Endurance Training with Respiratory Protective Equipment

  12. October 2016

"The training is a borderline experience." Daniel Guischard, chief officer of Bad Homburg's fire service, goes with his mine rescue team to the performance limits, to prepare the 16 members of this special unit for long operations with closed-circuit breathing apparatus (rebreathers). Their field of operation is not commonplace: the mine rescue unit was established for the water supply facilities of the Taunus City.

A long way to the retaining gate

Bad Homburg collects 60 percent of its freshwater demand with its tunnels. The Elisabeth tunnel is the longest of four tunnels with its 1,972 m in length and built into the Bleibeskopf. Nearly one-third of the tunnel lies before the retaining gate and is walkable. In this part, the 567 m long water pipes, which had to be replaced four years ago, are mounted. Thus the question arose: what happens when workers need help in the tunnel? "If we want to penetrate this far into a tunnel, the amount of air in our breathing apparatus is not enough," Daniel Guischard identifies the problem. "Just for one way we have to take 50 minutes into account."

High demands on a mine rescue unit

What it means to switch to rebreathers and work in narrow tunnels, became clear to the members of the newly founded special unit for mine rescue when attending a drill to the limits in Clausthal-Zellerfeld at the breathing apparatus training track of the central mine rescue services. "Some had to abort. This is good and important and no loss of face," says Daniel Guischard. For some, claustrophobia was one of the reasons, for others the intensity of training, for which members of the special unit undergo a sports program twice a week. "Some members are volunteers," Guischard explains, "and for them, the sport is also a requirement."   

The operational area is expanding

Awareness of underground construction sites and hazard points has increased since the establishment of the mine rescue unit. The expansion and rehabilitation of the municipal supply and disposal facilities are an ongoing issue. In the underground canals, construction crews work with as little as possible above-ground construction sites to keep traffic disturbance minimal. Also, maintenance is required in long service tunnels, such as tunnels for the electric supply. Depending on the interior state of development, there is partly a significant fire load at the underground construction sites, such as rough timber, wood shavings and wood wool as a sealing material. For the mine rescue this means to be prepared for operations with CO2-leakage, the rescue of buried victims and underground firefighting.

A high density of underground parking

The third field of operations of the multifunctional special unit are the many underground car parks in Bad Homburg. The high land prices of 5000 Euros/sqm ensures that more and more parking spaces will be placed underground. Many of the private underground garages are not mechanically ventilated, which increases the problem of smoke in the event of a fire. Also, the growing number of electric vehicles introduces new hazards. In the city with 55 000 residents, the special unit dealt with three fires in underground garages in the past two years. An additional reason to let this year's major annual drill for breathing apparatus take place at the International Fire Academy and to combine it with training at the training car park.

"The capability is extremely high"

The Bad Homburg's special unit trained for more than two and a half hours in the training tunnel in Lungern. Equipped with mine rescue equipment, the unit mastered a specific scenario with prolonged approach route twice and tested new purpose-built carrying aids for the rescue of persons. "We now have a very different sense of certainty for our actions," says Daniel Guischard. "We will master our first incident to come - and we do our work with this self-assurance." His goal is to expand the special unit to 24 members. He also stressed in the context of physical and mental strains: "We work according to the motto: Quality, not quantity. The capabilities of a well-established and trained team, especially with the experience and knowledge from Balsthal, is extremely high."

Optimising the operational conditions

To reduce losses, the members of the mine rescue team try to reduce the liabilities of training and deployments. Clothing with a better heat dissipation has already been purchased, "We are currently testing active cooling systems, previously we have already tested passive ones. Our problem is the enormous heat stress." Therefore, major drills and operations are accompanied by Dr Kai Rüttger, an emergency physician. He not only accompanied the drills in Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Balsthal and Lungern but even participated, in order to understand the physical load profile and to be well prepared for an emergency.

Background information on the mine rescue unit

The central mine rescue service of the mining trade association in Germany created guidelines for organising, equipping and operations of a mine rescue service. The German guidlines can be downloaded here 

An impression of the drill using breathing apparatus in Clausthal-Zellerfeld conveys this movie on Youtube. Its duration is 3:39 min.

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