Two men working in a barge docked at Pool Engineering’s Ward Cove site were rescued Thursday morning after they passed out due to low oxygen levels.
North Tongass Fire and EMS Chief Jerry Kiffer said the call came in at about 9:30 a.m., reporting that the men had gone into a confined space in the barge, and were unconscious.
“The initial crews that arrived could see the victims laying on the bottom of the barge, inside a small manhole that they used to access the void,” he said.
Kiffer said rescue crews blew fresh air into the space, but didn’t go down right away, because they didn’t know for sure what the problem was. They called in the City of Ketchikan’s hazmat team.
“Because we needed to test the air in the bottom, to make sure it wasn’t an explosive atmosphere,” he said. “The air was tested, we didn’t have any explosive atmosphere, but we found low oxygen content.”
Two emergency responders entered the space, and provided oxygen to the two men. They woke up, and eventually were able to climb out of the space with help from firefighters.
Kiffer said it’s not uncommon for spaces in barges to have low oxygen levels. Barges have many small, sealed compartments that are watertight and airtight, so that if one section springs a leak, it won’t sink the whole vessel. Kiffer described this compartment as about 12 feet deep, with a floor space of about 50 by 60 feet.
He said rust is the likely cause of the low-oxygen levels.
“Again, you have a space that is sealed up air-tight,” he said. “They’re steel barges, and they tend to rust inside. And rust is an oxidation process, by which it uses up oxygen.”
Kiffer declined to identify the two men, citing patient confidentiality. Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters also declined to provide the victims’ identities, and said the case likely will be investigated by the state department of Occupational Safety and Health.