Derek Franklin and Bill Leonard participate in an Environmental Health and Safety Confined Space training exercise near Bartels Hall.

Cornell Confined Spaces Rescue Team trains to make campus safer

Cornell University


Cornell’s Ithaca Campus offers much to see and explore across approximately 2,300 acres and more than 260 major buildings, but deep within these landmarks exists a world of confined spaces. Attics, boilers, crawl spaces, heating, ventilation and air conditioning ducts, sewers and water mains, among many other spaces, are part of critical infrastructure. While construction and maintenance are essential to upkeep, training is required to safeguard staff who work in and around confined spaces.

To protect employees, the Cornell University Confined Space Program within Cornell Environment, Health and Safety (EHS), establishes requirements and procedures for employees tasked with altering, constructing, maintaining, repairing or inspecting compact spaces.

Training includes recognition of common hazards or conditions staff and rescuers might encounter such as fire or a lack of oxygen; reviewing the safest ways to combat those hazards, such as air monitoring and ventilation of a space; a skills review of types of knots and which should be used in certain situations; a review of technical equipment such as rescue harnesses, carabiners, ropes and pulley assemblies, air monitoring equipment and ventilation equipment; and hands-on rescue exercise drills.

Confined Space Rescue Team members completed training drills near Bartels Hall in late November.

“Across the country, roughly 100 deaths related to confined spaces happen every year,” Ron Flynn, the university fire marshal and manager of fire protection and emergency services said, citing National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health statistics. Training is essential to preparing staff — who may work in emergency services, health and safety, lab safety, industrial hygiene, and hazardous materials — for the risks.

This year’s EHS Confined Space Rescue Team training, held in late November, challenged participants to perform mock rescues in a steam vault on campus. Participants were lowered into the vault wearing personal protective equipment using ropes and a winch cable from a rescue tripod. The ropes and winch cable were also used to extract a fellow participant.

“I enjoyed working with our team in accomplishing our tasks,” John D. Jelliff, a Cornell emergency services specialist said. “We all traded roles for each scenario, which allowed us to maximize our skills practice. Working together as a team and the accomplishment of the mock rescues safely were the most satisfying parts of this training session for me.”

Written by Jesse Osbourne
Strategic Communications at Cornell University