Technical Rescue - Part II

The typical demands and influencing factors that challenge our daily delivery of emergency fire, rescue and ems services are further compounded by the increased level of sophistication required to handle those situations that inherently possess higher degrees of technical intervention by operating companies.

There is also the realization, based upon our understanding and the continuing lessons disseminated from of the events of 9-11, that our world, as we knew it, has significantly changed. Risk potential & threat thresholds, whether perceived or real have demanded increased attention towards planning, preparedness, capabilities, competencies, resources and integration of tiered response systems to meet current and projected incident response demands and challenges.

Although current emergency management trends escalates preparedness planning to a larger, more global response and mitigation level, acceptable risk level assessment must be determined by local conditions and must be identified and equated to the capabilities of the emergency service delivery system on the community level.

Based upon past historical responses, many fire departments have recognized the need for the development and deployment of specialized personnel. Allowing departments to handle incidents that demand a greater degree of technical training, enhanced tactical capabilities and expanded incident management. Allowing departments to safely and effectively mitigate incidents. The growth and expansion of hazardous materials in the 1980's is a typical example of this increased level of responsibility and expanded scope in carrying out a fire departments mission to its community and jurisdiction.

In the previous article, Assessing & Defining Needs for Technical Rescue/ Special Operations, we discussed the issues and influencing factors associated with the developing trends. The potential risk factors that may be present within a jurisdiction with specific regard to technical rescue deployment, and the emerging challenges and demands that have become evident in this era of post 9.11 events.


The need for specialized technical rescue capabilities must be focused and dictated by identified or predictable local risk levels present or the inherent hazard potential that exists coupled with the limitations and existing capabilities a department may have for specialized technical rescue responses.

Most often, these local or regional risk factors have driven the need to deploy specialized rescue teams. Either due to increased demands associated with daily responses to technical rescue situations such as high angle rope rescue, water and dive rescue or situations such as trench/excavation cave-ins or structural collapse incidents. Other times the need for technical rescue capabilities are identified as a direct result of specific challenges encountered by operating agencies at specific incidents in which deficiencies or impediments influenced the outcome of the respective incident.

At such time that these factors are recognized or identified, a jurisdiction must determine the appropriate course of action in order to increase or enhance its capabilities for response to similar occurrences in the future. Assuming there is an actual or perceived need for technical rescue capabilities, what methodologies or directions should an organization take to implement or enhance its technical rescue operations?

In these times of increasing perceived or actual risk threats and homeland preparedness the scope of existing services must be thoroughly assessed properly planned and adequately developed.

Special Operations & Technical Rescue Scope

Developing a technical rescue team relies heavily on a thorough understanding of the issues surrounding the needs associated with such a team. Coupled with an appropriate planning process that will ultimately lead an agency towards its established goals of enhanced rescue capabilities.

Planning becomes a key component in the initial stages of this deployment process. The identification of current problems, limitations and potential needs must be focused upon, with the question of what are the special needs, both present and future in respect to technical rescue.

The latter part of the 1990's has become somewhat synonymous with the development and integration of Technical Rescue and Special Operations. The continuous developments of the past twelve years have focused our attention and increased our understanding that, specialized operational capabilities were not only necessary, but required in meeting the ever increasing demands on technical based competencies, skills and enhanced capabilities for emergency services agencies. The identification of what type of specialized technical rescue capabilities are desired or required must be clearly defined and to what operational level these services will be provided at.

Specialized Technical Rescue encompasses numerous discipline areas of operational deployment, and includes, but are not limited to the following:

  • Structural Collapse Rescue
  • High & Low Angle Rope Rescue
  • Rapid Intervention Rescue
  • Specialized Utility & Communications Tower Rescue
  • Confined Space Operations
  • Trench and Excavation Rescue
  • Below Grade Rescue
  • Industrial Extrication and Entrapment Rescue
  • Motor Vehicle Extrication Operations
  • Ice Rescue
  • Surface and Underwater Rescue
  • Hazardous Materials Rescue
  • Bio-Terrorism Rescue OPS
  • Wilderness Search & Rescue
  • Agricultural & Farm Rescue
  • Heavy Rescue applicable to air, rail and maritime
  • Urban Search & Rescue
  • Large-Scale Disaster Response Rescue
  • Terrorism/ Hostage Rescue OPS
  • WMD Related Rescue OPS

In the formal context, the need for specialized rescue response capabilities and structured teams can be typically drawn from the historical perspective of a community or jurisdiction, local and regional conditions and trends, capabilities and deficiencies encountered in incident operations and the degree of risk potential or actual risk present. All of these factors weigh heavily in the degree and level of preparedness that may be present or must be attained.

