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BMU Rescue Simulator hanging suspended along the Rescue Training Tower.

Training rescue workers for gondola related emergency situations

The Hong Kong Fire Service Department Training Academy (the Academy) is the first to facilitate rescue training for accidents involving cradles or gondolas. The Academy opened in January 2016 and is a state-of-the-art training centre that uses the most advanced equipment and training simulators available. In this article, we will highlight one of these training simulators, which is one of a kind at this moment. But first, we want to briefly point out the need for and importance of training rescue workers and firefighters in this specific discipline: vertical rescue of a person out of a (tilted) cradle or gondola.

The need for specialized training

The construction of mid- and high-rise buildings is increasing worldwide, as well as their architectural complexity and need for specialized maintenance equipment. This maintenance equipment often comes in the form of a platform, cradle or gondola that hangs suspended alongside the building from which workers perform maintenance or repairs to the facade of the building. As the number of tall buildings and skyscrapers increases, so does the number of workers who perform work at great heights.

Although the facade access equipment must comply with strict regulations and workers have to follow protocols to use the equipment safely, accidents still happen. Cable breakage, for example, will lead to a tilted cradle or platform with workers trapped in it. Sometimes at heights of hundreds of meters.

The number of this specific type of emergency situations will increase in the future, as more and more facade access equipment is installed all over the world. But not all emergency services are prepared well enough to be able to act swiftly and effectively in such situations.

To minimize the risks for the rescue workers, as well as for the trapped worker(s), high-level training is needed with the help of simulators that can recreate this type of emergency situation as good as possible.

The rescue simulator at the Academy

When we were asked by the Academy to install facade access equipment on one of their offices, a so-called Building Maintenance Unit (BMU), the rescue professionals on site were wondering how to perform a rescue operation of a person in need inside a tilted cradle at height.

Subsequently a special BMU, named the BMU Rescue Simulator, was designed and created. It can simulate breakage of the wire ropes at one end of the cradle. This BMU was placed on the Rescue Training Tower at the training grounds of the Academy.

The Rescue Training Tower is a ten-story building in which an array of settings, including shopping centre, old residential building, public housing estate, factory and commercial building with curtain wall, are simulated on different floors. The BMU Rescue Simulator completes the training possibilities of this tower, simulating emergencies at the building’s facade.

How does it work?

In this paragraph we willl offer insights in how the BMU Rescue Simulator actually works and what makes this machine suitable for training rescue workers.

The basis of the BMU Rescue simulator is the same as used for ‘regular’ BMUs. We will explain some basic elements of a BMU to get an understanding of how a machine like this works. A BMU is in most cases installed on the roof of a building and this is no different at the Academy. Image 1 shows the BMU Rescue Simulator along with numbers that are related to specific parts of the machine.

Image 1: 3D visual of the BMU Rescue Simulator with indicators of key parts.

1 Undercarriage

A firm base on which the BMU is mounted. This base enables 360 degree rotation of the machine, so it can be manoeuvred from the parking position on the roof to working position along the facade.

2 Winch

The motorized winch is located inside the body of the BMU. It’s used for descending and ascending the cradle. From here, the wire rope runs through the boom to the cradle.

3 Boom

Works just like the boom of a crane and is the part where the cradle is suspended.

4 Luffing cylinders

Used to tilt the boom upwards to a maximum angle of 55 degrees, so the cradle can be lifted over the parapet when it moves from the parked position to working position.

5 Spreader

The spreader is where the wire ropes are divided and are guided to the cradle.

6 Angle adjuster

This specially designed spreader makes this machine suitable for simulating an emergency situation: it enables the cradle to be manually tilted to an angle of up to 60 degrees. Later in this article we will explain its function in more detail.

7 Cradle

The cradle is the working platform for workers from where maintenance or cleaning work is done. In this case, it’s where the worker in need is located.

The machine can be operated from two different locations: a main control box located at the base of the BMU and a control box inside the cradle. This way, the person inside the cradle can take control of the BMU as well.

The BMU Rescue Simulator has a total weight of almost 6.000 kilograms and a total boom length of 4,5 meters. The maximum working load is 240 kilograms and the BMU is equipped with several safety mechanisms.

Rescue workers training with the BMU Rescue Simulator at the Academy.

Rescue workers training with the BMU Rescue Simulator at the Academy.

The tilting function

To simulate breakage of a wire rope, while the cradle hangs suspended alongside a building with a worker inside it, the cradle can be tilted to an angle of up to 60 degrees. For this, a special angle adjuster is developed and installed below the spreader. The angle adjuster is manually controlled from inside the cradle. Furthermore, the actual tilting goes very slowly so the person is always fully in control of the situation.

You might wonder how this tilting process is done mechanically. If you look at the angle adjuster (6) in image 1, you will see a piston with a clamp at the end. The clamp is attached to a wire rope that runs through the angle adjuster to one side of the cradle. When the piston is pushed inwards, the wire rope to the cradle lengthens and that side of the cradle descends, creating a situation where the cradle is tilted.

Training with the BMU Rescue Simulator

We believe that training with a simulator of this type is essential to facilitate high-level training on how to bring a person to safety, when trapped inside a (tilted) cradle, while hanging suspended next to a building. These emergency situations aren’t everyday business, are risky for everyone involved and are hard to train without proper equipment. The BMU Rescue Simulator facilitates improving on specific rescue techniques, minimizing the risks of such rescue operations.

The Hong Kong Fire Service Department Training Academy is the first to train with this machine. In our opinion, every training facility in areas with lots of high-rise buildings should offer a similar training possibility to ensure window washers, painters and others who work at height on platforms and in cradles get specialized help when in need and get home safe.

For more information, email info@xsplatforms.com

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Allert Gort is Chief Technical Officer at XSPlatforms, specialist in facade access equipment, suspended scaffolding, fall protection and scaffolding.