Conspace For Company Officers - Part I

Faced with a confined space emergency, the incident commander should, after scene size-up and assumption of command, develop an incident action plan.


Faced with a confined space emergency, the incident commander should, after scene size-up and assumption of command, develop an incident action plan. An incident action plan (IAP) should be developed for any emergency you plan to manage, but the complexity of confined space rescue is even more deserving of a plan to be developed and implemented. Planning is important to the success of the rescue. As has been said many times before, "People who fail to plan, plan to fail".

This is the third article in a series on confined space emergency response at the company officer level and Part 1 of a section on action plan development. Even if the company officer and the crew have 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.

As I stated in the previous article, the first arriving officer needs to exercise command options appropriate for the emergency scene. Given that this series of articles is targeted toward non-technician units operating as part of a confined space response, the first arriving officer should establish scene control and either assume or pass command. Generally, the rule is: unless you can take an immediate action that is going to make an immediate positive difference in the scene outcome, the first arriving officer should establish a strong, visible, centralized command. Confined space emergencies are too complicated to try to manage them "on the move".

Development of an IAP should be consistent with the organization's standard operating guidelines for entry-type confined space rescue. The IAP should identify the problems at hand and include strategies for dealing with those problems.

Components of a typical action plan might include the following:

  • Size-up considerations: site assessment and confined space assessment, including review of any existing permits

  • Resource organization and accountability (IMS)

  • Control issues: perimeters and control zones, hazard evaluation and control (including energy control), and a comprehensive risk/benefit analysis that evaluates the viability of the victim

  • Equipment needed: personal protective equipment, chemical protective clothing, specialized rescue equipment

  • Rescue/recovery objectives: on-scene work assignments, communications procedures, emergency decontamination procedures for the victim

  • Decontamination procedures for rescuers

  • On-scene safety and health procedures, including personnel health monitoring, on-scene rehabilitation, emergency medical care procedures, and the designation of a safety officer

  • Scene termination procedures

Size-up considerations should include a site assessment and a confined space assessment. As mentioned in the first article , not all confined space incidents are the same; conditions change, particularly from the time the original preplan survey was conducted until the time the incident occurred. Therefore, the information gathered in the initial size-up is crucial to the development of the plan.

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Photo By Michael "Mick" Mayers

Allocated resources must be organized and accounted for using an incident management system. As the incident commander, you need to know what resources are allocated and determine whether these resources will be sufficient to mitigate the situation. A properly utilized incident management system will also help the IC maintain an appropriate span of control and will aid in locating units operating on the scene.

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