Falmouth firefighters and wastewater treatment staff worked together Dec. 18 to rescue a dog that was trapped in a storm drain. The successful rescue was the result of several years of special training, said Fire Chief Howard Rice. Contributed

FALMOUTH — Several years of specialized training in confined space rescue was put to the test last week when emergency responders successfully saved a dog trapped in a storm drain at OceanView.

Following the Dec. 18 event, Fire Chief Howard Rice said firefighters and Water Pollution Control Department staff have trained together for the past four years to respond in case a person becomes trapped in a confined space such as a storm drain or pipe.

Rice said staff from the two departments train quarterly on confined space rescue, which requires specially designed equipment. The training also includes crews from Cumberland and Yarmouth, he said. This means if there is an incident in any of the three towns the departments can rely on each other to respond.

Rice said although some initial investment was needed to properly equip the Fire Department, in the long run Falmouth is saving significant money by having its own people trained in confined space rescue instead of contracting with outside companies.

“None of us were trained and it was costing tens of thousands to hire someone,” Rice said. That’s when the two local departments decided it would make more sense to work together to get the necessary training.

Last week was the first time those trained in confined space rescue in Falmouth put their skills into action, he said. “The rescue was a great success. It went very smoothly and was a great example of teamwork between town departments,” Rice said. In all, 17 town staff are trained in confined space rescue.

He said rescuing the dog, an Australian shepherd named Georgie, took about 15 minutes, using tools that included a tripod, safety harnesses and a meter to test for any toxic gases.

“We did it all, step by step, just as we trained,” Rice said.

He also said the wastewater crew was particularly “invaluable” in making the rescue, based on their experience with working in and around storm drains. Rice said it’s unclear how the dog got into the drain, but a passerby heard it whimpering and saw its head sticking out and that’s when the call for help went out.

Once it was determined that the scene was safe, Rice said, “entry was made by lowering one of the wastewater technicians into the hole. The (dog) was very timid, but was eventually coaxed to come out of the pipe and into the arms of the rescuer.”

In its best practices guide for confined space safety, the Maine Municipal Association says confined spaces hazards, “such as toxic air, insufficient oxygen, explosive gases, drowning, and falls” are particularly acute because they take place in such tight areas with little room to maneuver.

“Even minor injuries quickly become serious in a confined space, because rescue is difficult (and) the time to medical treatment is longer,” the association says.

When it came to the rescue last week, Rice said everyone involved was just happy to be of service.

“We get called when nothing else works. If you don’t know what to do, call the Fire Department and we’ll be right there,” he added.

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