Marine Corps Base Quantico -- Falling is the leading cause of death on construction or electrical wire maintenance sites, said Kevin Jones, fall protection manager for Marine Corps Base Quantico’s Safety Division.
On Nov. 24, the Safety Division conducted a drill so that Quantico’s firemen and facilities maintenance crew members could practice how to respond to a fall. The drill was the first of its kind to be held aboard Quantico. It is part of the Voluntary Protection Program, an initiative sponsored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration which is being implemented aboard Quantico.
“The goal of VPP is to equip all activities on base to take ownership of their safety internally, rather than relying on emergency services or the safety division,” Jones explained. “You have safer, better-off employees if they take ownership of their own safety.”
Safety Division teaches safety and accident prevention classes many times throughout the year, but a live drill is a better way to assess the current state of emergency response activities and equipment.
In the staged scenario, which took place at the end of McCard Road, a worker performing maintenance on a high voltage wire fell from the basket of a bucket truck and was hanging from his H-Harness 20 feet from the ground. A second crewman on the ground was knocked unconscious by a pair of crimpers falling from the basket.
For purposes of the training, the hanging man was a dummy, and the injured man on the ground was played by David Dickerson, an employee of Facilities Maintenance Shop 61.
Travis Prien, assistant fall protection manager and confined space program manager, said the purpose of the training was to give facilities maintenance and the fire department a chance to practice communicating effectively in the case of a similar emergency.
“We asked the high voltage workers for an example of an emergency they fear, and this is a big one,” Prien said. “This situation has never happened here on base, luckily, but it happens every day in the U.S. and it’s very high-risk.”
Besides the risk of electrical burns if the wires are hot, the victim risks injury from suspension trauma. Hanging from an H-Harness exerts a tremendous amount of pressure on a person’s legs, restricting blood flow to the arteries. After ten to 15 minutes, the victim will lose consciousness.
“Anything more than 20 minutes is not good,” Kevin Jones said.
Many H-Harnesses have descent-control devices which allow the user to self-rescue. The worker also has to attach himself to the bucket seat with a three-foot lanyard to prevent a fall.
“A lot of people think that once they’re inside the bucket seat, they’re protected, but that’s not true,” Jones said.
In the simulated scenario, the lanyard attaching the worker to the bucket seat was over six feet long, thereby allowing him to tumble out of the bucket completely.
Kevin Dickey, assistant chief for training and safety with the base fire department, reported the accident as if he were a passer-by who happened upon it. Within five minutes, an engine and ambulance from fire station 531 on Quantico’s main side arrived on the scene.
Their first priority was to ascertain whether or not the wires were hot. Live wires are an obvious danger, and even an energized bucket truck can electrocute someone as many as six feet away from it.
“We’re not doing anything until we know the lines are off,” Dickey said.
A team of paramedics attended to David Dickerson, the worker on the ground. Moving quickly, they assessed his injuries, attached a monitor to his fingertips to keep track of his vital signs and stabilized his neck with a brace before securing him onto a stretcher. Dickey said he would then have been taken in an ambulance to a landing zone to be medevaced to the nearest hospital.
Meanwhile, a team of firemen prepared to send firefighter Kevin McGray up the fire engine ladder to rescue the suspended dummy.
Travis Prien said that had one of the workers been conscious, the rescuers would have asked one of them for instructions on how to operate the bucket truck and would then have used that to lower the hanging man to the ground. But for the scenario, both of the workers were supposed to be unconscious, requiring the firemen to use their engine for the rescue.
“This will take some time to set up, because the primary function of the fire engine ladder is not high angle rescue like this,” Prien explained.
Firemen maneuvered the top of the ladder so that McGray could attach a bungee cord to the hanging dummy, unclip the latch attaching him to the bucket truck, and lower him safely to the ground.
The rescue took 23 minutes to complete. Once it was finished, the firemen had a chance to familiarize themselves with the bucket truck’s controls so that they would know how to operate it in the future.
Prien, Jones, and Dickey said they were happy with the way the drill went. They didn’t see any areas where communication between the high voltage crew and the firemen could have been improved.
“It’s always good when we bring together different base entities together to accomplish something,” Dickey said.
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