UConn firefighters engineer new solutions for confined space rescue

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Eye said the practice is one of many situations that the teams will practice without the pressure of lives at stake in preparation of emergencies on campus with more to come this summer. (File/The Daily Campus)

Beneath bags of lines, carabiners and compressors lay a 70 foot drop and a lone, albeit artificial, victim.

The ‘victim,’ Woody, as he was affectionately called by responders in reference to his oaken frame, was lowered into a chasm Friday to prepare University of Connecticut firefighters for an increasingly prolific problem: confronting close quarters in a changing architectural world, as part of a confined space training.

The simulation took place in the new Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) at UConn, a new structure that confines its pipes and resources into two main pillars beneath a “floating core”, the confined spaces that Friday’s training addressed, according to the university planning, design and construction website.

UConn Fire Department (UCFD) firefighter Patrick Eye said that personnel had to engineer a new way to extract civilians inside the pillars due to the nature of the reinforced walls; the IPB requires extremely thick concrete so it’s isolated by vibrations as it will house digital, optical, electron and ion microscopes according to its official site.

In the simulation, firefighters descended 70 feet into the building’s southerly pillar and retrieved a simulated victim.

Eye said that the scenario offers a problem solving exercise for firefighters as they, by jury, find the best way to respond to these instances.

“(Problem solving skills) come up a lot, especially in technical rescues like this, confined space rescues, hazmat. That stuff happens a lot, ” Eye said. “Over the years, the fire services have taken over a lot of things that no one else can do.”

In Friday’s case, personnel designed a system of pulleys and lines in order to move responders and gear up and down the space safely.

“When we’re setting up a system for rescuing, we’re always going to have two lines; A failsafe and a haul line or a main line which we’re going to use to lift the patient up,” said UCFD firefighter Frank Vumbaca. “What we ended up doing here is using a two-to-one system so if something were to happen to our rescuers, we could use that to haul them up. In essence if our rescuers weigh 200 pounds. If we use that system, to us they’re only going to feel like 100.”

Crew members such as Vumbaca each provided their own specialty, with individuals manning air, communication and pulley systems. 

Due to the nature of the confined space, Eye said that responders must assess the atmosphere before sending personnel in case of gas or other harmful contaminants.

“We monitor about halfway down and all the way down with a meter to see if it’s low oxygen or toxic,” Eye said. “In some instances we may need to put (our firefighters) on supplied air. In others we may need to provide flash protection to protect from fires.”

Together the group came together to safely experiment the ways in which problems could arise under pressure.

“There’s a lot of major parts that are going on all at the same time to orchestrate this,” Captain Stan Landry said.

Eye said the practice is one of many situations that the teams will practice without the pressure of lives at stake in preparation of emergencies on campus with more to come this summer.

“An emergency is a lot more involved.” Eye said. “Since we have time and it’s training we’re trying to solve these problems that we’ve identified.”


Collin Sitz is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at collin.sitz@uconn.edu.

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