Developing a confined space rescue capability is relatively easy: purchase equipment, select your team, and provide training.
But then comes the real challenge: maintaining this capability. In our experience, organizations that are able to maintain a viable rescue capability share two characteristics: 1) They have buy-in from management, and 2) they have one or more effective team leaders.
(If your organization needs to develop the skills of your team leaders, here is some information on our Confined Space Rescue Team Leader classes.)
What attributes do effective team leaders share? Here are some that we think are essential.
1) They are curious.
Effective leaders should always be asking why, how, and what if. Industrial environments are complex and any knowledge of the processes and materials involved may be an essential in an emergency. IN addition, team leaders must constantly be considering, what if? Lots of things can go wrong when accessing, rigging, and moving patients. Some of these may be minor inconveniences; overlooking other details (i.e., neglecting to protect an anchor strap from chaffing) can lead to catastrophic outcomes. Effective leader always have their imaginations on overdrive and are always thinking of how things can go wrong and ways of preventing it.
2) They are open minded.
Rescue is a team-based activity and minor details can make a huge difference in the effectiveness and safety of the evacuation. Team leaders recognize that everyone plays a different role and has a different perspective, therefore they may be able to suggest minor improvements that can make a huge difference in the team's performance. Effective rescue team leaders ensure that everyone knows their contributiuons are essential and the leader creates plenty of opportunities for everyone to share their insights.
3) They know their limits.
Teams are trained to perform a defined set of skills and operate within set limits. Team leaders need to assess these skills both formally (e.g., on an annual basis) and informally during meetings and drills. They also need to assess their own skills.
Ensuring team safety requires the team leadership to understand the team limits and identify work situations that, if things were to go wrong, would create a situation the rescue team could not address with safety. Knowing these limits and standing down until additional resources or expertise can be obtained is an essential aspect of team leadership. Too many rescuers were injured or killed because they were unable to recognize their limits.
4) They create a path forward.
If a team stands still, they atrophy ("If you don't use it, you lose it"). While the concept of continual improvement suggests a team that can perform increasingly technical rescues, it also applies to a team that can do a better job in performing the same or similar rescues. This requires providing everyone on the team with opportunities for continuing education and using these skills. Upper management ensures the team is given time to train and learn from each other. The team leaders are provided with exposure to information on the latest rescue tools and techniques, and this knowledge is made available to the team.
You can add a lot of other attributes to this list (e.g., technical knowledge, communication and organizational skills), but these can always be acquired. What is harder to develop are the right mental attitudes. If the team leaders have and can communicate these qualities, the continued success of the team is much more likely.