Community Hazard Analysis and Risk Assessment

In the previously article on Specialty of the House; Technical Rescue/ Special Operations Teams, we discussed the issues and influencing incident factors. Factors that may play a role in response, operations, stabilization and mitigation for specialized technical rescue deployment. Including Environmental Factor, Physical Factors and Other Influencing Factors, coupled with the assessment of the potential, frequency, magnitude and severity/impact that these factors may have on the agency's ability to carry out the necessary functions dictated by the incident scope and response parameters.

It is imperative that a Community Hazard Analysis and Risk assessment of the community and jurisdictional response area be developed to determine the feasibility of conducting technical rescue operations. Potential hazards and their likelihood of causing an incident MUST be identified.

The Community Hazard Analysis and Risk Assessment should include an evaluation of the environmental, physical, social, and cultural factors in your response area. Associate these issues and how they would influence the scope, frequency, and magnitude of a potential technical rescue incident. Along with the impact they might have on the ability of the agency to respond to operate safely at those incidents.

The Community Hazard Analysis and Risk Assessment should include, but not be limited to:

  • Identifying the type and availability of internal resources needed for technical rescue incidents and shall maintain a list of these resources.

  • Identifying the type and availability of external resources needed to augment existing capabilities for technical rescue incidents.

    • The development and maintenance of this database of Community Resources is a crucial function in the overall development, implementation and operations of the special OPS team. The Community Resource Database should be validated and revised at a minimum frequency of an annual basis.

    • The assessment shall also establish procedures for the acquisition of those external resources needed for technical rescue incidents.

    • NOTE: Community Resource Planning concepts will be present in an upcoming article in this series.

  • The Community Hazard Analysis and Risk Assessment should be documented in a manner that makes its accessible and retrievable in order to facilitate future planning needs.

  • The Community Hazard Analysis and Risk Assessment should be reviewed and updated on a predetermined and scheduled frequency and as operational or organizational changes occur.

  • Periodic surveys [similar to pre-fire planning methodologies] should be conducted on a periodic basis within the agency's jurisdictional response area, and proximal community, in order to identify the types of technical rescues that are most likely to occur.

Technical Rescue Planning Process

The Technical Rescue Planning Process is a systematic approach that will provide meaningful information and data that once compiled, will be useful in identifying the direction, composition and organization for the technical rescue team.

The planning process is comprised of three basic elements: Preparation, Planning and Implementation. In their simplest form these elements provide methods by which:

  • A jurisdiction can collect data relative to the risk potential or hazards present regarding technical rescue conditions
  • Define goals & objectives for achieving the desired level(s) of service
  • Define program requirements and resource requirements to attain identified goals & objectives
  • Define and compare program alternatives and
  • Select and implement the methods for achieving the desired outcome for enhanced capabilities or team deployment.

One of the most important ingredients in the Technical Rescue Planning Process focuses on commitment, cooperative support and involvement between command, administrative, staff and line personnel along with support and cooperation of the political entities within the community and jurisdiction. It will be crucial to keep everyone informed and aware of directional plans and concepts. Early buy-in is important for sustained growth, implementation and mission readiness.

Depending upon the size of the department and its organizational structure, this planning process can be organized and carried out by an appropriate level of personnel organized as a planning team, assigned with the task of developing recommendations and implementation plans for the program development.

The planning process for technical rescue team deployment can be identified by a system of sequential components exemplified in a simple linear progression. The conceptualization and planning process can be easily analyzed under 10 Basic Tenants that must be thoroughly assessed and addressed. They include:

    • Short Term
    • Intermediate
    • Long Term
    5. To what level or degree of technical capabilities will the plan achieve?
    6. How can the services be best achieved?
    • Inter-departmental
    • Local
    • Regional
    • County-wide
    • Inter-County
    • Outside Agencies
    7. What is the current or projected level of interest of staff and personnel?
    • Interest
    • Motivation
    • Availability for Staffing Requirements
    • Previous Levels of Special/Specific Training
    • Employment/Trade Experience
    • Fire/Rescue/EMS Response Experience
    • Educational Background
    • Time Commitment Requirements
    • Personal Risk Factors
    • Dedication
    8. What are the Projected Financial Considerations and Impacts?
    • Initial Cycle
    • Intermediate
    • Sustained - Long Term
    9. What Influencing Regulations/Standards must be complied with or Basis achieved?
    • NFPA
    • OSHA
    • DOT
    • DOL
    • NASAR
    • Other
    10. What is the time commitment for organization, development and implementation of the program initiative?
    • Severity
    • Urgency
    • Growth

The information and data compiled will provide meaningful considerations that must be analyzed and processed within the planning stages of the effort. There are four crucial components in the planning process that will directly influence the direction and methodology for rescue team deployment.

