As the incident commander, you need to ask yourself, am I prepared to commit personnel into this hazardous atmosphere and what will be the outcome of this endeavor?This is the second article in a series on confined space emergency response at the company officer level. Even if the company officer and the crew has been through Operations Level training, unless the skills learned in that training are practiced routinely, there will still be an appreciable amount of anxiety in dealing with these complex situations.
There are, however, things that can be done by the first-in companies to keep the problem from getting any worse. In the last article, we discussed the definitions of confined spaces and arrival considerations, including apparatus placement and size-up. In this article, we will be discussing command and control of these incidents.
As in fires or any other emergency, the first arriving officer needs to exercise command options appropriate for the scene. Given that this series of articles is targeted toward non-technician responders, and you are not responding as part of a confined space response team, you should establish scene control and either assume or pass command. Generally, the rule is that unless you can take an immediate action that is going to make a difference in the scene outcome, the first arriving officer should establish a strong, visible, centralized command. Confined space emergencies can get way too complicated to try to manage them "on the move".
Transmit an arrival report describing scene observations to your dispatch and other responding units. Establish command in a safe and visible location. Consider the fact that you may be dealing with hazardous materials or an unstable space and position your apparatus and CP accordingly. Advise Dispatch of command designation, location, and pertinent arrival information. Of course, first arriving officers should implement scene control and accountability and importantly, deny entry to unauthorized persons.
Considering the situation at hand and assuming a proper size-up of the situation (as we did in the previous article), a risk/reward analysis needs to be done based upon the hazards that exist. Are there visible victims and if so equipped, can we use their entry belay to retrieve them? Even if someone can't be seen in the space, are there clues like open manholes, tools lying around the site, or children reported as playing in or around the space? What is the actual nature of the emergency? The information obtained in the size-up will provide clues as to how long the victim has been in the space, atmospheric conditions, and other hazards within the space.
As the incident commander, you need to ask yourself, am I prepared to commit personnel into this hazardous atmosphere and what will be the outcome of this endeavor? I am willing to risk a lot to save a life but I'm not willing to risk much to do a body recovery. Consider the more notorious confined space fatalities in the past decade and ask yourself if you want to be one of those case studies.
Considering what currently allocated resources you have at hand, do you have the ability to manage this incident? If you don't have the resources, call early and get them on scene. What access do you have to the space? Quite a few confined spaces have limited access. Will there be a need for additional riggers, aerial access, cutting, etc.?
Management of the scene requires an effective incident management system, accountability, and staging of non-allocated resources. Even the simplest situation requires staffing for an entrant, an attendant, and a supervisor. If you look at those positions as being the Entry Team, the RIT Team, and the Incident Commander, you can start to see what kind of manpower considerations we have here. Anyone with any training at all in confined space entry knows that while three people may be sufficient for industrial applications while all factors are controlled, in an emergency situation there are way too many factors to control to allow such a small response. Someone must perform air monitoring constantly and someone must provide ventilation, rigging will need to take place, and the list goes on. Thus the need to preplan spaces in your jurisdiction so you can have an appreciation for the numbers required to perform a safe and adequately staffed entry.