Rock Quarry Rescues

CarolinaFireJournal - By Bob Twomey
By Bob Twomey
01/10/2015 -

Perhaps one of the most challenging fields in rescue involves the myriad of potential and very real rescues that can occur in rock quarries. By their very nature, quarries contain equipment and infrastructure that require numerous rescue disciplines, sometimes required within the same rescue event.

Quarry operators have extensive in-house safety programs as evidenced by the industry’s overall excellent safety/accident incidence rate. In fact, the surface quarry industry has one of the best safety records of any industry segment. That said, preparation and training are important aspects of keeping employees safe.

Photo A: Typical rock quarry faces.

During the month of July I had the wonderful opportunity to train with two departments in a local quarry in our county. The manager of the quarry, who is also a member of a fire department in a neighboring county, was open to the chance to not only help us train and improve our skills, but also to involve quarry equipment operators in the rescue evolutions. How much more realistic could the training have been!

Photo B: Blast faces are benched as safeguards for falling rocks and to gain access to the rock.

Initial Orientation to the Quarry

The first day of training, we met the quarry operations manager for a guided tour and overview of the entire facility. This included the maintenance shop, the heavy equipment used in the daily operations, the “blast faces” of the mined stone and the high cuts, the deep pits in several locations of the quarry, the many conveyor systems which transport the rocks to the crushers, the actual rock crushers, the wash water retention ponds, the stockpiled sizes of stone, the Photos A, B and C, demonstrate how over years of mining rock some quarries form very high rock faces. Generally, quarry operators “bench” the rock face to make it more stable, provide access across the rock face at different elevations, and as an added safeguard for the possibility of falling rocks. Also, any ground water and surface runoff intercepted during the mining process can be diverted along these benches, thus helping reduce the collection of water at the base of the cut. During the winter months, constant freeze-thaw cycles can increase the possibility of loosening rocks.

Photo C: Rock faces contain loosened rocks which can fall. Some quarries have deep pools at the base of the rock face.

While rescues from the rock face are very rare, they could occur. Extreme caution must be observed if rescuers operate in this part of a quarry. Rock along the face can pose a hazard regarding firm footing and the possibility of falling rock that might be disturbed by the rescuer. If you had to perform a raise or lower of a victim, your anchors are usually very limited. Rescuers may opt to use artificial anchors — pitons, bolts, wedges, chocks, etc. — at times like this, but you should remember this: the rock has been blasted and fractured, rendering these type anchors much less suitable or dependable under load conditions. Multiple anchors may have to be used to assure a suitable level of safety and reliability.

Photo D: Ground level kill switch on front-end loader, at back of ladder near engine.

Quarries are not without large, heavy motorized equipment, such as loaders and trucks. Rescuers should become familiar with the types of heavy equipment located in quarries in their service area. Likewise, rescuers need to be familiar with lock-out/tag-out procedures to assure that engines, hydraulics and/or pneumatics do not become energized during rescues. Some heavy loaders have “kill switches” located on them to completely shut off all energized components, including the huge diesel engine as seen in photo D.

We trained on removing operators from both the trucks and the loaders. The same high-level rescue techniques used on other types of rescue work well; the skills just need to be adapted to the equipment at hand. Friction-based lowers and ladder slide techniques using a standard ground ladder, work well for getting operators off their machinery once removed from the cab.

Photo F: Small one man cab on large dump truck is tight to work in when removing the driver.

The cabs of most heavy machinery are small; therefore, getting an operator out can be, in itself, a challenge. (See photo F.) Depending on how the cabs are situated on the machines often dictates the lowering method. Handrails are not rated to be used as anchors, so other methods, like the ladder slide or the ladder assist, in lieu of a vertical lower, will work better, as demonstrated in photo G.

Photo G: Ladder slide evacuation of driver from cab of dump truck.

Using a stokes basket, the driver was evacuated in a vertical lower when suitable anchors were available. Rescuers must always be on the lookout for grease and oils at their anchor points. During our training we had quarry personnel familiar with the heavy equipment present as we proceeded with the rescues. This was good training for them and they became familiar with rescue methodologies they would see in a real emergency. Likewise, I had the squad train using equipment on-site at the quarry. This was done to emphasize that safe rescues can be performed using equipment on site if the needed equipment is not on the rescue truck.

