Although many fire departments can effectively manage an automobile accident with trapped victims, other less frequent incidents could prove more difficult.
A person can be trapped anywhere, including confined-space incidents, water rescue situations or building collapses. Unfortunately, not all first responders are adequately trained or equipped to successfully mitigate those more technical rescue incidents and others.
So how does a department prepare to meet the demands of these rescue scenarios? The formulation and outfitting of a response team is the obvious answer, but how do we build the team?
Successfully developing a rescue team is a daunting task that involves assessing potential problems, identifying mitigation requirements, analyzing staffing options, identifying equipment and apparatus needs, writing procedures, instituting a training plan, and committing to full-time project management.
The first step in team development is to identify what the core team functions and capabilities will be. This is accomplished by identifying the jurisdictional problems through a rescue target hazard assessment within the community. These target hazards typically fit into one or more of four different categories: industrial, construction, transportation or environmental.
Industrial target hazards are typically fixed facilities such as sewage or water treatment plants, manufacturing plants, surface mining facilities, or petroleum storage yards. The related rescue problems at these sites would include confined-space entry, high-angle rope use and machinery entrapment.
Construction target hazards are non-fixed problem areas, such as building and roadway construction sites and underground utility placement. The common rescue problems at these locations include trench or structural collapse, confined-space entry, high-angle rope events and patient access problems, such as at the top of a tower crane.
Transportation target hazards are fixed and non-fixed, such as highways, railroad and mass-transit facilities and right-of-ways, and airport complexes with their associated flight paths. The associated potential rescue problems are the obvious ones of vehicle and machinery entrapment.
Environmental target hazards include natural settings such as rivers, lakes or beaches, where water and ice rescue will be a concern. In addition, mountainous terrain where rock climbing is prevalent will require high-angle rope rescue techniques and wilderness skills for successful mitigation.
This category also includes consideration of prevalent weather patterns and their potential to cause rescue problems, such as winter storms, tornados and hurricanes. All of these weather-related environmental situations, not to mention earthquakes, might cause structural collapse rescue problems.
In addition to identifying target hazards in the response area, a needs assessment should also look at history to identify frequent rescue problems. The goal of case history review is to identify common problems, mitigation requirements, resource needs and incident management requirements.
Sample questions might include: What kinds of rescue events has the organization been faced with in the past? What problems were encountered? What types of resources were required for a successful outcome? What could have been done better? Of course, this will only be effective if adequate and accurate documentation has occurred during past events.
If the organization doesn't have good documentation of its own past events, reviewing case histories from departments with similar target hazards will help to identify needs. Case studies can be gathered from the National Fire Academy, OSHA,or industry periodicals.
With the needs assessment step complete, managers will be able to get a better understanding of the mitigation problems related to rescue events, as the needs assessment will have identified hazard control problems as well as overall incident control issues. For example, the control of energy sources at an industrial confined-space incident would fall under hazard mitigation, and technical expertise resource needs would factor in overall incident control.
From the needs assessment information, organizations can identify the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to control various potential rescue incidents. The National Fire Protection Association has produced guidance in this arena through its standards NFPA 1006, Rescue Technician Professional Qualifications, and NFPA 1670, Operations and Training at Technical Rescue Incidents, which is currently open for public proposals. These are excellent resource documents that identify organizational requirements for rescue operations as well as individual job performance requirements for rescuers.
Planning the training needs of rescue teams is best done by identifying incident mitigation requirements, determining operational standards and recognizing the job performance requirements needed for a successful outcome.
For example, if a fire department recognizes that a sewage treatment plant will pose confined-space rescue problems with potential atmospheric hazards, the department must decide at which operational standard level it's going to perform. Will they make entry to perform a simple rescue, or will they attempt only non-entry rescues and wait for help from a mutual aid rescue team? That decision will then drive the job performance requirements to which rescuers need to be trained.
Another purpose of knowing the incident mitigation requirements is to identify tool and equipment necessities. For example, if a needs assessment shows that a probable rescue scenario would involve public works employees overcome by methane gas while working in underground utility vaults, then safe entry and removal of victims and rescuers is a valid incident mitigation requirement. A tripod and winch or rope retrieval equipment will be required for successful management of this event.
