ELMA – A large crashing sound and a cry of “Get out!” is all four tunnel workers know of what has just happened underground inside the tunnel they were constructing. That, and the fact that three of their coworkers are still inside.
What to do?
That was the training scenario that confronted 14 workers from James W. Fowler Co., a heavy civil and tunneling contractor based in Dallas, Ore., one recent Saturday at the new tunnel training center at Satsop Business Park in Elma. Contractors like James W. Fowler train for such possibilities because part of their contract is that they will provide their own tunnel rescue team during construction.
But, before they rush into the tunnel, the workers who are part of a designated rescue team methodically go through a preparation protocol so as not to become additional victims in need of rescue.
Already used for successful training exercises by the Seattle Fire Department, James W. Fowler Co. was the first private business to use the new tunnel training complex at Satsop Business Park. There, three 12-foot diameter underground pipes that were constructed as part of the never-completed nuclear power project have ingeniously been transformed into a place where everyone from professional firefighters to military personnel to private construction companies to workforce training programs can safely conduct various tunnel training exercises.
Training like this is required for the Ballard Siphon Replacement Project,” said Mike McMillan, project manager for James W. Fowler Co. “Virtually every tunnel contractor on an active project is required to train monthly as well as annually train inside a tunnel. This place is perfect; it is convenient, close and ideal for simulating a rescue situation.
James W. Fowler, which has tackled such projects as the Spanaway Loop Bypass in Lakewood and the Balch Consolidation Conduit Shafts and Pipelines in Portland, Ore., is currently working on the Ballard Siphon Replacement project and plans to bid on more of the upcoming Seattle-area tunneling projects, McMillan said.
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“Contractors are typically the first responders to tunnel incidents under construction,” he said. “We are doing both primary and backup rescue as part of our contract. We are fortunate to have in-house qualified Tunnel Rescue Team Trainers,” McMillan said.
So, as a team of six men line up, put on breathing apparatus and make sure that all their rescue equipment is set, they’re paying extra close attention because their learning may someday save one of the coworkers standing next to them.
On this day the elaborate scenario was set up hundreds of feet inside the pitch black of one of the three tunnels, located 27 feet underground. A smoke-generating machine was used to simulate a fire and make the drill more realistic. As the six-man rescue team goes in, clues such as a discarded, opened “self rescue” box and changing gas levels were part of the puzzle they have to digest and report back to those outside the tunnel.
After a while, they came out with new information and a new, fresh team of five was sent in to take over the operation.
When the day was over, the rescue complete and the lessons learned, McMillan said his company is eager to come back and use the new facility again.
“The Satsop training center is a fantastic facility in that it offers the unique ability to train in an actual tunnel,” said Rich Mascarello, the company’s tunnel manager. “Practicing in cylindrical shaped confined space environment gives our employees a true sense what it is like in a tunnel rescue, as opposed to training on a flat surface such as an empty parking lot.”
“This is very unusual. Other regional entities that perform tunnel rescue should learn about this new training center,” Mascarello said.
Tami Garrow, the CEO of Satsop Business Park, said she is thrilled to see that private companies have discovered the tunnel training center.
“Part of our mission statement is to use Satsop Business Park to create jobs and new investments for the region and being a go-to location for in-house training is the perfect thing,” Garrow said. “Besides, once people are here to train they can see what other amenities are here and what a great place this is to locate a business.”
“We hope that private companies will start to think of Satsop as a place to conduct training exercises, offer classes and conduct testing,” she said. “What we can offer here really runs the gamut. In addition to this amazing new tunnel center and other indoor and outdoor training props, we also have classroom facilities, restrooms and a lunchroom available.
“Satsop is a perfect location for workforce training activities from Try-a-Trade, where high school students come once a year to try their hand at the construction trades, to companies investing in their people like this to retraining dislocated workers,” Garrow said.
Satsop Business Park is a 1,850-acre mixed-use business and technology park located in scenic Grays Harbor County in Southwest Washington just 30 minutes from Olympia and the I-5 corridor. It is home to more than 30 businesses, offers 440 acres of developed, pad-ready land and buildings supported by super-sized infrastructure and surrounded by 1,350 acres of sustainable managed forestland.
The Park’s mission is to create new jobs and investment for the region. More information on Satsop Business Park can be found at www.Satsop.com