Rescue workers and emergency responders are the first to arrive on the scene following a catastrophe, and often it is in unfamiliar surroundings and adverse weather conditions. Rescue workers and emergency responders are ready to save lives and secure the environment to help protect the lives of those to follow. Operations that they may be involved in include victim rescue or body recovery around piles of rubble and other debris, collapsed structures or near structural steel. Hazards may exist at every twist and turn. Many times, utility services are damaged, including downed electrical cables, overhead power lines, broken gas lines, compressed gas cylinders, or broken steam or water mains. There may be piles of construction and all types of debris that workers are exposed to. Service personnel from utility companies should be in charge of restoring power.
Respiratory protection is very important to combat effects from breathing dust and hazardous atmospheres which may contain some, or all, of the following: freon, carbon monoxide, asbestos, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, welding gases, airborne smoke and dust, and/or flying debris. Respiratory assistance is also needed when entering confined spaces with limited openings from entry or exits. If working in confined spaces, be sure that at least one person remains outside the space to monitor operations and can assist in an evacuation if necessary. Rescue equipment and reliable communications, along with functioning alarm systems, are imperative in this type of situation.
Hearing protection is necessary because of excessive noise from heavy equipment, rescue/ventilation, tools and generators that are used in these processes. When heavy equipment is being operated, a spotter should be close by each piece of heavy equipment to protect rescue workers. Workers should wear high-visibility safety vests to ensure that they are identifiable by other rescue and support workers. Footwear should protect against sharp debris. Safety glasses with side shields, at a minimum, are also necessary items of Personal Protective Equipment.
Hand protection, of course, should always be worn, as there will be many potentially infectious materials present. Sometimes it is important to use latex or nitrile gloves under heavy-duty gloves, which will protect the wearer from puncture wounds, cuts, or injuries that break the skin. A combination of a cut-proof inner layer glove and a latex or similar outer layer is preferable.
We will conclude with Part II of this article tomorrow. There are other potential hazards and suggestions for safety that we want to pass on to you. Our rescue, recovery, and emergency personnel are highly trained professionals and volunteers, and we feel it is important that the general public knows what they face during these trying times.