Employees go to great heights to train for rescues

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SAF_Rope Rescue training_basket
Matt James, left, a senior I/C technician, is lowered down the side of North Omaha Station by Bill Poppleton, a first class machinist, during recent rope rescue training.

Heights, heat…hanging off of tall buildings. It’s all part of the course work for OPPD employees who train for the rope rescue team.

The group trains at various locations around North Omaha Station (NOS) tying special knots, working with complex harnesses and training to save lives. Along with the more adrenaline-filled scenarios, also comes classroom work and testing, but the majority – about 80 percent – involves working real situations with actual “patients.”

Roco Rescue, a group that specializes in confined space and rope rescues, has helped train OPPD employees for more than 10 years.

Jeremy Kellner, rope rescue team leader, is shown propelling down "B" stack at North Omaha Station.
Jeremy Kellner, rope rescue team leader, is shown propelling down “B” stack at North Omaha Station.

Employees experience all kinds of weather during the training, from temperatures in the upper 90s to rain. Scenarios can range from lowering someone to the ground from more than 100 feet using ropes and stretchers, to confined space rescues and mock “spider” rescues.

Jeremy Kellner, Instrument & Control coordinator at NOS and leader of the rope rescue team, said “spider” rescues are probably the most dangerous scenario plant workers can run into. The “spider” is a small buggy used by steamfitters while performing boiler repairs.

The training is all about precision and getting to the person in need as quickly, but as safely, as possible, said one of the trainers.

“There is nothing fast about this type of rescue,” said Troy Gardner, a Louisiana firefighter and instructor with Roco Rescue.

Kellner said the training is not for everyone. Some of the situations, such as heart attacks in confined spaces or falls, can mean life or death when it comes to a rescuer’s response times.

One of the drawbacks of relying solely on the Omaha Fire Department for emergency rescues at the plant is the time delay involved with them getting there and then briefing them on the possible hazards before proceeding. With this team, OPPD has personnel already familiar with the plant and ready to respond immediately in potentially dangerous environments.

Kellner and others who took part in the training are all volunteers. While there haven’t yet been scenarios that call for this type of training, it’s important to have workers onsite who can do so if needed.

Russ Holder, a steamfitter mechanic, is shown in the basket as Shane Jensen, first class machinist, lowers the basket to the ground.
Russ Holder, a steamfitter mechanic, is shown in the basket as Shane Jensen, first class machinist, lowers the basket to the ground.

Russell Holder, a steamfitter mechanic with OPPD Central Maintenance, said he hopes he will never have to use these skills. But if he does, he’s confident that he and the others who’ve been through the training can save a life.

Holder said it was some of the best training he’d ever had at OPPD. Plus, swinging down tall buildings is a lot of fun.

During a tranining scenario, Holder had just propelled down the “B” stack at NOS and clearly enjoyed the trip down.

“Once you let go of the hand rail, you’re like ‘whoa,’ just don’t look down,” he said.

Jason Kuiper

About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He formerly worked as a staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald.

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