In mitigating an emergency incident, nothing is more important than the protection and preservation of human life. Emergency managers, along with their emergency responders, know well the hierarchy of incident priorities and will always place a high importance on the rescue of those in harm’s way. There are many defining moments before, during and after an emergency. The most important such moments involve prevention and preparation prior to the incident. Defining moments are often created by insight derived from realistic training and real-world experience, for which there can be no substitute.
At the Roco Training Center (RTC) in Baton Rouge, LA, that is exactly what is found -- very realistic training set up in simulated industrial structures and confined spaces. Multiple classes focused on different aspects of rescue training often use the facility simultaneously. The RTC and its unique training prop is designed and built for rescuers. Its primary purpose is to train emergency responders who face the challenge of confined space and high angle incidents, particularly in industrial environments.
Perhaps more than others, industrial responders recognize the inherent dangers associated with permit-required confined spaces (PRCS). Whether atmospheric hazards, extremely limited access or an area totally congested with the internal workings of a petro-chemical plant, these rescuers know their jobs will not be an easy task. They are also well aware of the many incidents over the years that have led to the deaths of confined space workers as well as their would-be rescuers. It is this alarming number that led OSHA to develop its 1910.146 Permit-Required Confined Space standard.
Industrial responders know they have much to consider even before entering a permit space. During Roco classes, students are continuously reminded to stop, evaluate, develop a plan and proceed cautiously. As a rescuer, you know if you’ve been called to the scene, something has already gone very wrong. Rescue personnel must know and understand that their first priority is to protect themselves. It is clearly stated in 1910.146 that the rescuer’s safety must come first!
Numbers Indicative of Industrial Expansion
A visit to the RTC reveals students from all walks of life, from those who are starting as novices with basic rescue knots to those who are practicing complex on-air confined space scenarios. The classes are made up of industrial responders, fire department personnel and even a few international students who have traveled around the world to take their first Roco class. But, no doubt, the vast majority of students are from the petro-chemical industry.
This large number of industrial students is indicative of the plant expansion that is occurring in the Gulf Coast Region. With so much activity in the industrial world, including new facilities being built from the ground up, there is a big need for skilled workers as well as skilled and experienced rescue personnel. That is why many of these students attend the Roco Training Center – they are preparing for jobs or projects at industrial sites. Confined space rescue would be among their responsibilities.
Novices to Rescue Technicians
Of the three rescue classes occurring at RTC, one is Roco’s “maxed out” Fast-Track 120TM program. This class, while not-for-the-faint-of-heart, includes 12 days of intense rope and confined space rescue training, practical scenarios and certification testing. Starting with the basics, students gradually build their level of confidence to their final goal of successfully completing written and performance based testing for certification in Confined Space and Rope Rescue. The rescue skills tested by Roco are based on the guidelines of those included in NFPA 1006, Professional Qualifications Standard.
Starting in 2014, Roco also can offer students ProBoard and IFSAC certification on select courses through Louisiana State University’s Fire and Emergency Training Institute (FETI). For example, students in Roco’s Fast-Track 80TM class have the option to choose ProBoard/IFSAC testing, which is conducted by LSU FETI officials on the last day of the course.
There was also a five-day class referred to as Industrial Rescue I/II. This course offers essential skills for the industrial rescuer. It begins with the basics and progresses to on-air practice scenarios. Using Roco’s philosophy of keeping it “safe and simple,” this course focuses on the skills and techniques most often needed in industrial settings. For those who are not “full-time” emergency responders and have additional job responsibilities, Roco tries not to overload the students with too many options. With limited training and practice time, these responders focus on safe, simple, and efficient techniques. Having a sound knowledge of basic skills could literally make the difference in life or death during a confined space emergency – for the victim and the rescuer!
Know Your CS Types
Another key focus for Roco students is practice in the most common industrial and confined space scenarios – which includes rescue practice from the six various “types” of confined spaces as described in 1910.146. OSHA also emphasizes that rescuers need to practice for the “worst case” scenario, or the “most restrictive with respect to internal configuration, elevation, and portal size.”
In Appendix F, OSHA mentions that the following characteristics of a practice space should be considered when deciding whether a space is truly representative of an actual permit space. These include: (a) internal configuration; (b) elevation; (c) portal size; and (d) space access. To assist employers and rescue teams in determining the various confined space types in their response areas and practice requirements, Roco has developed its “Confined Spate Types Chart.” This resource also includes tips from 1910.146 on “Rescue Team Performance Evaluations.” It is available as a free download on the company’s website.
