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Employers too reliant on fire departments for confined space rescue: study

March 7, 2012

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Berkeley, CA – Employers may over-rely on fire departments for permit-required confined space rescues, indicates research from the University of California, Berkeley.

Researchers analyzed data on confined space fatalities from 1992 to 2005 and a survey of large fire departments, as well data on arrival times. Of 21 companies, 57 percent said they depended on fire departments to rescue workers in confined space incidents. However, the researchers found fire departments usually cannot provide a timely rescue in a life-threatening emergency, according to the study abstract.

The median arrival times for fire departments were five minutes for fire engines and seven minutes for technical rescue units, with rescue time estimates falling between 48 and 123 minutes. The range increased to 70 and 173 minutes when hazardous materials were present.

As a result, researchers suggested that the proper role of a fire department is to support a properly trained and equipped onsite rescue team and provide life support following a rescue.

The study was published in the February issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

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