Dead Man Down — the Drill

October 23, 2015


by Doug Robinson

The unpaved and cobbled Pelham Road was quiet and deserted as the workers had gone home for the day.  The work site was secured by a chain-link fence to keep the public out and safe.  While one side of the road had a wooden railing that overlooked a 20-foot drop, the other side of the street was void of any protective barrier.  The jersey barriers were scheduled to be installed on Thursday.

The scene played right into the hands of Captain David Morin, Hudson Fire Department, as a training ground.

The training scenario was as follows:

On one side of the new Pelham roadway was a 20-foot cliff.  The cliff was bordered off from the roadway with a wooden fence.  The sloping hills to the left and right were constructed of loose, soft, granulated dirt.  At the bottom of that cliff was a man, who had been staged, complete with a boulder atop his chest, which only a crane could remove (as it took a crane to put the boulder on the dead man).

Within the confines of the culvert beneath the road, a rescue worker, who had succumbed to toxic levels of CO2, was lying beneath a pile of discarded pallets.  The rescue worker’s air tank was running dry, and the firefighters had to think, react, and act not only quickly, but as a cohesive team of firefighting professionals to save this life.

When the fire captain “toned,” or called the alarm into the fire department, he alerted the station:  “This is a drill.  I repeat, this is a drill.  Come with traffic.  We have injured workers.”  In firefighter language, this was their language stating, ‘Do not use the sirens or emergency lights while responding to this emergency.”  Hudson Police were also advised of the drill, as well as surrounding towns during these transmissions.

None of the firefighters at the Central Fire Station were aware or knew of the challenges that they were about to face at the Pelham Road Bridge.  This Wednesday afternoon was to be unlike any other.

That is until they showed up, in their pink work shirts, as their way to recognize that October is Breast Cancer awareness month.

First on scene was Lt. Sean Mamone.  As the call stated that there were injuries involved, he arrived in the first ambulance.  Upon arrival, he reported to his captain for duty.  The captain approached Lt. Mamone and stated, “This is your drill.  Act and perform as if I am not here.”

Lt. Mamone looked at Captain Morin with a questioning look, asking, “You are not here?”  Captain Morin stated, “This is a drill, you are in charge.  All decisions will go through you.  Take command.”

The scenario, as explained to Lt. Mamone, was that below the bridge two people were injured.  One was inside the tunnel, unconscious as the toxic levels of CO2 had succumbed the rescue worker.  The second victim was lodged beneath a boulder that appeared to have crushed his chest.  Once again, Captain Morin reminded Lt. Mamone that he was to take charge and to do what was needed.

“This exercise will involve the use and implementation of many of our life-saving equipment and the need to bring in many firefighters.  Lt. Mamone will be challenged to organize and orchestrate the saving of the individual in the tunnel successfully as well as orchestrate the removal of the worker who lost his life during this training session,” explained Captain Morin.  “He will be faced with real-life judgments and he will be tasked with using all the knowledge and training he has acquired during this exercise.”

As Lt. Mamone assumed his leadership role, he instructed his men to put on their gear, including their self-contained breathing gear.  Next, he ordered two firefighters to climb to the bottom of the cliff to assess and advise him of the situation.

Turning to two other Hudson firefighters, he instructed them to remove the stokes (used in search and rescue) stretcher, ropes, mallets, pry bars, tarps, air compressor, blocks, wedges, and the medical gear required to rescue the victims from the culvert and the pit.

The road atop the culvert became transformed from the dirt and gravel road to a complete worksite.  Their work area emptied the rescue truck of much of its gear.

The working area for the firefighters was full of treacherous walking material as well as other hazards including large construction equipment, pre-supposed high levels of CO2, a death, and the mere fact of how do you remove victims safely from a level of 20 feet below road level in unsafe terrain with more boulder that could roll down the sloping hill at any time.

Those reporting to the scene grew from the three firefighters reporting from Central Station to all Hudson firefighters responding to the scene.  The emergency scene was recognized as a major event and required an “all-hands-on-deck” approach for the Hudson firefighting team to succeed.

“Can you hear me?” came the muffled voice from behind the oxygen mask in the tunnel.  “Turn him and let’s wrap his harness so that we can carry him out” came from the voice of the other first responder.

Fully geared  for the drill, the first responders were required to make decisions for real life, breath or death decisions, to be made quickly and accurately.

The Hudson firefighters in the tunnel had to first resolve an equipment failure of their own before they could rescue the CO2 victim.  Attached to their breathing apparatus was a second hose, which could be connected to another breathing apparatus, however, the firefighter’s second hose was stuck and could not be extended.

Together, within seconds, the firefighter in need turned away from his partner, who, in turn, could see the problem and fixed his secondary hose, upon which he extended the life-giving air to the victim.

The Hudson firefighters then wrapped the downed worker into the stokes carrier and hauled him to safety.  They exited the tunnel by following their tethered that had been tied to their backpacks.

Once outside the tunnel, all the firefighters teamed together to safely lift the victim up the hill to the safety of the road.

Once completed, the firefighters had to now determine how to remove the boulder from the dead victim.

“Send down the air jacks” came the command.  “We will also need the blocks and wedges to secure this rock as we lift it.”

Covered in dirt, sweat, and exhausted from the exercise, the Hudson firefighters assemble on the road, having shed their turndown gear.  Sitting in their sweaty pink work shirts, they hydrate with water.  They undergo the customary de-brief to review their successes and what they could do better.  This short rest for them to catch their breath for a few minutes readies them to refocus before they return to the station and await that next call – which would not be a drill.