Unsung Hero: Don Arterburn, Volunteer Fire Department Technical Rescue Team Chief

Technical Rescue Team volunteer Don Arterburn is carrying a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), a device worn by firefighters to provide breathable air in an immediately dangerous atmosphere when conducting confined space rescue operations.


Emergencies that require the dispatch of the Rockland County Fire Department Technical Rescue Team (TRT) pose the highest safety risks for the victims and firefighters. The TRT is responsible for safely performing rescues and saving lives in difficult and dangerous locations. These responses represent high-risk incidents that require specialized equipment and training.

Don Arterburn is a chief of the Volunteer Rockland County Technical Rescue Team and has been a Pearl River Hook and Ladder Co. firefighter for 45 years. He spoke to the Rockland County Times about trench cave-ins, confined space rescue, structural collapse rescue operations and low angle rope rescue.

In March of 2006, a construction worker was rescued from a trench cave-in in Orangeburg. A trench is defined as a narrow underground excavation that is deeper than it is wide and is not wider than 15 feet. Cave-ins present the greatest risks and are more likely to result in worker fatalities. Shoring requires installing aluminum hydraulic or other types of supports, such as Paratech struts to prevent soil movements, in order to extricate injured workers.

Confined Space rescue involves the recovery of victims trapped in confined spaces, such as underground vaults, storage tanks or sewers. Confined spaces are often narrow and constricting preventing easy access by rescuers. They are either unlit or poorly lit so rescuers must provide their own light source. The confined spaces often contain hazardous material in liquid or gas form, which can be harmful or fatal to the rescuers. Atmospheric conditions for air quality must be monitored before the rescuer enters the area. Acceptable limits for oxygen are 19.5-23.5 percent, while concentrations below 19.5 percent are considered oxygen deficient. If the entry rescue has to be performed, the rescue personnel must wear protective clothing including protective headgear, the use of explosion proof lighting and a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). The assembled device is fully contained in a carry pouch and is composed of a refillable cylinder, valve and pressure gauge assembly, breathing tube, protective air hood and regulator.

Two years ago, there was a building collapse in West Haverstraw. Before structural collapse, rescue operations are to take place, all surface victims and the walking wounded have to be removed and shoring and stabilization measures have to be taken. When the entrapped victims are located, the rescue team is responsible for using their specialized equipment and techniques to extricate the victims from the collapse area. Tools include the Halligan bar, sledge hammers, pike poles, wall breaching tools and battering rams.

Low rope rescue equipment includes software such as ropes, webbing, a Prusik loop and a harness. The Prusik loop is a sliding knot that locks under pressure and can be used to form a loop in which a climber can place his foot in order to ascend a rope. A safety harness is a form of protective equipment designed to protect a person from injury. The Class 3 harness is an attachment between a stationary object and is usually fabricated from webbing and locking hardware. Hardware includes carabiners, pulleys, anchor plates, descent control devices, mechanical rope grabs, cliff pickets and a litter. A carabiner is a piece of mountain-climbing equipment or metal clip that allows climbers to link ropes and harnesses together. When there are no rocks, trees or man-made anchors, pickets or sticks with pointed ends are driven into the ground to hold the rope that supports the rescuer as he rappels down the side of the cliff to assist the injured hiker. A litter is a stretcher or basket designed to be used in a rescue operation and is shaped to accommodate an adult in a face-up position. The injured person is strapped into the basket and lifted to an EMS vehicle for medical attention, making a safe evacuation possible.

Don Arterburn stated that giving back to the community has been his passion and family tradition. His father, stepfather and his three kids have all served as firefighters.

Technical Rescue Team member Hugh Johnson contributed to this article.

For additional information about the Technical Rescue Team, contact the Rockland County Fire Training Center at 845-364-8800.

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