Trench rescue team mobilizes

May 28, 2013


Major infrastructure projects in the county involving trench construction have encountered dangerous, in some cases fatal, structural collapses.

That has prompted formation of the North County Technical Rescue Team, made up of 13 firefighters from Atascadero and Paso Robles, now training for trench rescues.

Last week, the group simulated a trench accident rescue in a training exercise.

“It helps better prepare our personnel for an emergency of this type,” said Atascadero City Fire Engineer and training facilitator Tom Birkenfeld. “We were able to recreate a trench we could find at any number of construction sites, and utilize our training and equipment to successfully remove a trapped victim.”

A fully-equipped and specially designed trailer carries equipment to meet the team’s needs in a variety of technical rescue emergencies.

The group practices to deal with a wide variety of emergencies, such as high angle rescue, confined space rescue, trench and swift water rescue, earthquakes with building collapse, hazardous materials incidents, mass casualty incidents, airborne rescue support, large structure fires, and terrorism related incidents, wrote Atascadero Fire Captain Bill White in a release.

“If a trench collapse were to occur in the communities of Atascadero or Paso Robles, it is important that our technical rescue team have as much experience as possible so they can quickly and efficiently remove victims from the collapse,” said Atascadero Fire Chief Kurt Stone, who was at the drill.

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First I would like to say there had been some really good comments made about this topic. This is a topic I am very passionate about. I would like to comment on @womanwhohasbeenthere response. You are statement about the “CPT” Competent Person Training classes being available is correct. My response is based on my personal day in and day out experience when shoring and contractors on a daily bases. There are two issues here one is the lack of training and the second is the HUGE lack of enforcement by CalOSHA here on the central coast. The training issue is not that it isn’t available but it’s a cost to the construction company and taking their crews out of the field for a day to get trained. Now the doesn’t seen like much but when you think about it if a construction company is busy the last thing they want to do is take the guys off the job. Second is if the construction company isn’t busy then there guys that work out in the field go loom else where for work and end up leaving. Now the issue with the lack of enforcement I can’t comment on CalOSHA’s schedule but what I can say is the that the engineering companies the design out public work projects don’t say anything to the contractors, city officials don’t say anything to contractors and the fire department won’t either. All responsibility falls onto the contractor. But here’s the big one the I don’t think most foreman or superintendents think about. If they are the appointed competent person on the job site they can personably be held responsible for anything that happens on their job site. And the ” oh I didn’t know that ” game doesn’t work…

Paso and A-town are behind the eight ball with this. Other departments have been doing this training for years, and using federal and State grants to buy the equipment.

In Morro Bay it’s just one of a slew of specialty training methods that our fire department does, which includes confined spaces rescues (sewer manholes) and rock climbing for when some moron climbs the Rock and gets stuck.

But, I’m glad to see that these fire departments are stepping up to the plate with this. Too bad it’s far too late for those two guys who died during the Nacimiento project. But as I recall, those guys died because somene broke through a water main, not so much because the trench collapsed.

Most SLO County approved and CDF departments train or have reviews on enclosed space or trench stability. But there are only a few departments that have the equipment for an extended IC involving trench collapse or confined space extraction.

Think about that next time you slam your neighborhood fire departments…

The most commmon starting point on this type of call is trench work being done by untrained, and unlicensed contractors. As the nature of the job and the skill level of these workers varies, so does the approach of the first responders. No two calls are exactly the same, so training is ongoing. These skills are on top of the constant training the North County fire fighters take for emergency medicine, water rescue, and firefighting. When TSHTF, you’ll want the best. To be the best takes time and training. Residents should be grateful Chiefs Stone and Johnson have their departments working to hone these skills.


Spot on, all contractors and firefighters are tested and certified to see if they are actually qualified and licensed for trench work or enclose space work. Even basic level testing involves knowledge of trenches and shoring, as well as general safety protocols.

And you are right, no two calls are the same and much can be lost in the heat of the moment but you can rest assured that any emergency response will be first class and can easily handle the incident…

Those who whine or question their abilities of their first responders need to ask themselves one question: Could you actually do their job better?

We just had an earthquake within 200 miles and all is safe…

This type of training is standard for people in the trenching and shoring business. It’s called Competent Person training. There are strict protocols on this and very strict CalOSHA requirements for anyone doing trenching and shoring work. Most of the training concentrates on avoiding problems first and then knowing what to do. There are many private firms that offer this training to contractors so this should not cost thousands of dollars per person. I would assume that anyone who is a firefighter would have this type of rescue training already given how much more work they called to do beyond fighting fires.