Confined Space Rescue
A confined space is a space with poor access/egress that may present a life hazard (i.e. low oxygen, toxic fumes,
product engulfment). A few examples are a ship's hold, a grain elevator, a power plant boiler, or a chemical
storage tank. In response to confined space workplace fatalities, OSHA wrote 29 CFR 1910.146. This regulation
requires industry to follow specific safety protocols (and document it) before entering a potentially hazardous
space. Anyone violating this regulation can be fined. If an injury or death is involved, a fine from OSHA is
certain often followed by civil litigation.
Even with the best planning, things sometimes go wrong. With confined space, it could be an equipment malfunction,
a worker having a medical problem, or human error. In these situations, OSHA 1910.146 requires an adequately
staffed and trained rescue team to respond immediately. It can be an in-house or external team - as long as
responders are properly trained in confined space rescue and have the right equipment.
What does this have to do with the fire department? It was being listed on entry permits as the confined space
rescue service for local businesses (and the city) without its knowledge. So, the fire department had two choices;
ask people to remove the fire department as primary responders or train firefighters to become confine space
rescuers. After meeting with local industry (MN Power, Cargill, Duluth Steam, Cutler-Magner, Comfort Systems, etc.)
and reviewing the cost and time involved of each entity training and equipping its own individual team, fire
administration proposed a partnership. With donations and a matching grant from OSHA, the fire department purchased
equipment and training and added confined space rescue to its list of services.
The confined space rescue program is now in its third year. Training is ongoing. Equipment is kept at Station #1
in a dedicated trailer for immediate response. The department's goal is to have a team underway in 3 minutes (or
less) and a rescuer in the "hole" in 10 minutes.