Important and essential work takes place at Pittsburgh International Airport’s new terminal construction site even before the workday officially starts, no matter the weather.
“Before any work starts in the morning, contractors notify the fire department, and the fire department comes onsite to the location where they are working and will check their permits out and sign off,” said Jason Timmerman, Vice President, Environment and Workplace Safety.
Allegheny County Airport Authority Airport Rescue and Firefighter—or ARFF— personnel are at the Terminal Modernization Program site every day when construction work is occurring. Firefighters sign off on hot work permits, confined space entry permits and trenching and excavating permits.
“We are there to ensure they have the safety equipment in place and to make sure the safety equipment is operational,” said Deputy Fire Chief Shaun Prouty.
Because the site is so vast, firefighters need to know their way around the site. Issuing daily permits and going on safety walks familiarizes firefighters with the construction site.
“Where are the entry points, where are the exits, where can they position their equipment if they need to come to the project,” said Timmerman.
The daily inspections also familiarize firefighters with the exact location of a confined space or trench, critical information in the event of an emergency.
“It reduces our response time to get out to the location if something were to go wrong,” said Prouty.
For example, welding work falls under a hot work permit, which means there also needs to be a fire extinguisher onsite, so ARFF checks to make sure there’s a working fire extinguisher nearby. Firefighters also do fire extinguisher training with crews doing hot work.
Before issuing a permit for a confined space, firefighters check the air quality.
“So when an individual goes into a confined space, they don’t want to be overcome by some sort of hazardous gases or an oxygen-deficient atmosphere,” said Prouty.
The fire department also takes part in weekly safety walks of the construction site. Timmerman said the department’s participation in the walks is “invaluable.”
“It helps build relationships with the safety team, but also gives familiarity of the job site,” added Timmerman.