Down a dark hole
Training exercise ‘not for the claustrophobic’
04 Sep 2003
By Brian McBride News-Gazette Staff Writer
A Kissimmee building collapses with victims inside. A city utility worker is severely injured after he falls 30 feet into a sewer pipeline.

In the past, outside agencies would have to be called in to handle such emergencies. But specialized instruction recently taught to the Kissimmee Fire Department has changed all that.

Firefighters completed 56 hours of certified training Aug. 28 through the Central Florida Fire Academy. The training allows those firefighters to respond to such calls and teach other city rescue personnel the tactics in-house.

Ten city firefighters went through a number of drills last week in which controlled emergency simulations were conducted. They rescued a mock victim from a sand hopper at rock and cement plant and crawled through a stormwater drain, avoiding rats and snakes to reach a mannequin used in training.

The certified firefighters can now be the first response to confined space calls, trench and building collapses and machine entrapments.

“We don’t really have special training like this so we want to get certified to get a rescue team,” said Kissimmee Fire Lt. Jim Walls, who will act as a future training instructor for calls of this nature.

The final drill last week involved rescuing a live body from a sewer lift station off Florida Avenue, which dipped 30 feet below through a narrow metal canister.

“Right now, we’d be calling Orlando or Orange County,” said Walls before the rescue exercise was completed.

With the premise being that a utility worker had fallen down the musky canister to the hard concrete floor, firefighters set up an anchored pulley system to lower Fire Engineer Tim Wymer into the well while attached to a harness. Another firefighter was at the bottom of the well acting as the victim.

Meanwhile, a hand-held oxygen meter on site checked for poisonous toxins such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfate, and any combustibles gases emitting from below. The meter will help firefighters determine if a future incident involves rescuing a person or recovering a casualty from the confined space, department officials said.

“We’re dealing with combustible gases or an atmospheric problem that can kill you in a hurry,” Wymer said.

Oxygen was pumped through a thick yellow tube into the sewer from a mobile air blower as firefighters slowly lowered Wymer down into the canister. He was equipped with an oxygen mask that was attached to tanks above ground.

“If this were to really happen, it would be a high risk,” said Fire Academy Program Coordinator Ron Smith. “It’s a very risky thing as far as rescue. Four hundred incidents occur each year. We want to train and prepare them so they don’t become a statistic.”

Firefighters could succumb to falls themselves or could succumb to combustible gases. That’s why the drill included Wymer needing rescue as well, making a total of two victims in the sewer.

A third firefighter, Chris Owen, was then lowered into the well. He placed the two victims in a harness, sent them up through radio communication and then got out himself.

“It’s definitely not for the claustrophobic,” Wells said.

There are a total of six canister sewer lift stations in the city, fire officials said.

“We’re trying to get ahead of the game, we have a lot of potential (for accidents) in the area,” Wymer said.

The equipment needed for such a rescue had been budgeted into the 2003/2004 fiscal year, department officials noted.

When Wymer was lifted out of the well, he described the ordeal.

“It’s pretty tight,” he said. “You just have to be careful of the snags coming out.”

Owen, who followed him out, ending the drill, explained why he volunteered for the training.

“We want to provide a better service to the community,” he said.

Contact Brian McBride at 407-846-7600, Ext. 208. E-mail at bmcbride@osceolanewsgazette.co m