TECHNICAL RESCUE: The "MUSCLE" Of Urban Search and Rescue

"Rescue.” The word is one of the most widely used in the emergency services, as it has a broad variety of applications. The term refers to a response by emergency personnel to an ever-changing dynamic event that involves saving a life during an...


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"Rescue.” The word is one of the most widely used in the emergency services, as it has a broad variety of applications.

The term refers to a response by emergency personnel to an ever-changing dynamic event that involves saving a life during an imminent dangerous situation using prompt, vigorous procedures in multiple competencies such as extrications, fires, collapses, battlegrounds, mines, collapsed trenches and mass-casualty incidents (Photo 1).

These types of operations warrant responders who possess a higher degree of training in multiple competencies. Due to the increase in complexity and procedures for extracting a victim from entrapment, rescuers need a multi-discipline approach for tackling emergencies, including medical care, structural shoring and support, rope systems, patient packaging and spreading and cutting. A significant amount of responsibility for delivering these skills is bestowed on the rescue specialist – the “muscle” of urban search and rescue (USAR) operations. These responsibilities include:

• Implementing skills and operating equipment for handling the rescue portion of the Incident Action Plan (IAP)

• Determining the appropriate tactics for the situation faced upon arrival, which can include the need for rope rescue, confined space rescue, building shoring and stabilization, breaking and breaching, trench wall shoring, heavy lifting and rigging, victim packaging and extrication (Photo 2)

• Routine field maintenance and repairs of tools and equipment

• Basic understanding and comprehension for search strategy, use and capabilities of resources and electronic devices and equipment

In his book Fire Department Special Operations, Chief John Norman discusses the “special” in special operations units in the emergency services. His points drive home the importance of using the right personnel for this level of operations. Special operations staff are truly “special,” so to speak; these members get training in skills and abilities over and above what the base-level responder would receive. This training comes in the form of an agreement; there is a significant commitment on the part of responders to work continuously to hone these skills when they initially receive the training and to continue training and increasing their skill level as technology and operations are changed and adjusted.

Skill evaluation

When positions are open in the component, potential members for the position of USAR rescue specialist are required to demonstrate their respective proficiency during an open skill evaluation session. While the levels of training that these candidates possess may vary, one common thread is certain – attending the evaluation process is a humbling experience. Candidates from all over converge on the training grounds to show their skills. While there are obviously successful candidates that enter the world of urban search and rescue, for many others it is an eye-opening experience.

The evaluation consists of hundreds of points demonstrating a candidate’s knowledge, skills and abilities in various arenas of rescue, including rope rescue, confined-space rescue, trench rescue, shoring, collapse, tool use and extrication (Photo 3). Many times, candidates arrive with a pre-conceived notion that their skills are sufficient to make the grade; frequently, however, the outcome is less than stellar, and many of them are forced to re-evaluate their capabilities in the aggressive, competitive world of rescue.

The evaluation begins with a simple dexterity course; candidates are required to carry a weighted box across a limited area to demonstrate balance and coordination. Afterwards, various stations test the candidate’s proficiencies. At the rope and rigging station, candidates will be tested on their skills of knot-tying, single-point and multi-point anchor systems, simple, compound and complex mechanical advantage systems and patient packaging.

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