Trench rescue incidents thankfully do not occur on a regular basis, but when they do occur, how prepared are our emergency responders in dealing with them?
Trench rescues by their nature are very complex and have the potential to rapidly deteriorate due to many factors including soil type, weather conditions, poor command structures and the unawareness of rescue personnel, just to name a few.
There is a saying in training that the types of incidents you attend the least are the ones you should train for the most, and this is especially true for trench rescues as they can be fatal to your rescue teams and victims if not managed correctly.
Having served 30 years in the Fire and Rescue service, I can honestly say that I received no formal training in trench rescue throughout my whole career yet should we have been called to an incident we would have been expected to deal with it as a professional rescue service. Looking back, and now with much more awareness of trench rescue, I think I can safely say we would have been woefully unprepared.
Complex rescue scenario utilising Paratech Bipod and saviour stretcher
It is also true that due to the resources required to effectively deal with trench incidents it is often left to Fire and Rescue services’ technical rescue stations or USAR teams due to their specialist equipment resources. However, even many specialist teams have received very little training in trench rescue as there has been no formal accredited training available for rescuers to learn and practice the knowledge and skills required in dealing with trench-rescue incidents. As a result of this we at IRRTC have been working very closely with Paratech USA and developed the first accredited ‘Trench Rescue technicians’ five-day course in Europe. Paratech and their trainers in America have been teaching trench rescue to emergency responders for many years and have gained extensive knowledge of trench rescue operations, which they deliver to operational personnel throughout the USA.
Victims in trench incidents have both visual and non-visual injuries, which makes their initial care and handling even more important. Crush injury syndrome is very common at a trench collapse.
In addition, the weight of the soil can compress the victim’s chest cavity to a point where they can no longer take a breath. The significance of getting this pressure off the victim and providing the needed medical care is imperative to their long-term survival. Suffocation and hypothermia also will present significant risks for a trapped victim. Therefore, we must practice rapid victim access and have the tools and materials available as soon as possible to begin patient care and removal.
In most training cases, a mannequin or some object is placed in the trench to represent the victim. Not having the opportunity to train with live victims leaves a gap in our learning curve.
To help fill this gap and prepare your people for these challenges, we utilise medical personnel in our training who can present information on the treatment of patients with crush injury syndrome. Knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do when it comes to patient care.
‘As one of the top low-frequency, high-hazard responses we are called to, our situational awareness must be at its highest level.’ Trench Rescue Technician – SFJ Awards CCS Award of Completion
In order to bridge the gap in trench rescue we have developed Europe’s first accredited full five-day trench rescue technicians’ qualification. It is an exclusive course to IRRTC in partnership with Paratech USA and Vimpex UK Ltd.
We have designed this course specifically to allow learners to safely manage a rescue from a trench emergency and understand all the risks associated with trenches and excavations. This is not just an awareness course but it enables learners to practically set up a safe system of work for rescue in a variety of trenches.
The course is a full five days incorporating underpinning theory and extensive practical elements to achieve a CCS award in completion as a trench rescue technician (SFJ Awards).
- Importance of risk versus benefit analysis at a trench rescue
- Understand when trenches are used and associated terminology
- Identify key components of Incident Command at a trench rescue
- Understand soil types and physics
- Understand factors that lead to a trench collapse and varying types of collapse
- Demonstrate various types of equipment when carrying out trench rescue
- Understand the importance of atmospheric monitoring at a trench rescue
- Understand and carry out access to a trapped or buried victim in a trench emergency
- Understand and carry out a casualty rescue from a trench emergency
- Understand the elements and process during termination of a trench incident
- Be able to effectively review own practice
As previously mentioned in this article, it is often the technical rescue stations or USAR teams who will get mobilised to a trench incident, but the question I have here is how many stations who do not have this specialist equipment are aware of the dangers and control measures at trench incidents? I would suspect that there is very little knowledge out there to deal with these incidents safely.
Understanding soil and types of collapse (2 examples)
A key part of dealing with trench incidents is knowing what type of soil is involved and the likelihood of the collapse type.
- Active Soil tends to move, and this movement may result from removal or failure of a protective system, or just the inability of the soil to sustain or hold up its own weight.
- Passive Soil has no tendency to move.
When working with soil and in a trench environment, remember, you will not outrun it. Shear wall collapse happens at approximately 45mph. Also, you are not going to lift it off you; 18in of soil on a body weighs between 1,000 and 3,000lb.
These are just two of the types of collapses that can occur at trench incidents, and it must be remembered that they can happen any time before or after the arrival of the emergency services. This is why we need a greater awareness of our rescue actions in and around the trench in order to prevent making the situation worse for the victim and rescue teams.
In this short article of what is a very large subject area I have just tried to give you the reader a ‘little food for thought’ into how you address your response to trench incidents. Trench responses can challenge even the best-prepared organisations. Always remember, the more we know about these challenges, the better and safer our services will be prepared when mobilised to a trench rescue.
I hope you have found this article informative and interesting, but if you would like to know more, you can visit our website for details of courses and dates.
For more information, go to www.irrtcrescue.com