Technical Rescue - Part I

The fire and emergency services have consistently exhibited their unique ability of overcoming adversity and meet headlong the challenges imposed upon them in satisfying the demands of society. These demands translate themselves into the methodology and manner in which emergency services are delivered and the strategic and tactical disciplines that we adopt are assimilated.

The primary tenet which the fire and emergency service profession has traditionally focused upon is the protection of life and property. This is the basis from which we provide services to communities and jurisdictions. Of the many functions these emergency services entail, rescue forms the a major component within this multi-faceted delivery system.

Rescue is the top response priority of fire and emergency service agencies. Rescue unto itself can vary widely in its application and potential as an incident response factor. Whether as an aspect of a structural alarm response, motor vehicle accident or as a request for medical aid, rescue can entail a wide latitude of objectives and tasks and involve an extended operational and management effort in mitigating an incident.

The complexity of rescue responses can vary greatly. It is crucial that the incident be handled safely, effectively and efficiently based upon staffing training levels and maximizing the expertise and innovativeness of the operating companies and personnel.

Rescue has evolved from a basic fireground and emergency response factor to a specialized function in incident operations. The complexity and challenges facing the emergency services delivery system has gone far beyond basic structural fire, rescue and extrication capabilities and has extended into other areas impacting incident response capabilities.

Rescue has transcended traditional and typical functional areas and has lead to the development and integration of specialized technical rescue response teams.

Specialized technical rescue response capabilities have taken on an identity of their own as a recognized tactical component in the emergency response delivery system. In many instances, specialized tactical rescue capabilities have slowly developed due to identified community risk factors in incident responses or through specific incident occurrences that have brought to light the deficiencies and gaps within the jurisdiction.

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.

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.

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.

Influencing incident factors that may play a role in response, operations, stabilization and mitigation for specialized technical rescue deployment may include:

Environmental Factors:

  • Earthquakes and other seismic activities
  • Hurricanes and Tornados
  • Ground Instability
  • Other weather/climate related conditions, such as snow, ice, rain or wind
  • Natural formations/features, geographical/ topographical characteristics
  • Bodies of water and waterways

Physical Factors:

  • Structural characteristics; size, age, deterioration
  • Occupancy types
  • Construction types; design, methods, materials
  • Construction/ renovations
  • Changes in structure and/or occupancy usage
  • Infrastructure Systems
  • Degree of urbanization and industrialization
  • Degree of active construction activity/ build-out

Other Influencing Factors:

  • Fire
  • Incendiary & Explosions
  • Transportation accidents
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Biological, Nuclear Threat
  • Terrorism Threat
  • Jurisdictional Proximity to Major Metropolitan/ Urban Centers
  • Jurisdictional Proximity to concentrated Technology Based facilities
  • Jurisdictional Proximity to significant Corporate, Governmental, Military or Financial centers

The ability for specialized rescue deployment and operations is based upon the degree of;

  • Assessment & risk
  • Awareness & operational capabilities
  • Technical Knowledge proficiencies
  • Training, skills & competencies
  • Resources, [internal & external]
  • Planning & management organization

that are present within the organization, coupled with 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.

The six (6) crucial community-based components affecting response and incident operability consisting of:

  • potential
  • frequency
  • magnitude
  • severity
  • impact
  • Gaps

These components have a profound affect on an agencies perception of response capabilities versus the reality of what they truly are prepared and adequately trained to do in the event of a specialized technical rescue response. More often than not, preparedness levels and response capabilities are correlated to the types of incidents that historically are expected, based upon frequency of alarm events. If a department has a high, consistent frequency of motor vehicle accidents, it therefore is assumed that the department will have prepared and developed response resources and operational protocols that allow the department to mitigate those calls safely, effectively and efficiently. The availability of a heavy rescue or squad company, properly equipped, staffed with technically proficient and knowledgeable personnel has become the acceptable practice and expectation for such responses. The late 1970's and early 1980's brought forth the concepts and implementation of hazardous materials response capabilities, and with that an entirely new facet to fire and emergency services delivery system. The same is true for the rise and development of the specialized technical rescue disciplines.

Expected frequency of specific alarm types should not be the driving force that forms the basis and justification for enhancements to an agencies scope of service deliverables. Although this does typically provide fiscal substantiation for staffing and resources during budget negotiations, it is important to note when assessing community based risk factors, that identified gaps in response capabilities adequately address these impacts in a well informed manner. The frequency potential for a specialized technical rescue incident may be identified as low, however the impact, severity and magnitude may be very high in a number of operational areas, thus providing increased attention and development of response capabilities that correlate to these factors in a manner that lessen the gaps to an acceptable level of risk.






