Trapped in a toxic tank Fire squad trains for worst-case scenario

It’s hard to rescue someone who is trapped and has only one way out.

Last week, a chemical company in North Bergen gave the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue squad a chance to practice dealing with such a situation, and also donated $5,000 to the squad.

The training, which is required by law, was conducted throughout last week in a 40-foot chemical tank at W.R. Grace that the company cleaned and decontaminated. A human “dummy” was placed at the bottom of the cylinder, and the firemen of NHRFR had to test the toxicity level and enter the tank.

NHRFR Co-Director Michael De Orio said that they have been able to train at W.R. Grace for about four years. Along with the $5,000 donation, Chief Brion McEldowney said that the company has donated more than $30,000 to NHRFR over the last seven years and pledged to give another $15,000 over the next three years.

“We’re making ourselves available for real incidents with confined space,” said De Orio. “If we didn’t [have the opportunity to use] the facility of W. R. Grace, I don’t know what we would do. I just don’t know how we would function.”

The training is organized by Battalion Chief Mike Falco, who originally began a relationship with W.R. Grace. He said that this training was an important for firefighters of the NHRFR because of the nature of the situation.

Deputy Chief Nick Gazzillo, while conducting training on Sept. 23, said that the people of Hudson County should know more about “these highly skilled professionals.”

“We practice all year round so that we are ready if and when we are needed,” he said. “Whether it is trench rescue, confined space rescue, or even cliff rescue, NHRFR continues to train for any possible event.”

Amount of oxygen in the tank

Gazzillo explained that the confined space training that they were undergoing could simulate anything from an underground tunnel to a person falling into a manhole, or a situation where there isn’t a second way to escape.

They use a human “dummy,” which Gazzillo said was harder to maneuver than a person, and place the dummy at the bottom of the chemical tank. Then they run tests to see if the tank has a sufficient or deficient amount of oxygen and measure the situation for explosions and toxicity. If readings suggest that the area is unsafe, they ventilate the area and do not begin a rescue until it is deemed safe.

“This part of [the rescue] would be high risk/high gain, meaning there is a life down there, so it’s worth the risk, but we’ll take every precaution that we know of to make our guys safe,” said Gazzillo.

Using a ladder company truck, NHRFR sets up a number of safety and belay lines over the tank, and the rescuers lower themselves 40 feet into the tank. They then secure the “victim” in a gurney and hoist it up.

Company benefits

W.R. Grace Production Supervisor Chris Troyano said that a couple of years ago, he asked Falco how his company could be of assistance to their department. Troyano said that it is his company’s desire to give back to the surrounding community, but his company also benefits from their relationship in the event of an emergency at their site. He said that their partnership has blossomed.

“We count on these guys, just like everyone in the area does,” said Troyano. “We know that the NHRFR will be here if we ever need them, so we are glad to do our part to help them out.”

W.R. Grace presented the donation on Sept. 22 with Mayor Nicholas Sacco, De Orio, and Falco present.

Sacco said he appreciated their continued support.

“They really show themselves to be a great neighbor,” he said.

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