Photo H: Vertical lower from top of truck.

An example was using the quarry’s tall stepladder during a simulated rescue of a welder from the bed of the dump truck. We performed rescues of the welder from atop the truck and from the dump bed of the truck using ladders and vertical lowers. (See photos H and I.)

Photo I: Improvised step ladder for ladder-slide of welder from dump bed of truck. Ladder was secured by rope to chassis of truck.

After working with rescues from heavy machinery, we moved on to performing rescues from other common machinery found in quarries. Rock quarries have many conveyor systems to move rocks from place to place, as seen in photo J. Regular maintenance is required to keep them serviceable and operating properly. And as such, catwalk systems are used to access and service components as seen in photo K.

Photo J: Conveyor belt systems are used to move rocks in a quarry.

Most conveyor systems have elevated work and control platforms that can be a place for elevated rescues. See photo L. Sometimes, depending upon access to the platforms; simpler rescues can be accomplished by carrying the injured worker down the access ramps. At other times, rope and rigging are required to lower a victim to the ground. Hydraulic “man lifts” or platforms and cranes can be used to affect a safe rescue when possible.

Photo K: Standard machinery access ramps seen in quarries.

Some rescue departments will not utilize hydraulic machinery to help effect a rescue. In our training, we did use lifts and a crane, which are commonly used at the quarry and operated by certified personnel, to perform rescues. It was also an attempt to utilize the quarry personnel in potential rescues, since they know the machinery better than the rescuers. In the real world of rescue, a rescuer has to make judgment calls, such as what is best for the victim yet safest for the rescuers, time and its effects on the injured patient, availability of qualified lift operators, victim accessibility, and many other factors. In our department, we prefer to use a “team effort,” utilizing rescuers AND qualified equipment operators to perform rescues when possible.

Photo L. Elevated platform where victim evacuation is performed by hydraulic work lift or “man lift.”

Depending upon our access to the patient, terrain under the rock bins, crushers or conveyors, the availability and suitability of anchors on the elevated platform, or lack thereof, we used a crane with a 70-foot reach to remove patients. (See photos M and N.)

Using standardized hand signals used by crane operators, we were able to lower the patient very smoothly and safely. Quarry operators proved their operational capabilities. These people will likely be present in a real rescue, so why not use them? If they are not present, rescuers can always revert to more standardized lowers using rope rigging or ladder slides, which worked very well in our month of training.

Photo M: Crane with 70 foot reach equipped with hook block and tackle system.

In another scenario, a worker became overwhelmed due to heat exhaustion inside the crusher bin. (See photo O.)

Again, quarry personnel stressed to us that at times, workers must enter the bins for maintenance or to check on problems; therefore, we performed a raise out of the bin, then a lower to the ground. Using standard NFPA and Rescue Technician standards, we packaged the patient into a stokes basket, using internal and external lashing. The patient was raised out of the bin utilizing a rescuer climbing on a ground ladder inside the bin and assisted by rescuers pulling up on the basket simultaneously as demonstrated in photo P.

Photo N: Stokes basket horizontal lower using crane, Yosemite pre-rig and standard ground tag line.

Once the patient was on top of the bin safety rails, he was placed upon the 36-foot ladder to the receiving rescuer for the guided, careful lower to the ground. (See photos Q and R.) There are some who believe that rescue techniques, such as a ladder slide are “old technology” that has been replaced by newer and/or quicker rescue methods. It is true that there are at least a dozen different, safe ways to have performed this rescue. However, the scenario was presented such that no machinery was able to reach this particular crusher bin. There remained a rescue to perform, and suggestions were discussed as to how to perform the rescue.

Photo O: Maintenance worker inside of crusher bin.

In our squad, we consistently teach heavy rescue rigging techniques as alternatives for those times when other equipment is either not available or unable to reach the rescue site. Rigging, ropes and ladders remain very viable rescue methods, and these skills should never be abandoned in lieu of other rescue methods. These skills should augment current methodologies to give rescuers as many safe, workable tools as possible.