With CS types practiced and preparing for the toughest scenario, this is where the RTC prop really stands out! The 5-story, 32,000 square foot structure built of stacked, off-set shipping containers offers a virtual “confined space” playground for rescuers. It was built to offer a multitude of confined space and elevated scenarios including all six CS types; to be “changeable” in order to keep it new and challenging for students and to afford a controlled learning environment where Roco instructors can coach students through the complexities of the scenarios. With three classrooms and multiple field station areas, the students have many areas to practice their skills. For some, it also means preparing for the skills testing required for Roco’s Confined Space and Rope Rescue Technician certification.
Meeting Rescue Performance Requirements
While OSHA 1910.146 does not set specific rescue training requirements, it does state that the rescue team (or rescue service) shall be capable of performing confined space and elevated rescues in a safe, effective and timely manner. In other words, it’s all about performance! While OSHA does state a “minimum” annual practice requirement in applicable types of spaces, it is up to the employer to ensure that its rescue team or service is indeed trained, equipped and capable of performing when the need arises.
One fun and enjoyable way that employers and rescue teams can document their rescue capabilities is at Roco’s Rescue Challenge event. Each year, teams from across the nation, meet at the RTC for a couple of intense days filled with challenging scenarios devised by Roco’s top instructors. Of course, for those who know him, the main instigator is Roco’s Director of Training and Chief Instructor Dennis O’Connell. With scenario names such as “Bottoms Up!;” “Fire in the Hole!;” and the infamous “Yellow Brick Road,” the teams know they will face the unexpected! According to Chief O’Connell, “We make Rescue Challenge as real as we can. We want the teams to experience what it’s like during a real emergency. It’s an incredible learning experience, and Challenge will truly test your team’s capabilities when the pressure is on.”
Note to Readers: Roco’s next Rescue Challenge will be held on October 8-9, 2014, at the RTC in Baton Rouge. The event is limited to six rescue teams. Observers are welcome with advanced registration!
What Keeps Rescuers Coming Back
The ability to simulate various types (and complexities) of confined space incidents as well as being able to modify the prop keeps rescuers coming back year after year. The facility also provides an excellent place for “seasoned” teams to meet their practice and drill requirements. One such team, a local industrial brigade from Motiva-Convent, was attending a “privately scheduled” Industrial Refresher class. According to Rescue Team Captain James Louque, “We’ve been training here for the past three years. We get real world experience from these guys.” He also added, “The stuff they give us is hands-on, not out of a book. That’s why we keep coming back.”
One scenario that the Motiva responders practice involves a worker in a confined space rendered unconscious by a contaminated atmosphere. The second scenario involved a suspension trauma victim hanging from a line in the RTC courtyard. Refresher training is designed to “knock the rust off,” said Roco Chief Instructor Chad Roberson. “We try to throw the worst case situations at them because if you can do the worst case, then you can do the easy rescues.”
Varied Backgrounds, Experienced Rescuers
When it comes to technical rescue, specifically in confined spaces, the rescue instructors and stand-by rescue teams at Roco probably understand these values better than most. The company’s success can be attributed, in part, to its dedicated workforce who is composed of municipal and industrial firefighters/rescuers, urban search and rescue specialists, law enforcement officers, and rescue specialists from U.S. military teams. These individuals are often paired together to teach Roco courses which creates a diverse instructional environment that promotes learning through the application of rescue best practices and real-world experiences.
It also seems that Roco personnel are constantly improving through internal testing and evaluation of the latest techniques and equipment that makes the job easier and safer for rescuers. “Our people have come up with some very unique ways to meet some very specific rescue needs. However, it all comes back to the same primary objectives. For us to add a new technique or piece of equipment into our programs, it must do the job we need it to do, do it safely, and do it efficiently,” says Jim Breen, Roco’s Director of Operations.
Most every day, you will find students out at RTC learning, practicing and preparing for the worst. These are individuals who are willing to risk it all to save the life of a co-worker or friend. Focusing on simple, effective techniques and realistic practice, Roco hopes to prepare them for the challenges they face every day in the world of industrial and confined space rescue.