The Four Functional Components of the Planning Process include:

  • Personnel & Staffing
  • Finances & Budget
  • Organizational Methods
  • Regulatory Influences & Compliance

The personnel component is crucial to the success of any initiative within an agency. The level of interest, commitment, degree of motivation and the acceptance of the special rescue assignment as part of the department's scope of services & mission statement can make the difference between a successful or limiting program. You must be cognizant that the planning process and subsequent deployment readiness status will have varying high and low points over the sustainable life cycle of the team. Expect and plan for these challenges and demands.

Efforts must be made early in the conceptualization and planning process to ensure that the commitments and objectives being developed can be achieved within the organization. Initial interest levels may be high with any new program, but may quickly wane as the demand of increased training and time commitments take their toll. The transfer or departure of personnel may also alter objectives and milestones established and push time schedules back for implementation and deployment.

A thorough examination of existing training records as well as the initiation of inter-departmental surveys can bring to light significant internal resources present in backgrounds, expertise and capabilities that may enhance the planning, organizational and subsequent training process.

Financial & Budgetary considerations must be addressed early in the planning and organizational process to ensure the level of time commitment set aside for the program initiatives is realistic, valid and attainable. Financial considerations or impacts may not be clearly identified early in the planning stages but should include considerations for the following:

  • Research and Development
  • Initial Start-Up
  • Training
  • Tools
  • Equipment
  • Appliances
  • Maintenance
  • Replacement Equipment
  • Certification
  • Upgrades & Modifications
  • Staffing Impact
  • Housing & Storage of Equipment
  • Secondary Training needs for department
  • Sustained operational capabilities
  • Emergent/ Unplanned Impact
  • Future expansion of scope of services

These Financial & Budget considerations can be achieved in many ways. Some are conventional in nature, such as traditional budget line items or within special acquisition sections. Other potential avenues traditionally untapped within the fire service include:

  • Equipment or Financial Donations
  • FIRE Act Grant Program
  • Other Federal & Private Grants
  • Direct Corporate Funding or Sponsorships
  • Professional Societies & Associations
  • Local Businesses and Corporations
  • Special Fund Drives
  • Surplus Equipment Procurement

Organizations should look hard at the opportunities that exist in solicitation to the private sector for support. There are numerous examples of rescue teams that have obtained tools, equipment and apparatus to partially or fully equip their special rescue teams. Other areas of funding could include local and state legislative support/funding as well as through the recent initiatives through the FEMA/ USFA FIRE Act grant application process.

The selection of an appropriate organizational structure for team development and deployment will direct an organization through a variety of options, or facilitate the development process. As the planning and analytical process continues, issues will become evident that may alter or suggest a different direction in the organization of the rescue team. The organizational structure of the technical rescue team can be formulated in any specific or combination of structuring that will best achieve the goals established for the teams subsequent operations, while considering identified impacts based on staffing/personnel; financial considerations and other identified constraints.

Determining the method of organization in terms of a self-sufficient departmental unit, a regional or county-wide based team or through an inter-county system or one that relies heavily on private sector support will each yield positive and negative attributes that contribute towards the planning process. Consider and explore opportunities for cooperative ventures with other local fire departments, existing rescue response teams or on a regional basis. Always consider the upper tiered response system that may exist in you region or state, especially if there is a FEMA USAR Team in general proximity to your region or state. Logistical and planning processes may require substantial expansion, with numerous additional planning team members should there be a decision to develop a team on a larger regional basis. This direction would yield significant increases in resources, staffing, financial support and planning assistance and could equally spread the responsibilities for the team development to a wider consensus. Remember to consider the political realities that come with multi-agency team organizational structures. Changes in administrations and leadership may unexpectedly alter the level of support, commitments and agreements previously established. This would be especially a warning flag to consider alternative concepts for team organization, especially if your area is prone to political strife.

The selection of an appropriate organizational structure relies heavily on local conditions and factors. The level of inter-departmental cooperation, political factors, legal issues etc., may all have a significant impact on the directions taken and methods selected.