Photo P: Victim in stokes basket being lifted out of crusher bin.

What were we able to accomplish in this series of training scenarios? It should be understood that a quarry rescue may easily involve numerous rescue disciplines, such as fire suppression and control, extrication, disentanglement or dismantling very heavy machinery, confined space rescue, high-level rescue, heavy rescue rigging and mechanical advantage systems, ladders used in rescue techniques, water rescue skills, incident management skills with many departments present, extreme emergency medical operations, and a lot of time. Serious quarry rescue operations won’t happen quickly. Some may take hours to perform.

Photo Q: Rescuer on ladder receives the patient and proceeds to the ground keeping the basket between the beams of the ladder.

First, we became much more familiar with the large, heavy earth and rock moving equipment utilized in quarries. We got to see how we would remove a driver from these large pieces of machinery, which can easily range from 10 to 15 feet in height to the cabs. We saw that despite the size of the trucks and loaders, cabs are relatively small and compact. Suitable anchors from which to affect a lower are limited; therefore, alternatives must be considered depending upon machine configuration.

We learned that high voltage electric motors drive most of the mechanical operations in a quarry. As such, very careful attention to lock-out/tag-out procedures MUST be followed prior to beginning a rescue. We quickly came to realize that quarry personnel are extremely important to have present as rescues proceed, because they know the facilities and equipment far better than the average rescuer and are themselves trained regularly in company training programs.

Photo R: Ladder rescuer maintains basket track down the ladder and between the beams, while lower is controlled from the top.

We were able to see up close how access is gained to elevated machinery such as conveyor systems, how they are driven, what the potential rescues would be based upon routine maintenance performed on the equipment, and how rescue techniques would work in rescue situations. We quickly realized that hydraulic platform lifts and cranes can be a rescuer’s best friends at a quarry — along with the highly qualified operator.

Even though there isn’t room enough in this article to cover all that we trained upon, it quickly became apparent that many of the heavy hydraulic and pneumatic rescue tools found on apparatus across the state are no match for moving heavy steel in extrications on some machines. Some of the best tools we had available to us were cribbing, air bags, heavy-lift railroad jacks and heavy high-lift jacks and acetylene cutting systems. Likewise, heavy lift loaders and cranes were extremely valuable rescue tools. Extrication on quarry equipment is like no other; the machinery is designed to withstand the tons of force required to crush granite rocks into gravel. I think you get the picture.

It should not be a surprise that we saw that standard, time-honored rescue techniques like the ladder slide, ladder or timber jib arm and associated lashings, vertical and horizontal raises and lowers, mechanical advantage rigging, high-level rescue techniques, ropes and knots, and some past rescue experience, were all vitally useful in quarry rescues.

Perhaps most importantly, though, was the realization that coordinated rescue management using the Incident Command System (ICS) is critical. Likewise, ALL departments, be they fire, fire/rescue, rescue squads, and EMS must ALL work as a team if a successful rescue is to occur. This should be a given anywhere. The victim could care less about the color of our trucks or turn-out gear and neither should we. I can assure you that, should a real rescue be needed in a quarry, all personnel will have to work as a coordinated team, period.

In quarry rescue, everything you have ever learned about rescue and medical technologies becomes important. You study the situation, make appropriate machinery isolation decisions, prepare for sometimes extreme medical situations, select your rescue skills needed for the initial rescue plan (with an appropriate “back-up” plan) and then just do it.

Until next time, be safe, and NEVER stop learning.

(Special thanks to Wayne Hemmerich and TC–Vulcan Materials Company.)

Bob Twomey is the current chief and founder of the North Carolina High Level Extraction Rescue Team, Inc., a volunteer helicopter search and rescue support team based in Transylvania County, N.C. He is the senior helicopter pilot for Wolf Tree Aviation, LLC operating out of Transylvania Community Airport. He also serves as Deputy Chief for Training in Brevard Rescue Squad. He has been active in SAR for 37 years. Twomey can be reached at 828-884-7174 or [email protected].
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