Awareness Issues in Special Operations

As an emergency responder, your agency has probably been dealing with technical rescue at one level or another for years, even if you didn't realize it. Within the last ten years, line-of-duty injuries and fatalities involving special operations prompted...


As an emergency responder, your agency has probably been dealing with technical rescue at one level or another for years, even if you didn't realize it. Within the last ten years, line-of-duty injuries and fatalities involving special operations prompted the development of standards for technical rescue training and operations. In addition, standards were developed for professional qualifications of rescue technicians.

Personal discussions with agency representatives around the nation revealed to me that not everyone understands NFPA 1670 (Training and Operations) and 1006 (Professional Qualifications), nor do they understand how these standards relate to their activities. I found that many agencies charged with responding to technical rescue were either going all out to meet these standards or doing nothing at all. Some were under the impression that 1670 was a document that covered qualifications, when it actually discusses training and operations. NFPA 1006 refers specifically to technician qualifications.

According to NFPA 1670 , 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:

 

(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.

(c) Technician. This level represents the capability of hazard recognition, equipment use, and techniques necessary to safely and effectively coordinate, perform, and supervise a technical rescue incident. This level can involve search, rescue, and recovery operations.

Technical rescue involves separate disciplines such as vehicle and machinery extrication, rope, confined spaces, trench and structural collapses, water and dive operations, and wilderness situations. Since EMS, Law Enforcement, and Emergency Management agencies respond to these incidents in conjunction with the Fire Department, they should be preparing to at least the Awareness level.

NFPA 1670 goes on to state:

 

  • Operational procedures shall not exceed the agency's identified level of capability.

     

  • Agencies shall provide for training and continuing education in the responsibilities that are commensurate with the identified operational capability of each member.

     

  • Minimum training for all members shall be at the awareness level. Members expected to perform at a higher operational level shall be trained to that level.

 

What does this mean for emergency service providers? If you have a duty to respond to incidents involving special operations, you need to determine the level of response you are compelled to provide, plan for it, train for it, and allocate resources to handle it at that level. In South Carolina, the fire department generally has taken on the responsibility for mitigating technical incidents, or at least managing them until the appropriate resources can be obtained. Some EMS agencies in South Carolina currently respond to technical rescues as the principal provider. Your own individual state laws will dictate who has the ultimate responsibility for response.

Occasionally, rescuers believed that 1670 required the immediate purchase of a bunch of expensive equipment and the assembly of technician level teams. There is, however, nothing wrong with agencies training personnel and operating at the Awareness level, so long as they arrange for the response of external resources if available for that discipline. Departments need to consider the needs of their community and prepare their teams to those levels.

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