Technical Rescue: Is Your Department Prepared?

The fire service continues to try to serve the public in whatever way they can because firefighters are resourceful people. The problem that occurs is when well-meaning individuals (and organizations) try to take on a voyage without having a map.

The question I ask is this: Is your department prepared to conduct technical rescue operations? According to the Fire Service Needs Assessment Survey , conducted jointly by the USFA and NFPA in December 2002, only 11% of surveyed fire departments agreed that they (using their local, trained personnel) could handle a technical rescue with EMS at a structural collapse of a building with 50 occupants. This agreement is not so unusual; a structural collapse of that magnitude requires a substantial number of resources not internally available to the majority of the nation's fire departments. The distressing fact is that according to the survey, only 19% of the departments had a written agreement to direct the use of non-local resources. In other words, despite the fact that 89% of the surveyed departments felt that the described situation was beyond their local abilities, less than one-fifth of the surveyed departments had agreements in place to manage the incident if one occurred.

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These days, the community expects more from the Fire Service than just the delivery of fire suppression assets. Even in the days prior to 9/11/01, fire service personnel were engaged in terrorism consequence management as a result of expertise developed through "everyday" HAZMAT and US&R response. And although we as firefighters want to be everything to everyone, the realities are that most of America's fire departments continue to do so with no more funding than they had before, and staffing fully-equipped special teams don't come without a price. It should be apparent that outside of most urban centers it is difficult to defend the development of internal special teams to exclusively handle technical rescue; call volume (or potential call volume) is not sufficient to justify the cost, especially when we realize that the risk of not forming those teams is outweighed by our need to provide more basic services. It seems that the logical solution would be to at least have a written plan in place for outside resources when the situation arises.

Another of the questions asked in the survey was whether or not departments considered technical rescue within the scope of their organization. According to the survey, 44% of departments said no, mostly in smaller communities. However, even including departments protecting fewer than 2,500 civilians, over 55% replied that they currently do provide technical rescue service. By looking at that information, it's easy to see that some fire service agencies are conflicted as to whether or not they are handling these types of emergencies at all. A while back I wrote an article on Awareness Issues in Special Operations for this e-magazine and in it I referred to NFPA 1670 , where it is stated:

"Each agency with the responsibility to respond to technical rescues shall establish levels of operational capability needed to conduct operations at technical rescue incidents. These capabilities are based on a community hazard analysis, risk assessment, training level of personnel, and availability of internal and external resources. Furthermore, agencies are required to establish written standard operating procedures consistent with one of the following operational levels:

(a) Awareness. This level represents the minimum capability of a responder who, in the course of his or her regular job duties, could be called upon to respond to, or could be the first on the scene of, a technical rescue incident. This level can involve search, rescue, and recovery operations. Members of a team at this level are generally not considered rescuers.

(b) Operations. This level represents the capability of hazard recognition, equipment use, and techniques necessary to safely and effectively support and participate in a technical rescue incident. This level can involve search, rescue, and recovery operations, but usually operations are carried out under the supervision of technician-level personnel.

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