Trics Of The Trade: The Rescue/Pumper and the FDNY Squad Concept - Part 2

Jan. 31, 2008
At a trench rescue operation in New York City, the squad company firefighters will operate as a rescue company.

At a trench operation in New York City, the squad company will operate as a rescue company.

Technical incidents cover an enormous variation in response tactics compared to those on the fireground. While on the fireground we tend to do things in a more hurried manner because of the exponential extension factors of a cranking working fire.

At the technical incidents you often have to slow it down a bit and add to your size-up the additional tools, meters, and different personal protective equipment you made need for the protection of your people and the victim(s). While we dispatch some of these as "emergencies", it does take additional training to complete these evolutions correctly and with out injury.

As we all know, anyone can do something once or twice or even a few more times and be lucky. Sometimes if we do something that's not so good a few times and nothing happens, we may thinks it's OK if we are not corrected.

The same goes to technical rescues. I am sure you have heard it, but I would be remiss if I did not mention that over 66 percent of would-be rescuers become victims.

Trench Collapse Scenario

One incident I would like to relate to you is about a gentlemen that was having a problem with his septic tank. Because of the problem he goes out, removes the cover and does whatever it is that a guy with septic problems does. But, alas, he slips into the tank.

Hearing his cries for help his adolescent son goes running out there to lend a hand. Laying on his belly he reaches in to see if he can help his dad. As he extends his arm, the father grabs on, and, fully realizing that he is now in a world #*[email protected] hurt, (I couldn't say it!), the father trying to pull himself up inevitably pulls too hard and drags his son in to this mire with him.

The mother is now screaming for help and people are starting to gather around when an off-duty fire captain hears the mothers cries. The captain, just as anyone of us would do, dutifully heads toward the unfolding crisis.

He sees what's going on and grabs a large branch to extend to the panicking men. They start to pull on it and the captain stepping forward warns to hold on but not to pull as they could pull him into the muck too. As he is finishing his statement he realizes, too late, that he is too close to the edge and as the men pull in a panic and he attempt to retreat, he slips on the ground and falls in too.

By the time the local fire department was notified, got a crew to the firehouse and responded to the scene, it was a recovery operation. Sad but true.

After reading this unfortunate story you can probably come up with several different things you may have done to possibly save these people, right? But you were not there, no pressure, no screaming, unable to look in to their eyes and see the panic as these people were drowning in this disgusting sludge. It's always easy after the event to "critique" and come up with solutions.

Well gang, that's what training is for. You take the classes for the technical stuff and you learn what you can do, what you can not do, and what others have done. Hopefully we will learn from others mistakes so we do not repeat them.

The usual causes of death in a trench are as follows:

  • Suffocation.............................Unable to breath
  • Crushing Injury.......................Damage to internal organs, acidosis
  • Loss of Circulation...................Depriving vital organs the needed oxygen
  • Being struck by fallen objects....Becoming unconscious, blocked airway

Trench Operations in the FDNY
At a trench operation in New York City, the squad company will operate as a rescue company. Just like we have our duties at a fire, dependent upon whether the chief wants us to be an engine or a truck, our duties vary according to the circumstance and response arrival.

Arriving on scene first requires the squad to operate as the lead technical rescue unit. The officer will gather information relevant to mechanism of injury, why there was a collapse, where the collapse is located and the possible location of the victim(s) under the dirt.

While this is going on the can man will have already put on a harness and will be ready as assume the entry position. Meanwhile the rest of the members are getting out trench panels to initiate the rescue. A portable ladder is placed into the trench for access/egress and the area around the trench is cleared of the dirt at the edge, (known as the spoil pile), to place ground pads around the edge of the trench so no one slips in and becomes a statistic. (see photo 1)

You may think, no big deal, if slip in, I'll just climb back out. That's not always the case. Think about this; one cubic yard of dirt weighs about 2,700 pounds and dirt moves at about 40 miles per hour. That right, 40 miles per hour. You can not move that fast and once it starts your not stopping it. Your impact upon landing after you jump in may be all it takes for a secondary failure of the trench wall. This is where untrained people just jumping in to this kind of an arena get hurt. It's usually from a lack of knowledge.

One gallon of dirt weighs approximately 13 pounds and one cubic foot of dirt will fill eight one-gallon buckets. To put that in perspective, a spackle bucket full of dirt will weight 65 pounds. That's also why when we are digging we do not fill the spackle bucket to the top with dirt. It makes it more manageable for the people on top when removing dirt.

Once the spoil pile is moved far enough back to place the ground pads, the members with the trench panels move in to put the panels in place. (see photo 2) These types of operations demand flexibility and the use of personnel must be deliberate. Moving dirt, placing apparatus, removing apparatus to make way for supplies such as additional wood, more panels, or to set up a cutting station all require coordination. Using non-technical personnel to set up a perimeter is essential. Think about it, where does every person on the scene go when there is a trench operation? Right to the edge of the hole. We have to control who enters the work area. This alone is not an easy job and will require members that know how to say no.

After the panels are in place and the work area is secure, the entrants descend the ladder and start to locate the victim. (see photo 3) If dirt removal is needed, more personnel will be required at the edge of the trench to raise and lower buckets in addition to personnel necessary to pass the bucket along, dump them and return them to the members in the hole. A tool cache will have to be set up as well as a retrieval system and perhaps a high point, dependent upon the plan the officer has for removal. Once removal is complete the whole process is reversed and tool, struts, panels, padding are removed and if still usable cleaned and stored.

This is just some of the basics of a trench operation and how the FDNY Squad works in the capacity of a technical rescue company. This short forum is in no way to be construed as a complete trench operation. There are many parts of the training and operations that have been left out intentionally for brevity. This is just a brief look at what a special operations company in the FDNY encounters. If you look at photo 4 you will see how complex some of these operations can become. This is a shoring operation in an "L"-shaped trench.

Being part of a Special Operations Unit means never saying you can't. It means continual training, over and over, on all of the disciplines. Sometimes this seems redundant, but when the chips are down and a chief officer looks to you to get certain tasks done, you know that your company is trained and capable of completing the tasks at hand, safely and competently.

The next installment will look at how the squad works in the capacity of a rescue company at another technical incident. When you do train for technical rescues you need to use the techniques on a regular basis. Regular training keeps you sharp. The actions become second nature, use them, The life you save may be your own. These are just some more... Trics of the Trade.


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