High-Rise Rescue

Joseph V. Brocato describes how with the advent of high-rise construction, fire departments have created teams for challenging fires and rescues.


Las Vegas; Nov. 21, 1980; 7:16 A.M. Fire Control: "Yes, MGM." Caller: "You want to come in entrance 2, the Flamingo Road casino entrance, we need the fire department." Fire Control: "What's wrong, ma'am?" Caller: "We have a fire in the deli." Fire Control: "You have a fire in the...


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Thus was born the Baltimore City Fire Department's Special Rescue Operations (SRO) team, which was expanded from its original eight members to 12 (many SRO team members are assigned to Rescue 1, Baltimore City's heavy rescue unit). New members were subjected to the same interview and physical fitness standards as original members as well as a one-year probationary period. During this time, the probationary members were trained and certified in the different technical rescue disciplines. Members of the Baltimore County ATR team were instrumental in the training and certification process.

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Photo by John Kisser
A "victim" is removed from the roof by a "Billy Pugh" net during a training session.


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Photo by Steve Cobo
Members of the Baltimore City Fire Department Special Rescue Operations (SRO) team include, left to right: (standing) Lieutenant Jeff Segal, Lieutenant Bob Scarpati, EVD Brian Holden, Captain Joseph V. Brocato, Captain Mark Wagner and Firefighter Rodne Williams; (kneeling) Firefighter John Kirkner, EVD Steve Cobo, Lieutenant Steve Gibson, Lieutenant John Kisser and Firefighter Dominic Fiaschetti (person second from right is no longer a member of the team; not pictured is Firefighter Scott Merbach).

There are two SRO team activation levels. First is "low level," which activates the Baltimore City SRO team only. An example of a low-level activation would be the rescue of a trapped window washer on the side of a building. In this instance, the resources of SRO and Rescue 1 would be sufficient to mitigate the situation. Second is "high level," mobilizing the metropolitan team along with the Maryland State Police. An example of a high-level activation would be a high-rise fire such as the MGM Grand. This situation would bring to bear all the resources of the metro team along with multiple helicopter support. Mutual aid agreements allow for offering assistance or receiving it, as necessary, in the event of a large-scale rescue operation.

The Special Rescue Operations fleet has grown to include SRO 1, Collapse 1 and Rescue 1, which houses the units. Personnel have been cross-trained in equipment and operational procedures. All three units are designed to function independently or as a group, depending on the rescue operation.

The SRO team has developed over the years good working relationships with its counterparts from the counties that continues to this day. It is only through the continued cooperation of the Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County fire departments and the Maryland State Police that this type of high-level rescue operation is successful.

H.E.A.T. was, in 1981, one of the first organized teams of its kind in the nation. Although much has changed in the 15 years since H.E.A.T. was founded, the team continues to grow and diversify. While H.E.A.T. may not be the complete answer to the problem of evacuation from high-rise buildings, it is a highly effective tool for command officers to use in their arsenal against these deadly infernos.


Joseph V. Brocato is a 16-year veteran of the Baltimore City Fire Department and captain of Rescue Company 1. He is the Special Rescue Operations Team leader and nationally certified Fire Officer II and Fire Instructor III. Brocato is an adjunct instructor in rescue operations at the Baltimore City Fire Academy.