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FL Firefighters Train in Underground Rescue

FL Firefighters Train in Underground Rescue

The Sun Sentinal via YellowBrix

July 28, 2010

BOCA RATON, FL — They brought out pulleys, hoists, straps and boards.

The group of Boca Raton firefighters pretended to rescue injured workers stuck in underground pipes.

“You’re going to take the guy and strap him on here,” said private instructor Kevin Mullen as he demonstrated on a plastic board.

Tuesday was the second day of training for 17 Boca Raton firefighters getting certified in confined-space rescue, including six who were hired within the past two years. It’s the first time the course has been held in four years.

The training involves technical rescues of people trapped in small spaces, such as underground vaults, storage silos and sewers. Although it rarely happens in the city, Boca Raton firefighters are the ones called when it does, said Fire-Rescue Division Chief Scott Johnston.

“When you get a call, immediately your heart starts racing,” he said. “That’s why the training is so important.”

Johnston was there the last time the team was called in June 2005. A contract worker got stuck while cleaning a pipe under a construction site at Spanish River Boulevard and Northwest Fifth Avenue.

Ciro Cardenas, 29, had put on scuba equipment and planned to go under for a 10-minute dive. After 20 minutes without resurfacing, a co-worker called 911.

Sand and silt inside the pipe made it hard for rescuers to find him. Hours later, they spotted his lifeless body with an underwater camera into the pipe. A firefighter was lowered in to pull him out.

“That was a difficult one,” Johnston said.

Confined-space rescues can also get tricky when hazardous gases and a lack of oxygen are involved, said Fire-Rescue spokesman Frank Correggio. Keeping an injured person’s spine immobilized when hoisted in the air can be tough too, he said.

Firefighters learned to handle these scenarios Tuesday at the department’s training site on Banyan Trail.

One instructor showed them how to use microphones and speakers to find a trapped person and communicate with the team. Another instructor knotted ropes and fastened straps onto boards to keep a person immobilized. A third group set up a hoist and pulley system that would lift victims and rescuers to the surface.

Although most victims are workers who get stuck underground, every once in a while a child climbs into the wrong place and gets trapped, Correggio said. If that happens, parents should call 911 immediately and not try to go in after the child.

“Don’t go in and try to get them yourself, we might have to rescue more people.”