Confined Space Rescue

Issue 10 and Volume 13.

(OtherRed Photography photos)

On January 24, 2018, The Frisco (TX) Fire Department (FFD) Special Operations (Spec-Ops) Team responded to a confirmed confined space rescue in the city of Princeton, Texas, approximately 22 miles to the east of Frisco.  Initial response to the incident was as follows: Princeton Fire Department, Lowry Crossing Fire Department, American Medical Response (AMR) ambulance service, and a Petroleum Helicopter International (PHI) medical helicopter.

Collin County Sheriff’s Emergency Dispatch took the call for a construction worker who fell into a previously drilled foundation pier hole.  The worker was part of an authorized crew in the process of removing a safety barrier around a pier hole when he fell 42 feet into a 36-inch-diameter hole.  The patient was conscious and communicating with other construction crew members at the scene.


The FFD purchased a 2017 Pierce Velocity walk-in rescue in November 2017. The rescue is outfitted with specialty equipment such as a Paratech Light USAR Kit, confined space equipment, and an assortment of trench equipment.  The Spec-Ops Team members are Pro Board certified in the disciplines of rope, confined space, trench, structural collapse, swift water, extrication, and hazardous materials.  The FFD rescue is staffed with a total of six personnel daily, four on the rescue and two on the haz-mat truck.  Aside from the Pro Board training and other types of formal training, the Spec-Ops Team drills on a daily basis in the station and at various locations around the city.  The City of Frisco has experienced tremendous growth over the past two decades, which has created a construction environment that necessitates a Spec-Ops Team that is operationally ready.


The initial response from the FFD was the rescue and haz-mat truck (Spec-Ops Team), battalion chief of Spec-Ops, the incident safety officer, and a truck company from the McKinney (TX) Fire Department, a neighboring community. Additional FFD resources were later added to the incident, including the Light, Air and Rehab Unit (LAR1).

From the onset of the call, we experienced some challenges with communications–specifically, the assigned tactical frequency was not programmed in our radios.  FFD’s deputy chief went to work on this problem immediately.  Working with our Communications Department, they were able to quickly set up a radio patch.  After communications were established, we were informed that we had a construction worker who had fallen 42 feet into a 36-inch-diameter hole. While en route, the Team discussed strategies and tactics that could be used on arrival.

Princeton and Lowry Crossing were the first-arriving agencies. These departments have limited technical rescue equipment and training, but this did not limit them from contributing to this incident.  These agencies did an outstanding job preparing the site for rescue operations.  Incident Command was established, Safety Branch was in place, air monitoring was initiated, ground pads were in place, and the rescue area was cordoned off.  All of this took place during our travel time to the scene and allowed for a near seamless transition to rescue operations on our arrival.   

Travel time was approximately 22 minutes.  We arrived on the scene at 08:52. FFD Spec-Ops’ chief and rescue captain met with the incident commander on scene to get an overall assessment of the incident.  Command stated they were using a Spanish/English translator to communicate with the patient.  Command assigned the FFD Spec-Ops chief as Rescue Group supervisor.  The captain on Rescue 1 was assigned Rescue.  After an initial assessment of the pier hole, it was determined that the soil was a Type A, passive clay, undisturbed and appeared to be stable.

An incident action plan was developed to begin the setup for a belowground confined space rescue.  With the assistance of McKinney Truck 1, all needed equipment and additional ground pads were put in place to support the operation.  A Paratech Tri-Pod System would be used as a high point for rope operations.  Attached to the tri-pod would be the main line that consisted of a 4:1 mechanical advantage system using ½-inch life safety rope.  This line would be for lowering and raising the rescuer and victim.  A belay/safety line was also attached using a Commercial Metals Company (CMC) Multi-Purpose Device with ½-inch life safety rope.  A Yates Spec Pack Harness was prepped to be lowered with the rescuer.  Telescoping battery powered lights were used to light the hole.  An additional MutliRae monitor was calibrated and attached to the rescuer for additional air monitoring.  All air monitoring was recorded and relayed to Command.

All safety checks were performed on the rigging and the Class 3 rescue harnesses.  A second rescuer was rigged and on deck as a backup. The rescuer was lowered in the hole at 09:02 using the 4:1 main line and belay systems.  Once the rescuer reached the bottom of the hole and established patient contact, it was determined that the patient had suffered major trauma and would need to be packaged in the position he was found in to be extricated safely to the surface.  Initially, the main challenges the rescuer encountered while trying to package the patient included restricted environment inside the hole, very limited mobility of the patient, and dirt/debris becoming lodged in the equipment buckles while trying to package the patient.  As we were faced with these initial challenges, mental and physical fatigue began to set in.

At that time, the captain on Rescue 1 communicated to the rescuer to stop, take a moment, and then try again.  The patient was successfully packaged and extricated to the surface at 09:19. After extrication, the patient was transferred to McKinney Truck 1 for repackaging and transfer to EMS personnel. Patient care was taken over by the on-scene paramedics from AMR and the patient was then flown by PHI helicopter to the area trauma center. Once the victim was successfully removed, the main line was lowered back to the rescuer. The rescuer maintained contact with the belay line during the entire operation. The rescuer was then raised back to the surface and immediately went for a medical evaluation by on-scene paramedics.

As professionals, no matter how good we think a call went, we must always consider ways to improve our operational preparedness.  Evaluate every call for gaps and lessons learned.


  • Although the air quality remained at acceptable levels, ventilation fans should have been used for air circulation and potential air quality changes. Consider supplied breathing air on every confined space rescue.
  • Only personnel directly engaged in the rescue efforts need to be in the immediate area.
  • Have backup rescue plans.  The initial plan worked for this incident, but that might not always be the case.  Have plans A, B, and C already worked out.
  • Make sure rescue workers are tethered to a safety rope when working at the edge of the work area.
  • Rescuer PPE, from footwear to long sleeve ensembles, ensure your people are properly protected and safe.

From on scene time of Frisco Rescue 1 to the successful extrication of the patient was 27 minutes. This can be contributed to the motivation, dedication, and professionalism of the Spec-Ops Team and the support received from the Command staff.  Training is a high priority within our organization, and it had everything to do with the successful outcome of this incident.  This incident had a positive outcome–not because of what was done that day but because of the dedicated individuals who train like professionals every day.


Gordon Holbrook is a 23-year veteran of the Frisco (TX) Fire Department and a captain on Rescue 1.  He has certification in High Angle I & II, Confined Space, Trench Rescue, Swift Water, Haz-Mat, and Building Collapse.