Environmental, Health and Safety Services

Confined Space Rescue

Even with the best efforts to review and assess the potential hazards of a confined space entry, the potential for something to go wrong may still exist, such as unexpected events or individual medical conditions. Having a plan for emergencies prior to entry can save valuable time should an emergency occur. Confined space rescue pre-planning for departments who enter confined spaces on a regular basis is on-going, and coordinated by EHS with the department and emergency responders (police, fire, and rescue). Considerations include:

  • Having a means of calling 9-1-1 on site.
  • Properly reporting the emergency to the 9-1-1 center so that emergency responders can arrive quickly and prepared.
    • Identify the emergency as involving a "confined space".
    • Provide the 9-1-1 address (street and building number). Give the nearest street and/or building if the space is not directly located at the address.
    • For remote spaces, such as high-voltage electrical vaults, provide the ELMH number of the vault.
  • Implementing one of the rescue protocols below, as predetermined prior to entry.

Hierarchy of Rescue

In the event that a confined space emergency occurs, regardless of the nature (entrant medical condition or a hazard with the space itself), the space reverts back to a permit-required confined space, and it must be reassessed prior to entry or re-entry.

Self Rescue

In the event that something goes wrong in a confined space, self-rescue would be the ideal response. Self-rescue is where the entrant recognizes a problem early on, before it gets to a serious or IDLH level. Problems could be inherent to the confined space, external events that adversely affect the space, or personal health/medical issues of an entrant. Regardless of the source, exiting the confined space on ones own at early warning signs is the best option. Examples include:

  • Responding to air monitoring alarms as soon as they sound by exiting the space immediately,
  • Recognizing early warning signs and symptoms of oxygen deficiency, oxygen enrichment, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide exposure where continuous air monitoring is not required,
  • Being aware of personal health concerns that are deteriorating and need to be addressed.

At the first sign of trouble, the entrants leave the space, get fresh air, and proper medical attention (if indicated). The space reverts back to permit-required until it has been reassessed and any hazards with the space have been effectively eliminated or controlled.

Non-Entry Rescue

Where non-entry rescue protocols have been implemented for vertical entry spaces, the attendant shall immediately notify emergency services by calling 911. Once the call has been made, the attendant may begin rescue procedures. Under no circumstances may the attendant enter the confined space. Retrieval systems (e.g. tripod, winch, harness or wristlets, and lifeline) shall be used for entry when a vertical permit-required entry is made, unless such equipment increases the overall risk of entry, or the equipment would not contribute to the rescue of the entrant.VT Rescue Squad

Entry Rescue - Non-Permit-Required

Where self-rescue or non-entry rescue means and methods are not possible, the space must be reassessed prior to proceeding with entry rescue. Provided that all hazards have been eliminated or isolated, and the event is determined to be an individual medical emergency (ex. heart attack, diabetic emergency, heat stress), trained personnel may enter the non-permit-required space. Extrication of the patient shall be coordinated with VT Rescue Squad.

Entry Rescue - Permit-Required

rescueIf the space cannot be reclassified during the reassessment, rescue services shall be provided by Blacksburg Volunteer Fire Department. Virginia Tech personnel shall not enter a permit-required confined space for rescue purposes. Departmental efforts should be focused on cooperating with responding agencies to expedite rescue efforts, and/or providing support in the form of space access and expertise, available equipment, validation of controls, crowd control, etc.