Many decisions about the development of a rescue team will need to be made by management at the executive or strategic planning levels or by those in control of the purse strings. However, these same people will most likely not have time to get into the fine details of the team's day-to-day operations.
This situation creates a major disconnect between the needs for grassroots team development and those of top-level managers who prefer clear, concise information to make decisions on money, staffing and policy. A full-time project manager is required to overcome this problem and to act as the conduit between users and decision-makers. The project manager can be a single person, but in most cases this position will function more effectively through a committee process.
Many issues need to be addressed at the team development and management level, including equipment procurement, written procedures, staffing and training. It's obvious that broader input is needed at this level to ensure adequate information, more effective problem-solving, and user buy-in of decisions and policies. Some fire departments use focus groups or steering committees made up of rescue team officers, apparatus drivers and other end users for this management process.
The project manager or project management group will be responsible for keeping upper management informed on team issues. The project manager will make recommendations on staffing levels, submit standard operating guideline suggestions and recommend response protocols.
The project management function will develop budgets, act as technical advisory to upper management, supply input for strategic policy decision-making, and make recommendations on the purchase or use of new equipment.
Managers inform and guide the team through the development of written guidelines. These may take the form of SOPS, response protocols or operating manuals. These procedures ensure that everyone is operating consistently and clearly define the agency's performance standard. These documents will be used not only to give guidance to operational response teams, but also as training material when developing lesson plans.
Rescue operation SOPS should address incident mitigation requirements in a chronological order. This would include incident assessment requirements, hazard mitigation requirements, scene control issues and operational guidelines for various response units.
Additional written procedures that may be required would include mutual aid agreements with neighboring jurisdictions and memoranda of agreement between various government or private sector-agencies to use their rescue assets.
The project management team also may be responsible for developing a staffing plan for the rescue team. The plan will identify the level of training required and the makeup of the staff assigned to the unit, clarifying whether an officer will be assigned to the minimum staff and how team members will be alerted to a rescue event.
Several different staffing options may be considered, with the decision stemming from the organization's deployment standard and budget allocation. Staffing options include on-call personnel, full-time and decentralized staffing, and mutual aid agreements.
On-call personnel are trained staff who can be alerted through a pre-established system and activated when a rescue event occurs. Minimum staffing requirements are pre-identified, and responders are requested to fill staffing as needed. An example is the currentUS&R response system.
Full-time staffing is another option, which can vary from full-time staffing of a single specialty rescue unit such as a heavy-rescue company to multiple small teams. For example, specially trained personnel based in several stations allow for wider coverage and a more rapid response of at least some advanced rescue capabilities. A centralized unit that responds with higher capabilities can then augment these decentralized units.
Decentralized staffing is a natural extension of that full-time option. It may allow for a tiered response plan where some of the personnel are trained to operate at a medium-range operational level and assigned to truck companies, while a few others are trained to a higher technician level and assigned to a specialized response vehicle.
Mutual aid agreements or contracts with outside resources are another possibility. Some departments may not be able to support a full-time rescue team capable of handling various rescue problems. In this situation, the organization can prepare to mitigate certain rescue problems such as vehicle entrapment and depend on outside resources to mitigate more technical events.
As rescue teams evolve, the focus of project management will change from initial development to long-term team maintenance. The success of the rescue team should be easy to measure if development benchmarks have been set.
For example, once a decision has been made on tools, equipment and apparatus, the budget approval and item purchases will act as measurements of success. The staffing and deployment plan can be measured by having the personnel trained and assigned to the team, and mobilization will be measured through actual events or training scenarios.
But once the team is up and running and development goals have been reached, what's next? Can the team be left to flounder on its own? What happens as the team membership ages and experienced personnel are lost through attrition? The “graying” of the rescue team will require the project manager to take team maintenance actions.
To ensure operational readiness, the project manager needs to forecast future needs. These needs typically fall into the categories of human resource development and operational currency.
