Firefighters learn intricacies of rig rescues

PARACHUTE — Western Colorado firefighters get their fair share of technical rescue experience practicing and working in area mountains.

But there’s another environment — oil and gas rigs — where they don’t generally get the chance to learn and test those skills, despite the amount of energy development that occurs in the region.

“We don’t get to see rigs like this,” Grand Junction firefighter Tyler Nathe said Monday, when 37 representatives from several local fire departments got the rare opportunity thanks to a unique training provided by Encana and Ensign Energy Services.

The first responders and employees of several energy companies were instructed in the ins and outs of how to rescue a worker injured high up an oil and gas rig.

“Way to do something you never do,” instructor Vito Schledwitz of Ensign Energy said in congratulating Nathe after he performed a rescue of fellow Grand Junction firefighter Garrett DeHaan, who hung in his 
harness from a safety cable as he played the role of an injured worker during Monday’s exercises.

The event was the brainchild of Ryan Van Teylingen, a field safety adviser for Encana who previously served 15 years as a firefighter in Rifle. Ensign agreed to set up its workover rig outside Encana’s administrative office in Parachute and have its instructors provide others with the same kind of training it offers to its own employees.

The session especially targeted emergency rescue responders who might be called sometime to play a role in a rig rescue.

“They’re never able to train off a rig because they don’t own one,” said Jesse McCathron, a health, safety and environment manager for Ensign.

Said Van Teylingen, “It’s really tough to be prepared for a hazard if you’ve never seen a hazard. That’s really what this is about.”

“It’s very beneficial for us,” said Anthony Rowe, training chief for the Grand Valley Fire Protection District.

He said firefighters are used to a different environment when it comes to technical rescue work.

“Typically we don’t do the rig stuff. We end up on the side of a hill,” he said. “This is totally different.”

He said Monday’s event was beneficial in getting a better understanding of what kinds of injuries workers might experience on a rig, and what dangers a rig environment might pose for rescuers because of the presence of things such as drill pipes and hydraulic lines.

George Rex, a trainer with Ensign who was a first responder with the Fire Department of New York after the 9-11 attacks of 2001, said while the rig venue is different, the basic premise of technical rescue work is the same.

“You have to have a good anchor (for the rescuer). You have to have the proper equipment,” he said.

More than 70 people in total attended Monday’s free training, including workers with companies including Oxy USA, Monument Well Services and Piceance Well Service. Encana shut down operations at the five local workover rigs its contractors are operating Monday so workers could attend.

Monument workers Richard Gallegos and Mike Francis said the training was new for firefighters, but it’s something they go over constantly as a safety precaution and to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

“We’re pretty trained up on it,” Gallegos said.

So far, they haven’t had to put into practice in an emergency what they’ve learned about rescuing someone up a rig.

“Thankfully, no, and that’s the way we like to keep it, too,” Francis said. “We don’t want to have to put it to use.”

Said Rowe, “Those are the ones you need to train for the most, low-frequency, high-risk (emergencies). They’re the ones that are going to get you hurt real fast.

“During the call is not the time to find out what works well, what doesn’t work. That’s why these (trainings) are so important.”


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