Niles Fire Department hosts confined spaces training

Published 1:10 pm Tuesday, August 31, 2021

NILES — Several area firefighters spent their weekends learning to get comfortable in tight spaces.

Saturday and Sunday, the Niles Fire Department, 1345 E. Main St., Niles, was host to a specialty rescue training. The training, which was given to members of the Michigan Fifth District Technical Rescue Team serving southwest Michigan, was designed to teach new techniques in confined space rescues.

“Every city and municipality have manholes, water or sewer, and there are hidden hazards down in each of these spaces,” said Niles Fire Captain Don Wise. “The number one hazard is bad air because they are sealed up, and we get rotting organic material down there. We can get hydrogen sulfite, which is a dangerous gas. The rusting of the metal can cause low oxygen content. Confined spaces are very small openings with hidden hazards inside, so if someone goes in there and something goes wrong or they have a medical condition, we need to know how to get them out.”

The weekend’s training, which is part of a longer series of trainings paid for with state funds, taught first responders how to respond to such rescues in a controlled, safe environment.

“Luckily, these types of situations don’t happen often, but we do get people stuck in grain bins, water cisterns or tanks,” Wise said. “This is a 32-hour confined space operations class. We do this on weekends because we have a mix of career firefighters and on-call firefighters. For the on-call firefighters, it is hard for them to take a week off of work, so that is why we host these on the weekends.”

Wise said each firefighter walked away from the training with new skills, himself included.

“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, and every class I learn something new,” he said. “The day you think you know it all is the day you need to retire. It’s ever-changing.”

Despite the many hours put in the weekend’s training, many of them spent under the hot sun, Wise said the exercise was necessary to the safety of southwest Michigan’s residents and first responders.

“Every day, people are in or around confined spaces,” he said. “We have farmers going into confined spaces. We have our own city workers go into confined spaces on a daily basis. If something happens, you have to have that specialized training and knowledge. A lot of firefighters have been hurt or killed because they didn’t understand the hazards of the confined space. We know there is need, so we want our people to be prepared.”