Confined Space Entry

The following article appeared on Page 1A of The Gleaner on Thursday 02/16/2017.

Local agencies train for rescues
HFD, water department practice confined space retrieval in manhole


BETH SMITH/ THE GLEANER HFD confined space rescue training with HWU at a manhole on Third Street.

Manholes aren’t exactly known as the most inviting environment.

But on a daily basis, crews with the Henderson Water Utility are called upon to descend into these narrow caverns to ensure water and sewer lines are functioning properly. And there’s always the possibility that something could go wrong while workers are down there.

Employees with HWU and members of the Henderson Fire Department teamed up Tuesday and Wednesday to conduct confined space rescue training in a manhole which was 24-inches in diameter and roughly 10 feet deep. It was located in the 300 block of Third Street.

“Throughout the city and county people are working in confined spaces,” said HFD Capt. Keith Brasher. “This exercise is a true-life response because water department employees do this regularly -sending someone into a manhole.”

Tom Williams, HWU’s general manager, said confined space rescue training is an important protocol just as it is to have the proper equipment and follow correct procedures when working in a manhole.

Williams said recently three construction workers died in Florida after descending into a manhole without first checking the air quality in the space and without having the proper equipment available for extraction. “The first man went in and was overcome (by fumes). The second worker jumped in to rescue him and was overcome. The third jumped in to rescue the first and second guys, and was overcome.”

He said in that case, a firefighter was then lowered in to rescue the workers but was overcome with gas fumes. Other firefighters were able to pull him out before he died.

“If we have a situation then, the Henderson Fire Department would come and help rescue someone from the manhole,” Williams said. “We haven’t had this training in a while, but we’ve heard some questions and seen some things which make us want to do this more often. It’s turned out to be a good exercise.”

“One of the biggest challenges with these rescues is the unknown atmospheric conditions,” Brasher said. “The person in the manhole could be experiencing unknown medical conditions and we’d have to treat that. Then a big obstacle is getting someone vertically out of the manhole.”

Willingly going into a confined space can take mental preparation, especially for those who might not like tight spaces.

“We train to make sure everyone is comfortable getting into the manhole for the rescue operation,” Brasher said.

All three fire department shifts will train with different water utility personnel so everyone is as prepared as possible.

“The water department allowing us to use an actual manhole and get into it is invaluable,” Brasher said. “We can simulate one at our training grounds, but there is nothing like the real thing.”

“It’s also important for us to work with water department employees to see what equipment they use and what we would need … what our limitations are” during this type of rescue, he said.

“This is the second time in 21 years that we’ve done this training,” Brasher said. “It’s overdue and something Chief (Scott) Foreman wants us to do on a quarterly basis.”