Recently NTMWD partnered with the Plano Fire Department to hold a confined space rescue drill at one of our wastewater lift stations on Rowlett Creek. The drill brought together the best of Plano Fire Department’s rescue, recovery and hazmat crews with supervisors from NTMWD’s water and wastewater divisions to practice a rescue in a confined space with possible hazardous gas exposure.
The event was staged at the Upper Rowlett Creek lift station, part of the NTMWD wastewater system. A lift station is an underground pump station that helps move wastewater further down the pipeline towards the wastewater treatment plant. This particular lift station moves an average of 20 million gallons of wastewater per day, and it’s only 1 of the 24 lift stations in the NTMWD wastewater system.
In this drill scenario, a worker (in this case a life-sized mannequin) is found unconscious on the bottom floor of the lift station, approximately three stories underground. To make matters more challenging, working inside a lift station requires hearing protection because of the noise produced by the pumps. This makes hearing commands on radios and cues from other team members even more challenging than normal – a situation that most rescue workers are not accustomed to. The atmosphere in the room must also be assessed for hazardous gas and oxygen depletion levels to avoid injuring the rescuers.
To rescue him, the rescue team must assess the situation, determine the best course of action, and safely rescue the worker without injuring anyone else in the process. After a brief team meeting, the technical rescue and hazardous materials crews got to work setting up a tripod to repel down into the bottom of the lift station. Specialized rescue workers donned full hazmat suits with respirators and then added their repelling gear on top so they could safely descend down the hole and into the bottom of the lift station. Once both rescuers reached the fallen worker, they began the process of loading him onto a backboard and lifting him safely out of the confined space.
As the rescue took place, other members of the NTMWD water and wastewater crews and the Plano Fire Department observed and studied the situation to learn how to be safer on the job and more prepared in case of an emergency. Photos and videos of the exercise will be used to further assess areas of improvement in rescue operations and in preventative safety measures and help guide future safety and rescue training.