Every firefighter with the Spokane Valley Fire Department spent some time this week brushing up on the basics of rescuing people who have fallen into a hole in the ground.
The first step is to determine how deep the trench is, and firefighters are taught to measure the depth using a shovel, said Station 5 firefighter Greg Krous, who is on the department’s technical rescue team. Members of the team have special training weekly on trench rescues, rope rescues or confined space rescues.
If the trench is less than 4-feet deep, firefighters may enter the trench to get the victim out. If it is deeper than that, the technical rescue team must be called out to shore up the sides of the trench before they attempt rescue, Krous said.
Crews also typically put a ladder in the trench while working around it. “That allows anyone who might fall in an easy way out,” he said.
On Wednesday afternoon it was the crew from Station 6 practicing their skills. In the shallow end of a trench dug in a field in the Spokane Valley Industrial Park, Krous cautioned them not to bend down and put their head below the top of the trench while they worked.
On the deep end of the trench firefighters practiced moving the “spoil pile,” the dirt stacked up along the end of the hole. One firefighter shoveled quickly, but slowed down when he approached the edge so he could carefully pull the earth away from the edge to keep it from falling in.
“This is some of the worst soil for stability,” said Capt. Rob Proctor as he pointed out the large rocks in the dirt. “It doesn’t want to stick together.”
Departmentwide training for trench rescue is done about once a year. “This is a real low-frequency call, but because of the risk involved we keep up the training,” Proctor said.
The most recent call involving a trench was in March when a sewer construction crew severed a natural gas line in Greenacres. The technical rescue crew was called out to shore up the sides of the trench so repair crews could go down and fix the broken pipe without worrying about the sides of the trench collapsing on them.
Proctor said he estimates the department has to do about one rescue every couple of years and they don’t usually result in a fatality. “No, we’ve been pretty lucky,” he said. “I can’t recall any in this area.”