Some of the original first responders in the equipment conex trailer are (from left to right): casting yard Manager Bob Wheeler; carpenter General Foreman Bobby Miller; site EMT Melissa Crisman; ironworker Superintendent Glen Bragg; and batch plant Superintendent Rich Hamilton. The crash dummy is used for rescue drills that train personnel to remove an injured worker on a stretcher. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo)

Volunteer First Responders Balance the Safety Equation

The members' emergency response backgrounds and their excellent reaction times to incidents are some of the team's biggest contributions to the project's safety program.

Men overboard, a fall from a scaffold, and severe abdominal cramps are some of the real-life emergencies Olmsted's volunteer first responder team has assisted with since it stood up in 2010, according to casting yard manager and original team member Bob Wheeler.

The Olmsted Locks and Dam construction project is on the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky, about 17 miles upstream from its confluence with the Mississippi. Southern Illinois is an area of very small towns sparsely scattered across lightly populated expanses of soybean and corn fields. The numbers of hospitals and health care providers reflect this fact. The Olmsted Locks and Dam project will replace the deteriorated locks and dams 52 and 53 and provide a navigation pool with a minimum 9-foot depth that reaches 46 miles upstream to the Smithland Locks and Dam. This strategic reach of the Ohio River system provides commercial barge traffic with a connection between the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland rivers. More tonnage passes this point than any other place in America’s inland system: 90 million tons a year of coal, aggregates, corn, soybeans, and other bulk commodities.

The twin, 1,200-foot locks are complete, and work on the dam is ongoing. An innovative method known as "In-the-Wet" is being used to build the dam. Sections weighing between 2,900 and 3,700 tons are fabricated on shore and carried to the water's edge and into the river by North America's largest gantry crane and catamaran barge. The sections, known as "shells," are lowered into place and filled with tremie concrete.

Daily, as many as 500 members of the Corps of Engineers-Washington Group (URS)-Alberici construction team are working at the site. The institution of lean construction methods, along with the cooperation of a highly skilled and trained union workforce, has improved the all-important safety of laborers and crafts at the workface as well as contributed to production flow and quality. This $3.1 billion replacement project is scheduled to be operational in 2020, and the removal of locks and dams 52 and 53 should be completed by 2024.

Creating the Emergency Response Team
"We formed the first response team after one of our craft folk was injured during a concrete placement," Wheeler explained. "The emergency responders in the surrounding counties were unprepared for a response to our site and since we're in such a remote location, the ambulance took nearly an hour to arrive."

Casting Yard General Superintendent Dave Phillips assisted in getting the ball rolling. "I held a weekly meeting for the core group and we assigned responsibilities to members," he recalled. "As a team, we reviewed and completed our charter, set up, and got approval to have a first-aid conex and an on-site ambulance. We also planned and held rescue drills and held a review meeting after each one for lessons learned. As a team, we recruited others and held group meetings discussing the charter and defining the responsibilities of each member."

The Corps of Engineers' resident engineer notes that with a project of this size and magnitude -- with marine and casting yard activities -- there's a high level of exposure for site personnel. "Having the first responders group on site gives our workers a higher level of protection," Brad Bradley explained. "This is the first job I've been on that has such a developed emergency response capacity, and I've been at very, very remote sites."

The original Olmsted core first-response team members are Wheeler; Phillips; Bobby Miller, carpenter general foreman; Melissa Crisman, site EMT; Glen Bragg, ironworker superintendent; and Rich Hamilton, batch plant superintendent. Wheeler said they started by finding a few volunteers with first-response experience to help write the procedure to follow in case of an incident. Then the few members looked for others willing to participate, and the team was formed with six or seven members. As of June 2013, 55 volunteers -- from laborers to crafts to office staff -- comprise the Olmsted first-response team, and the number is likely to increase during the low-water season when the size of the workforce peaks to handle shell-placing activities.

"There are not qualifications necessary to be on the team, other than the desire to help," Wheeler said. "We train each member in first aid, CPR, and use of a defibrillator. Not everyone is able to assist the injured, but many are able to help by directing traffic, escorting the ambulance, and crowd control."

Batch plant Superintendent Rich Hamilton's hard hat bears both the original first responders' logo (left) and the current emblem. The stickers indicate authorization to be at an incident site; all others must stay clear.Crisman, the Washington Group-Alberici joint venture's full-time emergency medical technician, said many of Olmsted's first responders already have related training and experience. "The team includes firefighters or those who were, some who do or did SAR [search and rescue] and some state-licensed first responders in their own communities," she explained. In addition to the classroom training she organizes, the volunteers participate in man-overboard drills once a month and other drills twice a year that involve responding to a variety of job-related scenarios, Crisman said.

"Part of the training is a constant familiarization with their emergency equipment," she said. The equipment is stored in a conex trailer in the casting yard. It includes stretchers, Stokes and aerial retrieval baskets, specialized rigging, backboards, gloves, flashlights, and a first-aid kit. The equipment has been compiled with the purpose of assisting the injured until professionals arrive.

Channel one is the channel used for emergencies on their two-way radios. "The minute 'clear channel one' happens and the incident location is communicated, a forklift driver goes to the conex and brings it to the incident site or as close as possible," Crisman said. She pointed out that a helicopter landing zone has been prepared, and setting up the ground guidance lights are part of the team's training.

The emergency response vehicle and the crash dummy used for training were obtained by the Corps of Engineers' resident government property administrator, Dave Hawley, through GSAXcess. He said the cost to the project was transportation of the items to the site and minor maintenance to ensure they are safe to operate.

Douglas Callor, full-time site safety and health officer, said the combination of the members' emergency response backgrounds and their excellent reaction times to incidents are some of the team's biggest contributions to the project's safety program. "We're remote, and they can provide almost instant care to an individual," he said.

Olmsted1.jpg: Some of the original first responders in the equipment conex trailer are (from left to right): casting yard Manager Bob Wheeler; carpenter General Foreman Bobby Miller; site EMT Melissa Crisman; ironworker Superintendent Glen Bragg; and batch plant Superintendent Rich Hamilton. The crash dummy is used for rescue drills that train personnel to remove an injured worker on a stretcher.

Olmsted2.jpg: Batch plant Superintendent Rich Hamilton's hard hat bears both the original first responders' logo (left) and the current emblem. The stickers indicate authorization to be at an incident site; all others must stay clear.

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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