Hazardous Materials Dangers in Confined Spaces

One of the most dangerous locations for fire, EMS and law enforcement emergency responders is the confined space. Hazards in confined spaces include mechanical/electrical, communicative, thermal, noise, structural barriers, limited space, size of openings...


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Entry into a confined space requires respiratory protection, protective clothing, a harness, life lines and a standby person. If there are no personnel who are trained beyond awareness at the local level, then you should know where such trained personnel are located and the notification procedures and lead time required to get them to your scene.

Confined space awareness training does not require an additional training class; it can be made a part of basic hazardous materials awareness, which is required by OSHA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for all emergency response personnel. Many state training organizations have confined space rescue classes available for personnel who may need to make entry into such spaces.


Robert Burke, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland. He is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFSP), Fire Inspector II, Fire Inspector III, Fire Investigator and Hazardous Materials Specialist, and has served on state and county hazardous materials response teams. Burke is a veteran of 24 years in fire and emergency services, with experience in career and volunteer departments. He has attained the rank of lieutenant, assistant chief and deputy state fire marshal. Burke is an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy and the Community College of Baltimore, Catonsville Campus, and the author of the textbooks Hazardous Materials Chemistry for Emergency Responders and Counter Terrorism for Emergency Responders. He can be reached in the Internet at robert.burke@att.net.