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Tunnel workers train to rescue at Satsop

ELMA — A large crashing sound and a cry of “Get out!” is all four tunnel workers know of what has just happened underground inside the tunnel they were constructing. That, and the fact that three of their coworkers are still inside.

What to do?

That was the training scenario that confronted 14 workers from James W. Fowler Co., a heavy civil and tunneling contractor based in Dallas, Ore., one recent Saturday at the new tunnel training center at Satsop Business Park in Elma. Contractors like James W. Fowler train for such possibilities because part of their contract is that they will provide their own tunnel rescue team during construction.

But, before they rush into the tunnel, the workers who are part of a designated rescue team methodically go through a preparation protocol so as not to become additional victims in need of rescue.

Already used for successful training exercises by the Seattle Fire Department, James W. Fowler Co. was the first private business to use the new tunnel training complex at Satsop Business Park. There, three 12-foot diameter underground pipes that were constructed as part of the never-completed nuclear power project have ingeniously been transformed into a place where everyone from professional firefighters to military personnel to private construction companies to workforce training programs can safely conduct various tunnel training exercises.

“Training like this is required for the Ballard Siphon Replacement Project,” said Mike McMillan, project manager for James W. Fowler Co. “Virtually every tunnel contractor on an active project is required to train monthly as well as annually train inside a tunnel. This place is perfect; it is convenient, close and ideal for simulating a rescue situation.”

So, as a team of six men line up, put on breathing apparatus and make sure that all their rescue equipment is set, they’re paying extra close attention because their learning may someday save one of the coworkers standing next to them.

On this day the elaborate scenario was set up hundreds of feet inside the pitch black of one of the three tunnels, located 27 feet underground. A smoke-generating machine was used to simulate a fire and make the drill more realistic. As the six-man rescue team goes in, clues such as a discarded, opened “self rescue” box and changing gas levels were part of the puzzle they have to digest and report back to those outside the tunnel.

After a while, they came out with new information and a new, fresh team of five was sent in to take over the operation.

When the day was over, the rescue complete and the lessons learned, McMillan said his company is eager to come back and use the new facility again.

“This is very unusual. Other regional entities that perform tunnel rescue should learn about this new training center,” Mascarello said.

Tami Garrow, the CEO of Satsop Business Park, said she is thrilled to see that private companies have discovered the tunnel training center.

“Part of our mission statement is to use Satsop Business Park to create jobs and new investments for the region and being a go-to location for in-house training is the perfect thing,” Garrow said. “Besides, once people are here to train they can see what other amenities are here and what a great place this is to locate a business.”

More information on Satsop Business Park can be found at

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