and the equipment ready, it is time to make entry.

Again, everything is recorded with particular attention being paid to entry times, ambient air conditions and air supply.

You can see why they call this confined space.

Two in, two out - ready to assist the rescuers if they should get in trouble. Here, the second member of the entry team is lowered into the hole.

As the people down hole are dependent  upon the external air supply, constant monitoring is mandated.

What goes in must come out. At some point, either the objectives are obtained or the entry team needs to by replaced. Either way, the people must come out. Even though they are on their way out, vigilance must be maintained until everybody is out of the space and the entry point is secured.

 A meeting between the shot-callers is held to make sure all of the objectives were met and to determine the next course of action. Issues and concerns are expressed and the status of people and equipment are verified.

As all objectives are met, clean up begins. As the confined space was filled with all kinds of decomposing organic material, the entry team and their equipment needed to be washed off before being loaded up and returned to quarters. I must say that the entry team had a unique odor about them upon their egress from the hole. There was some debate about whether they had picked up some smell while down hole, or whether it was just the usual "B" shift stench. It remains a mystery.

  After everything was loaded up, the crews returned to quarters and finished clean-up and returning the equipment to a serviceable state. I returned to the crib and enjoyed a cocktail and some quality time with The Saint That I Am Married To. 

As always, it was good to see everyone again - even though I see some of these people as often as I did when I was on the job - I still miss them.

Thankfully this turned out to be nothing of great concern. Even so, the game still needed to be played.

Thanks to "B" shift and the Chief for letting me shoot, you guys did a good job with this.

Thanks to you for reading.


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