Shire and the Social Circle Fire Department have formed a partnership that’s providing safety support for Shire’s operations while providing the fire department with tens of thousands of dollars of specialized training and equipment that will have broader impact across the community.
The two organizations are participating in joint hazmat (hazardous materials) and confined space entry training programs that are providing needed skillsets to Shire employees and Social Circle firefighters. The confined space entry, referred to more generally as technical rescue, training in particular is a rare skillset that’s generally only found in major metro fire departments.
“We found an opportunity to improve the rescue portion of our confined space entry program. In Los Angeles, there’s a fire station three blocks away from our facility with technical rescue capabilities. We didn’t have that here,” said Jeffry Carter, who specializes in emergency response with Shire’s Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) department at the Georgia facility.
Shire has dozens of large vessels that are used in its manufacturing process, and while employees don’t commonly enter these vessels, they are required to do so periodically. Safety protocols stipulate rescue personnel should be on hand whenever a confined space entry is made by an employee.
A former firefighter and paramedic, Carter said he’s only seen this type of joint partnership at one other company in his career.
“Our EHS leadership told us to think outside of the box and find an effective and cost efficient solution,” Carter said. “It’s really cool that we’re not only able to implement an improvement for our site but also for the community.”
Before this training, the nearest department with technical rescue capabilities was in DeKalb County.
“When we’re done with the training, everyone in the department will have confined space training. To be honest, that’s almost unheard of, especially with a department our size,” Social Circle Fire Chief Ken Zaydel said. “We have public works employees in the city that make confined space entries, and we have other industries that do the same things and will benefit from this training.”
The training is being led by Eddie Sisco, who offers the specialized training through his Alabama-based company, Emergency Response Services. He has a specially designed rig and equipment that allows him to simulate various confined space entry scenarios.
While industries are a common client, Sisco said he’s seen numerous situations in communities where firefighters and others have had to use technical training to rescue people, whether it’s a contractor falling into a water tank during sandblasting or tourists and residents getting trapped while exploring caves. He agreed that it’s pretty rare to see these type of public-private partnerships, but he’s encouraged by it.
“It’s good to work with a group that wants to participate and that is looking forward to doing it. They’ve lined up to participate,” Sisco said. “They are ready to protect the facility and the community, and both sides will benefit greatly from it.”
The training consists of lots of rope work, including tying different kinds of knots and using pulley systems to create a mechanical advantage to safely lower and lift people out of small entry areas and move them horizontally through spaces, as well as proper harnessing and learning how to safely move an incapacitated person. Air monitoring is also a critical skill as rescue personnel need to understand the environment they’re entering as it could contain dangerous levels of chemicals.
Zaydel said his team already had some rope training, but this more advanced training takes the department’s capabilities to a whole new level. Some local,practical examples of confined space entry are when Georgia Power employees enter confined space vaults in the city and when public works employees work in manholes, stormwater drains and pits at the water plant.
“Everything builds off of rope rescue, all technical rescue, confined space, structural collapse, trench rescue, it all builds off the rope side. Knowing how to set up systems and knots and build off of that is a core skill set,” Zaydel said. “This training and trailer we have now gives us huge capabilities to be able to assist Shire, our other industries and the 4,500 residents we serve.”
Firefighters will also be able to earn some additional money by using their expertise for side jobs. For example, Shire will hire firefighters to be on standby for confined space rescue whenever the plant has a shutdown – a scheduled period where manufacturing stops and regular maintenance is performed throughout the plant.
For Shire, the training is another piece of the puzzle for the company’s Emergency Response Team, a cross-functional team of employees who are receiving in-depth training on confined space rescue, hazmat, CPR/First Aid and other skills and are ready to respond to any event that could happen at the facility.
“When we train people to become subject matter experts in these areas, we create an environment and culture of safety. We know the potential dangers, we know how to prevent incidents and injuries, and hopefully we never have to use any of this training,” Jason Pertoso, Shire’s EHS Director at the Georgia facility, said. “But if we do, we know that our public safety partners will be ready.”