These factors should also address the priority of these determinations;

  • What is the Seriousness? [Current impact] in terms of safety, staff, costs, resources, community threat, collateral issues, economic etc.
  • What is the Urgency? immediate, intermediate, long term, deferrable etc.
  • What is the Growth Potential? Future projected impacts

The late 1980's and early 1990's brought with them a number of significant events that contributed towards increased focus and wide spread attention towards the discipline of specialized technical rescue and special operations. Hurricane Hugo in the Eastern United States, Hurricane Andrew in the states of Florida and Louisiana, The Loma Prieta and Northridge Earthquakes in California, the Oklahoma City Bombing and the initial World Trade Center Bombing identified the response capability gaps, needs for specialized equipment & tool caches, sustainable resource needs, training and skilled based competencies needs, specialized incident command management parameters, defined and integrated urban search and rescue response capabilities and the needs for upper tier national response capabilities for national deployment to affected areas.

It was further recognition that there was a distinct need for standardization of response protocols and procedures, strategic management, tactical operational techniques, tool & equipment compatibilities, training and operational competency levels.

The development of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Urban Search & Rescue [USAR] Task Force System and the coordinating efforts of such organizations as the IAFC, NASAR, NIUSAR and NFPA who in parallel, developed standards, protocols, researched resources, tools and compatible equipment, innovative approaches towards personal protective ensemble, enhanced incident command management protocols, training and operational criteria to support the emerging USAR disciplines.

The structured operational development and subsequent implementation of FEMA USAR Task Force system, coupled with the development and publication of the NFPA 1470 Standard on Search and Rescue Training for Structural Collapse Incidents gave definable, measurable and consistent parameters, that over a short period of time became recognized and accepted standards for specialized technical rescue and special operations.

The integration of east and west coast techniques and methodologies developed through these cooperative efforts compiled over years of earthquake responses techniques in the Western United States, the decades of proven operational tactics deployed in east coast structural collapse incidents, gave the emergency services a solid foundation to build the methodologies that have become the models from which current technical rescue, special operations and urban search & rescue operations are based. The assimilation of Heavy Rescue, Rescue Extrication, Collapse Rescue and the other associated & allied rescue disciplines into what has become known as the integrated model of Urban Search and Rescue.

The current NFPA 1670 Standard on Operations and Training for Technical Rescue Incidents coupled with the NFPA 1006 Standard for Rescue Technician Professional Qualifications and additional basis objectives within the NFPA 1001 Standard for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications further establishes consistent and compatible methodologies, objectives, training competencies and operational parameters from which the development of newly established specialized technical rescue teams can move forward or existing specialized technical rescue teams can be enhanced and furthered.

The need for specialized rescue capabilities must be analyzed and determined based upon postulated local risk factors and the acknowledgement and determination of the acceptable levels of risk based upon the gaps. The development of a specialized technical rescue component within any jurisdiction required a thorough understanding of the hazard potential present at specific technical rescue incidents, the degree of commitment required in the way of sustained financial support, sustained and in-depth training and skill competencies, resource & equipment allocations, the logistical planning and legal ramifications that will impact the conceptualization, implementation and ultimate operation of the specialized rescue team.

The development of specialized technical rescue team will continue to be a major influencing factor in the nation's emergency services community. The need for specialization versus the generalist approach towards operations will continue to drive the develop of this unique delivery system by virtue of the technological demands and the continuing challenges imposed by socio-economic conditions and the ever present political unrest and threats we live with.

We, the fire and emergency services and the public we serve, have come to demand and expect more of our personnel; the fireground no longer holds the limitations that were self imposed based upon traditional scopes of services within the area of fire suppression only. Over the past thirty years, we have witnessed the evolving changes from primary roles in suppression-based activities to emergency medical services, hazardous materials, technical rescue, rapid intervention, firefighter survival, weapons of mass destruction, bio-chemical preparedness, and terrorism response capabilities continue to elevate the levels of expertise required and the accompanying necessary capabilities to safely respond, intervene and mitigate increasingly challenging incidents.

The development of specialized technical rescue capabilities must consider the support functions necessary for adequate response and operations. The development of competency based skill levels within awareness, operations and technician parameters for technical rescue disciplines must be broad based to include all companies and staffing resources within an organization, in order to fully execute the degree of integration required by the severity and magnitude of a given special operations incident.

As we witnessed the events of September 11th, 2001, and in the weeks and months that followed, we should have come to the realization that the level of training competencies, the degree of external resources and commitment of manpower and the associated demands in executing strategic and tactical objectives within the context of Ground Zero at the World Trade Centers in New York City and at the Pentagon in Washington, represented all facets of integrated, multi-tiered, multiple agency and unified command operation consistent with the identified disciplines of specialized technical rescue/ urban search and rescue response.

The order of magnitude that these incidents represented, when considering the capabilities, experience and resources of FDNY or the metropolitan District of Columbia, county and city departments and agencies that responded to these events posed significant, if not perceived insurmountable challenges. Now, visualize your own jurisdiction responding to a significant, site specific structural collapse or a challenging confined space rescue, deep below grade. Start asking yourself, How prepared are you? What are your current capabilities? How and who do you call for upper tiered technical rescue response support? If you do have a special ops team, how many qualified staff personnel do you have? How long can they support strategic or tactical task efforts beyond the first 24 operating period? Are you starting to get the picture