TSL’s co-founder, Brent Wise, recently shared his extensive knowledge with the steel erector industry publication, Connector. Read on for his Dos & Don’ts in high level emergency management.
By Brent Wise, Dallas Technical Rescue Captain and Tech Safety Lines Co-Founder & COO
When you’re up high on a job site, there’s no more terrifying sound than the yell of your buddy as he or she goes over the edge. If the person is wearing OSHA-mandated safety gear, he or she won’t fall far. But once someone is dangling in the air, that person is still counting on you to save his or her life.
Calling 911 should always be your first move, but remember: you are already in the right place at the right time to act. You need to get your colleague down as quickly and safely as possible – not just because OSHA mandates prompt rescue, but because dangling from a harness in space is hard on the body and mind.
Nothing cuts off circulation and breathing like your entire body weight bearing down on the straps that just saved your life, and there’s no more helpless feeling than being unable to do anything about it while your blood pools in your legs. And, if you were injured either before or during the fall, you may have broken bones or lose consciousness, and be unable to help yourself.
I’ve spent 31 years as a firefighter, with 25 of those as part of the Dallas Technical Rescue Team specializing in high-angle and high-level rescue. In the last few years, I’ve noticed a growing realization among work crews that dialing 911 is not the only answer. It has become clear that people on-site need to be equipped to respond quickly, too.
If you’re working in a remote location, local first responders may not be trained for high-level rescue. Even in a big city like Dallas, only two fire stations host technical rescue teams. In most cases, the nearest fire station will respond, assess the situation, and then call us. So even in the best-case scenario, your buddy could be hanging there for a good 45 minutes waiting for the rescue team to arrive, plus the time it takes for our team to get him back to the ground.
With the right gear and training, you can get your co-worker down faster.
Dos and Don’ts in a High-Level Emergency
The best time to ensure a successful rescue is long before the incident occurs. If the first time you think about how to respond is after the fall has already happened, you’ve already lost the game.
Annual safety training isn’t enough. At least once a quarter, you need to conduct a realistic scenario in a real rescue situation, up on a structure, in a place where your team does actual work. Then, work through your plan, from notifying emergency responders to gathering rescuers to accessing equipment to getting your colleague down and ready for transport. This is the only way to be sure that you’ve thought through every potential hiccup in the process and are truly ready to enact a smooth rescue.
Planning ahead means you’ll have the right gear on hand, but also that you’ll have the right mindset. Start every day by asking yourself, “Is today the day I fall, or my buddy falls?” You don’t need an intricate plan. All you need is a site-specific framework for how to access the person injured, raise and transfer his or her weight to the rescue system, and lower the person to the ground.
Once a fall happens, there are a few critical things you should do – and not do.
- Get going. Don’t stand around discussing what to do. After an initial situation assessment, adapt the framework of your rescue plan to the specifics of the actual event.
- Stick to your plan. Now is not the time to try out new techniques.
- Have your rescue gear easily accessible. Do not consider ascending and starting your shift without your safety gear on your person, and any required backup gear at its pre-set location.
- Work smoothly. We accomplish a rescue quickly not by going fast, but by maximizing efficiency. Take your time and think through every move. If you rush, you could make time-consuming or even deadly mistakes.
- Focus on weight transfer. Whether the person is laying on a platform unconscious or hanging in the air, your objective is to safely transfer the body weight to prevent further injury and then get your co-worker down to the ground.
What if today is the day you fall? You need to either be able to rescue yourself, or to engage a system that allows you to lift yourself up and transfer your weight off your harness, so that you won’t suffer further injury.
Fall-arrest systems that employ shock-absorbing components have been in use for over two decades, but not all are designed with an integral rescue component. They’re made to keep you from free falling more than six feet, plus up to 3.5 feet of shock absorption.
Some refuge devices attach to your harness to allow you to ease pressure on your legs, but using them will transfer weight to the harness and can restrict your breathing. A better option is a system that eliminates all weight on the harness by way of a webbed ladder that’s integrated into the lanyard. Rather than being attached to your harness, the ladder is connected above your head, directly to the lanyard. This lets you stand up in place, adjust your harness, and relieve the pressure on your chest and groin. You should also carry a self-rescue kit with an adequate length of high-strength rope, which can be attached to your lanyard and used for controlled descent.
Repeated safety planning and training may not feel like a high priority, but in the seconds after a fall, it suddenly becomes the most important thing in the world. I sincerely hope that in the course of your career, you never need to use your rescue kit and training even once. But if you do, you’ll be glad you came to work that day prepared to save a life – and it could even be your own.
Brent Wise is a career firefighter who has spent 31 years with the Dallas Fire Department and currently serves as Captain of the Dallas Technical Rescue Team. He is Co-Founder and COO for Tech Safety Lines, Inc. (TSL), a fall protection, rescue training and equipment company based in Carrollton, Texas.