Back to Top
Skip to main content
NETL-Albany Teams Up with Firefighters To Practice Confined-Space Rescue
A tripod and winch being used to remove rescue dummies representing workers from a gas-filled confined space during a full-scale training exercise at NETL-Albany.

A tripod and winch were used to remove rescue dummies representing workers from a gas-filled confined space during a full-scale training exercise at NETL-Albany.

A drill conducted at the NETL research campus in Albany, Oregon, gave firefighters and the Lab’s emergency response organization (ERO) the opportunity to overcome several challenging obstacles and coordinate efforts in a simulation to rescue personnel trapped in a confined space filled with toxic gas.

As part of a full-scale emergency exercise, members of the City of Albany Fire Department responded to NETL to rescue a pair of “unconscious workers” (life size rescue dummies) who were overcome by hydrogen sulfide while conducting an inspection in a narrow tunnel.

Tom Henke, a city firefighter and paramedic, said the drill quickly grew in complexity when firefighters arrived. The confined space was filled with pipes, ruling out the use of a conventional ladder to access the area. Instead, firefighters wearing self-contained breathing apparatus had to be lowered into the tunnel using a tripod and winch.

Life-size rescue dummies, placed in the dark, damp tunnel to replicate the unconscious workers, were then extricated through the maze of pipes and hoisted to the surface through a manhole.

The ERO staff and firefighters collaborated to address each challenge. “I think the exercise went really well,” Henke said.

The event marked the first full-scale emergency drill at NETL-Albany since the pandemic. In the period between the previous drill and this summer’s exercise, several new city firefighters and dispatchers have joined the department.

Collaborating with NETL is important to prepare those newer hires for the unexpected. “There is no teacher like experience,” Henke said. “It’s important to become accustomed to what can occur and placing that experience in your mental Rolodex, so you are better prepared in the event of an actual emergency.”

Plus, training drills allow those involved to understand their roles in a learning environment, making them more confident to respond under pressure.  

NETL was well-prepared for the drill. Henke said one of the main streets on campus was under construction, but NETL efficiently re-routed responding units to the scene of the simulated emergency without significantly impacting response time.

“We are committed to working closely with firefighters and other first responders in the Albany area to ensure a heightened level of emergency preparedness,” said Gerald “Jerry” Simkonis, NETL’s Emergency Response Program manager.

“The exercise also enabled NETL incident commanders and all members of the ERO team to sharpen their skills and communicate needed site information to firefighters in an efficient manner and better understand the needs of the firefighters,” Simkonis said.

Most confined spaces are not designed for workers to enter and work in them on a routine basis. They are designed to store a product, enclose materials and processes or transport products or substances. Therefore, occasional worker entry for inspection, maintenance, repair, cleanup or similar tasks is often difficult and dangerous due to chemical or physical hazards within the space.

“At a minimum, employers and workers should test atmospheric conditions prior to entry and continuously monitor them during the entire entry,” Simkonis said. “You cannot see or smell many toxic gases and vapors, nor can you determine if sufficient oxygen is present without proper monitoring.”

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.