Confined Space Rescue Operations

Fred Endrikat discusses the importance of being informed, properly trained and equipped when conducting a confined space rescue.


It is around the year 110 A.D.; the Roman Emperor Trajan sentences three criminals to clean sewers, an occupation considered to be one of the worst. How Many Of These Confined Spaces Are In YOUR Jurisdiction? Auto repair lift pits Below-grade basements...


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  • A supervisor must be trained in atmospheric monitoring, hazard recognition and hazard abatement.
  • An attendant must be trained in rescue management, rescue safety and rescue response. (The attendant cannot leave his or her position until relieved by another attendant.)
  • An entrant must be trained in hazard recognition, communications, personal protective equipment (PPE) and self-rescue.
  • A rescuer must be trained in the same categories as an entrant. Additionally, a rescuer must be an authorized entrant in order to enter a confined space to perform a rescue.

The OSHA Regulation establishes a proficiency level for training that must be attained:

  • The employer must ensure that each rescue service member is provided with, and trained to use properly, the PPE and rescue equipment necessary for making rescues from permit spaces.

    Each rescue service member must be trained to perform all assigned rescue duties and also receive the training required of authorized entrants under paragraph (g) of the final rule.

  • Each member of the rescue service must practice permit space rescues at least once every 12 months, by means of simulated rescue operations in which they remove dummies, mannequins or people from the actual or representative permit spaces.

  • Each member of the rescue service must be trained in basic first-aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). At least one of the members on site during rescue operations must hold current certification in both areas.

Although the OSHA regulation requires training, it does not specify the amount of hours, and it does not certify training agencies or curriculums and lesson plans. There is a wide variety of training available — from local and state level fire academies to private training consultants and organizations. Many fire departments provide three levels of training for confined space rescue operations.

The first level is a basic awareness course that informs all members of a department of the hazards associated with confined space operations and gives them a base-level familiarization of specialized equipment and practices utilized for rescue operations. Here, members are taught what actions not to take in order to protect themselves when they arrive first-in at a confined space incident.

The second level of training is commonly referred to as a support level. This is a more comprehensive program that is more hands-on in nature and will enable first responders to competently assist the more highly trained firefighters upon their arrival.

The third level of training is classified by many departments as the technician level. This is the highest level of training given, and involves many hours of classroom and practical training exercises. It is usually concentrated on a small percentage of members; for example, in many urban departments, rescue company members receive this training. In departments without dedicated rescue companies, specially formed technical rescue teams would be given this training.

Regardless of how your department structures its confined space training program, it is critical that every person who responds on an apparatus fully understands the deadly potential of confined spaces and is properly trained to his or her level of expected performance.


Fred Endrikat, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a lieutenant and 22-year veteran of the Philadelphia Fire Department, assigned to Rescue Company 1. He also is a Task Force Leader for Pennsylvania Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Task Force 1.