By Eileen Persike
Paper mill workers at Expera Specialty Solutions have something few, if any, other industries in Rhinelander have: An Emergency Response Team. Made up of approximately 30 employees from just about every department and on every shift in the mill, the ERT this past week went through its annual five-day OSHA training. Wednesday the focus was on confined space rescue in which they teamed up with the Rhinelander Fire Department.
“A lot of communities rely on their fire departments to come in and do their rescue if they have something go wrong and the fire department is fantastic at doing what they do, but when it comes to industry we’re a little bit different than what they would respond to normally,” Assistant Emergency Response Coordinator Barb Heather said. “We live and work in our spaces so we’re very familiar with our fire protection, our fire pumps, our sprinkler systems, and when we call Rhinelander Fire Department in to assist us we’ll assume joint command with them but they sometimes rely on us to even get them through the facility because it’s such a large complex.”
The Rhinelander mill has had an ERT since the 1930’s. Heather said it has evolved from a fire protection crew to a more all-encompassing emergency response, which includes chemical spills, confined space rescue, basic first aid and fire protection.
Assistant Fire Chief Josh Schmitz said he thinks the ERTs are important.
“Nobody knows the building like the Expera employees do,” he said. “They have the most knowledge of the business’s hazards, also. When there is an incident, they are the first to respond and they have the training and tools start the rescue. When Rhinelander Fire Department arrives on the scene both teams work together to complete the rescue.”
“We perform 650 to 700 permit-required confined space entries,” Expera ERT Coordinator Don Kulis explained. “A member of the ERT would be assigned to be there on entry, monitoring the atmosphere, watching the employee, taking care of site security and so forth.”
Wednesday’s confined space training was led by Nicolet College Safety and Health Outreach Specialists and involved the team rescuing one of their own who was injured at the bottom of an empty twenty-foot deep stock tank. After the first rescue exercise, they regrouped to discuss what worked and what didn’t. Rescues involve more people, more equipment and more coordination than a standard confined space entry. One of the Nicolet instructors explained to the group the role of the incident commander, and suggested how to improve that position.
“[The incident commander was] directing the hoist, looking down the hole, turning around. If you are the command guy, I would suggest you stand back and be the observer,” Mark England told the team. “You want visual of the hole and of the heist—I would suggest you put someone else in the position of communication when you are in charge.”
The second training scenario included the fire department. It was a learning experience for both the ERT and the fire fighters.
“We’re working with the paper mill’s equipment and they’re working with ours,” Schmitz said. “It’s a learning curve for both of us.”
“We did find some spots that we need to work on in our training,” according to Kulis. “But overall it went very well. We appreciate the fire department coming over to train with us.”
It’s been a more than 80 year evolution at the Rhinelander mill to develop the program Expera has today. Assistant Chief Schmitz said Expera’s Emergency Response Team is something other company’s should model.
“I do believe it’s important,” he said. “I believe all businesses would benefit from some form of an ERT. They could be trained in anything from CPR to specialized rescue.”