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Life-Saving Confined Space Rescue Lands Two FFs in Hot Water

Life-Saving Confined Space Rescue Lands Two FFs in Hot Water

Muncie Star Press via YellowBrix

September 09, 2010

MUNCIE — The heroic confined-space rescue efforts of Liberty Township volunteer firefighters on May 26 has landed them in hot water.

State officials say the volunteers violated occupational safety and health regulations.

As a result, the township fire department is taking corrective action to avoid having to pay a $1,500 fine imposed by the Indiana Department of Labor.

An investigation by DOL found that a team of firefighters who were not trained in confined-space rescue entered a 5-foot-diameter by 12-foot-deep well pit to rescue four people — including two firefighters — who had been overcome by muriatic acid vapor and/or hydrogen sulfide.

Plumber Eric Dalton, 40, and his assistant, Justin Benson, 19, both of Anderson, died after the incident at 5009 E. Centennial Ave.

Volunteer firefighters Rick Compton Sr. and Brian Buck were overcome by fumes as they tried to rescue the two men, who had entered the pit to make repairs. It is not out of the ordinary to use muriatic acid to clean well pumps, pipes and other components with sulfur buildup and corrosion.

Both firefighters survived.

Compton and Buck had arrived on the scene in their personal vehicles and street clothes ahead of their fellow firefighters, who were traveling in fire trucks with rescue gear. Compton and Buck entered the well unaware of the dangerous fumes below.

All four men were unconscious when other firefighters arrived.

Assisted by Muncie firefighters trained in confined-space rescue, volunteer firefighter Miles Waters, wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus, harnessed the victims so they could be pulled out.

“What they’re complaining about is we weren’t trained to do what we were doing,” said Brent Devine, chief of the Liberty volunteer fire department. “We are not trained in confined-space rescue.”

As a result, the fire department is changing its rules “to make sure we are not doing anything we are not trained in,” Devine said. “We also have stopped the use of all personal vehicles driving to the scene like Rick and Brian did.”

Devine told DOL that it would take his department three years to train and equip firefighters for confined-space rescue.

“All we can do in the future is get there, recognize the confined space, and call for a confined-space rescue team,” Devine said.

The Muncie Fire Department has such a team.

In the meantime, Liberty Township firefighters, based on the strong recommendation of DOL, are completing technical rescue awareness courses provided through the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

The class provides basic background to help firefighters identify confined spaces, to be aware of the dangers involved, and to reinforce the message that confined space rescue is too dangerous to attempt without proper training and equipment.

Knowing what they know now, would the volunteer firefighters have sent the untrained Waters into the hole to rescue his fellow firefighters?

“The DOL asked us that, too,” Devine said. “We would have done the same.”