With the challenges facing today’s American fire service, organizations are faced with the task of becoming a “one-stop shop” fire department. Many suburban fire departments across the country experience many of the same challenges: Staffing, apparatus, specialized equipment, and response capabilities may be a few of the areas we find ourselves short in. We have the same residential, commercial, industrial, and recreational features (or risks) that many of our brothers and sisters have in the urban/metro setting. At the end of the day, when we are faced with a trench, rope, confined space, industrial, or water incident, we must be capable or have the resources available to effectively mitigate the situation. In this article, I will look at four areas that will provide assistance with allowing you to effectively respond to and manage incidents in your area.
Risk Potential Identification
Begin with conducting a thorough analysis of your coverage area as well as your department. Step one should start with looking outside the walls of the fire department in your community.
- Identify and list the known hazard and potential risk locations found.
- Determine the types of hazards these locations could present.
- Determine how you would currently respond to one of these incidents.
- Based on the risks identified, determine if you should adjust your current response plan.
- Ascertain if you have the equipment and qualified personnel capable of handling an incident. If you do, how long can you effectively operate before you need support?
- Identify where your support will come from: Calling more mutual-aid partners, having a heavy rescue from a metropolitan area assist, and receiving help from a regional urban search and rescue (USAR) team are all options available to us.
Once you have identified the external risks, next look inside the walls of your fire department. One area to evaluate is staffing. At full and minimum staffing, how does your response model change for these types of incidents? Next, look at the certifications of the employees. Remember for these high-risk, low-frequency events, certified and qualified are two different things! Last is being able to manage the resources on scene, from the firefighter to the command chief, and being able to determine the difference between a rescue and a recovery mission.
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1670, Standard on Operations and Training for Technical Rescue Incidents, gives the basis on which a department should implement the development, training, and operation of a technical rescue program. This was built after its “big brother,” NPFA 1470, Standard on Search and Rescue Training for Structural Collapse Incidents, which addresses search and rescue training for structural collapse incidents. In a nutshell, NFPA 1670 lays out three levels of operational capability needed to safely and effectively operate a technical rescue event: awareness, operations, and technician. Many states vary on their definition and requirements for the three stated levels of certification. Take the time during the risk potential identification process to address to which level your members are currently trained or should be trained to effectively and safely respond to the hazards identified in your area.
My fire department got into the technical rescue arena with the purchase of our 1999 Spartan SVI heavy rescue 16 years ago. Roughly five years ago, our department did a major evaluation of our risk potential. We sit in an area that is approximately 15 miles north of Cincinnati, Ohio. We knew that one area that was a priority was to always ensure that our members who cross staff our heavy rescue from a tower ladder maintain a “qualified” status on top of their rescue certifications. To ensure this, each career firefighter and officer is a certified rescue technician. In addition to daily shift drills that are completed by each unit, the members gather every fourth Thursday for four hours to complete a training or scenario involving one of the many technical rescue disciplines. Many of our members are also members of the Ohio Region 6 Hamilton County USAR team, which also provides the opportunity for additional training.
At the Loveland-Symmes (Ohio) Fire Department, we can handle many technical rescue events because of the training, staffing, and equipment available to us. However, we have realized, based on the type and size of the event, we will need help from other mutual-aid partners or to request the assistance of the local USAR team. For us, such emergencies could include large scale, high-angle rope rescue events; trench rescue; confined space; and structural collapse emergencies. These types of events often require additional specially trained resources and more equipment than just one apparatus can carry.
As stated earlier, Rescue 61 is a 1999 Spartan SVI heavy rescue, which underwent a moderately aggressive refurbishment in 2014. While the apparatus was gone, members could revisit the setup and layout of equipment on the apparatus. We were able to make many positive changes to allow us to better respond to and quickly deploy on incidents. Rescue 61 is equipped with a 52-foot-tall crane capable of lifting 9,600 pounds on a single part line and up to 34,000 pounds on a four-part line.
In 2015, we budgeted the purchase of a Zodiac bag boat. This piece of equipment has proven to be an invaluable asset to our cache because of the potential of water details we may be called to respond to not only in our community but in the surrounding areas as well. The boat is 13 feet long and rolled into a bag with a self-contained breathing apparatus bottle used to inflate it (which takes less than two minutes). It is operated by a 25-hp motor that is easily carried on a backboard to the location of deployment. The boat can be fully deployed with the help of four members on scene in under seven minutes. Other equipment includes the following:
- Air struts for collapse or trench operations.
- A large assortment of pneumatic and cutting tools.
- Kits that have been set up using ammo cans for forcible entry and man vs. machine operations.
- A large cache of rope equipment for events as small as a 3:1 drag to as large as a high-line operation.
- Extrication tools and stabilization struts.
- Precut lumber and gusset plates for shoring operations.
- A large assortment of high-pressure air bags as well as a large low-pressure air bag.
- Multiple types of saws and cutting options for interior and exterior operations.
- Petrogen and exothermic cutting torches.
- Confined space communications and breathing devices.
- Underwater and confined space search cameras.
Empower the members within your organization to help with building storage boxes, cutting tables, and training devices as this can be a big financial help and is often very much appreciated from the administrative staff. The storage boxes built for our truck hold our gusset plates, 12 × 12, 6 × 12, and triangle. The cutting table was fabricated to mount on the back of the truck using the existing receiver hitch and two large “anchor tie-off” points.
The main objective of rescue training is to provide as many skills as possible that the department/crew is capable of handling safely. The number one goal is to effectively perform a rescue with minimal risk and liability to all those involved and in such a manner that rescuers do not become victims themselves. For many of our departments that are tasked with being a “one-stop shop” for all the communities’ EMS, fire, rescue, inspection, education, and customer service needs, it becomes a challenge to maintain the skills needed to maintain proficiency at a professional level.
Technical rescue is a diverse and specialized arena in our line of work. Being able to think outside the box is a must for success both at the operational and training level. Being able to collaborate as a crew on new ideas and training props will keep things interesting. This will allow you to take a different direction off the same old beaten path. Departments could do many things, including the following:
- Build props such as a man vs. machine box. This allows the member to work with convex mirrors on tool use and dexterity based tasks.
- Visit local parks to use the features and terrain they provide.
- Visit local businesses not only for a preplan but also to ask them to donate materials for you to train with (metal, cable, various doors, car/machine parts).
- Train on all the skills not only during the day but also at night. This will allow for proficiency in the dark and with scene lighting conditions.
- Train with the whole shift/department at times. It is important for others to know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what their role is when assisting on an incident.
- Have an idea what other departments and teams can offer including training props and equipment they can provide to be a part of your sponsored training exercise.
- Create a training schedule for the future that goes beyond what we do as shift training. We all know if it’s on the schedule it’s hard to find a reason we can’t do the drill.
- Develop job performance requirements for all members. Show that you can be held accountable to maintain those requirements.
Talk the Talk
Take a step back and look at the big picture. Are you capable of stepping into this area? Do you have the people and the commitment of the people to do this? Do you have the equipment, and is it compliant and up to date? Is a portion of the membership trained? If so, to what level, and are they willing to maintain their qualifications?
Don’t be afraid to think and look outside the box. Maintain a good record of safety practices both at the incident and training. Stay active, and take pride in the job you do so it shows when it’s time to perform.