Human resource development
As the team ages, many of the team personnel who initially could function in difficult rescue environments such as collapse voids, confined spaces and at the end of a rope may not be as effective physically as they age. There are certain rescue functions where being young, strong and flexible is a must.
In addition, personnel who have gained valuable experience in command positions will be lost to retirement, promotion or disinterest. It therefore is important to continually plan to move the team forward into the future.
To do this, there are several things that must occur, including officer development for those team members who will eventually move into management and continuing education programs for team members to maintain skill levels.
As the team ages and gains experience, it will be important to challenge those senior team members so that they don't lose interest. For example, well-planned training classes with incrementally more difficult problem-solving exercises can go a long way. They also can be involved with the training of younger, less experienced team members.
To ensure that the rescue team remains state of the art, departments need to continually measure the team's capabilities while evaluating changes and trends in the field.
Technology will change. New tools and equipment will be introduced to improve the way we do business. This has been seen already with the introduction of technical search devices, concrete chain saws and various hydraulic rescue tools. Procedures also will change as new information is gathered from actual incidents that occur locally, across the country or around the world.
The project management plan should include a process to occasionally review how the team works and evaluate new equipment that may improve rescue operations. Benchmarks should be established for team operations, such as time parameters for accomplishing given tasks. These should be used to evaluate the team capabilities through an annual team evaluation exercise.
These reviews will be worthwhile in identifying the need to adjust the training curriculum, change procedures, implement different management processes or procure better equipment.
The management of a rescue incident can be a daunting task. Trench collapse scenarios and confined-space rescue incidents require a combination of special equipment and properly trained personnel. A building collapse, such as that caused by terrorists, will require multi-agency involvement, significant resource management, unified command operations and long-term planning.
Chief officers tasked with emergency planning will soon recognize the need for fire departments to have some level of rescue capability. The assessment of potential target hazards will identify what will need to be controlled during an emergency event. The information gleaned from the assessment will be used to plan staffing, equipment and standard operating procedures.
Once the need for a rescue team has been identified, a strong project management plan must determine the team's focus, ensure support from top management, assess team effectiveness and anticipate life-cycle changes.
Bttn. Chief Robert Rhea is a 22-year member of the Fairfax County (Va.) Fire and Rescue Department. He was a member of the department's technical rescue team and urban search and rescue team for over 16 years. A principal member on the NFPA 1006 and 1670 standards-making committees, he is an adjunct instructor for the National Fire Academy. Rhea is co-owner of ARK Technical Rescue Training Services Inc. and can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Creative planning can avoid rescue tool white elephants
A properly conducted needs assessment will determine a department's rescue equipment and apparatus requirements. This step of the team development process is a very important phase that shouldn't be taken lightly. Many teams have spent a great deal of money and time purchasing tools and equipment that weren't needed or were ineffective and outdated.
A good first step in equipment procurement is to determine what functions will resolve a given rescue problem. For example, we know that building collapse operations will require rescue teams to breach through structural components and building contents. This breaching function will take the form of cutting, chiseling, sawing, burning or battering.
Next, identify the tools that can accomplish that function. Compare performance of the tools supplied by vendors, identify the ones that meet your budget and talk to other departments that have already purchased those tools.
When it comes to buying specialized equipment, there are a lot of white elephants out there collecting dust because limited research was done prior to purchase. If vendors won't let you use and assess their products under working conditions, beware.
Many times tools and equipment that look good in a simple demonstration don't hold up or perform well under real-life conditions. I remember a department spending a lot of money on several radio communications systems with the intention of using them in confined-space rescue applications. After the purchase, a technician from the manufacturer told the department that the radios weren't designed to be used in wet conditions, such as sewers.
Departments that don't have the budget to support the purchase of expensive specialized equipment such as supplied-air breathing apparatus or search cameras should look for local funding options. These can include public-private partnerships or fund drives for equipment donations.
Another option that may not be obvious is using tools and equipment owned by industrial emergency response teams. For example, a fire department with no budget to purchase confined-space rescue equipment could approach the steel plant in their response district that already may have this equipment for its own use. Properly constructed memoranda of agreement may make this equipment available at the fire department's request.