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Posted By Near Miss Team/ Wednesday, April 10, 2019 / Print


A hazmat team responded to a rescue for victims down in a tank trailer. The high heat and strenuous rescue resulted in a mayday. How do we manage risks at a confined-space incident?


Firefighters responded to a confined-space rescue with two victims inside a liquid-asphalt highway cargo tank. They had entered the tank car without a permit, supplied air or PPE and began cutting pipes in a combustible atmosphere when they were overcome and incapacitated.

The hazmat response team (HMRT) monitored the atmosphere of the tank while the technical-rescue team set up a high-point attachment on the end of an aerial ladder. The HMRT determined that there was an unknown toxic atmosphere of at least 5000 PPM and an internal tank temperature of 120 degrees F. The initial rescue entry team successfully removed the first victim about 30 minutes after entering the tank. The rescuers inside the container, wearing PPE and SAR, were overcome by heat stress, called for a mayday, exited the tank and were transported by ambulance to the hospital for heat stress.

A backup team entered the tank for the second victim, who was unconscious and behind a baffle. However, the first team had him rigged for extrication; he was removed about 30 minutes after the first victim.

Three firefighters were transported by ambulance for heat stress; four HMRT members were treated on scene. Both victims survived.

View the report: Heat Stress Overcomes Responders During Tank Rescue


Confined-space rescues are often the type of rescue call where multiple people become victims. Unseen hazards or environmental conditions like those in this report can overcome or kill unprotected but well-meaning responders. Failing to mitigate these hazards can result in responders becoming the next victims.


  1. Does your agency have access to a specialized team to perform technical rescues? Have you trained with them?
  2. What techniques can be used to control the atmosphere in a confined space?
  3. Is the process of managing risk in a confined-space incident different from that of a structure fire? Why?
  4. What resources in your area are available to practice confined-space responses? Is there a training prop or an area that could simulate a confined space?


Confined spaces are all around us: urban areas with below-grade vaults and industrial sites, rural areas with grain-handling equipment and other small spaces. No agency can safely assume they will never respond to an emergency in this type of space.

Since we will probably encounter this type of emergency at some point, the task is to get ready to respond. Basic risk-management tasks – ensuring a backup team is on site, having a method to recover responders, monitoring air and lock out/tag out for emergency sources – are the basic starting points.

If we can immediately do something to improve the conditions in a confined space, this will buy us time, especially if we have to wait for another agency to perform the rescue.

Before making entry, we should have a good idea of the hazards present and try to manage them. Is there a flammable atmosphere that requires venting? Will high temperatures make entry times short and require additional teams to switch out? Can you remove victims horizontally or vertically from the space? How big is the opening?

These factors can all make the response routine or much more complex. Taking the time to assess the situation and manage as many risks as possible will help ensure a successful rescue rather than adding to the victims.

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