By Carl J. Haddon
Apparatus manufacturers have responded to their customers’ shrinking budgets and requirements to do more with less by introducing multivocational fire trucks. These apparatus are designed and built to respond to a wider variety of calls and offer a broader range of services than a single type of truck.
Along that same line, as we consider needs for technical rescue equipment and associated personal protective equipment (PPE), might multiuse or multivocational uses for such equipment play into the equation?
Multiuse is a commonly used adjective to describe vehicles and equipment by some of us around the country with budgets that are less than dismal. We like to think that it makes us lean, mean, and resourceful. That said, consider a couple of examples where multiuse makes sense beyond budget considerations. Personal flotation devices (PFDs), or life jackets, are an example that often cause departments additional expense and stowage concerns because of their bulk and the limited available compartment space on their rigs. Using type 5 PFDs as the example, some are available as single-size vests (i.e., small, medium, large, or extra large). Other type 5 PFDs are made with a wider range of adjustments to accommodate a wider range of body types.
In my region of Idaho, fire departments do not perform technical rescue or vehicle rescue. These types of calls are handled by a technical rescue task force that is a division of the Idaho State Search and Rescue Team (ISSAR). I share this because we (ISSAR Salmon Task Force) respond to all water and ice rescue calls on the more than 80 miles of the Salmon River that run through our county. Obviously, we wear PFDs for all of our water or ice rescue calls. The size of my PFD depends on the temperature of the water. Whitewater rescue in the summer months requires a much smaller size PFD than the one I wear over an ice rescue suit in the cold weather months or even over a dry suit in spring and fall. Having the PFDs with greater adjustability means we typically need only one PFD per member. Otherwise, in my circumstance, the unit or department would likely have to have multiple single-size life vests available for each of us, depending on the time of year and what type of PPE we need to put the PFD over.
Continuing with water rescue as the example, life sleds or other personal watercraft-towed floating rescue boards are often used by rescue personnel in high surf coastal regions around the world. We found that the same technology and configuration work well for whitewater river rescue. These types of rescue sleds, detached from the personal watercraft, work remarkably well for ice and flood rescue and recovery work.
Over the past few years, a number of hydraulic rescue tool manufacturers have developed products with this same theory in mind. All-in-one battery-powered, electric-over-hydraulic rescue tools are advertised to be more convenient and space-saving for firefighters and fire departments. Additionally, these same tool manufacturers tout their tools’ usage for responses such as building collapse and urban search and rescue activities, along with quick forcible entry situations.
As you consider the potential multifunctionality of a product, be sure to check with individual manufacturers to confirm that their equipment or products are approved, rated, and suitable for the tasks for which you intend to use them. During my career, I’ve found that companies often welcome questions about alternative or additional types of uses for their products or equipment, as these are often opportunities for them to market and seek additional revenue streams.
PPE makers have also jumped into the multifunction fray. PPE for both wildland firefighting and rescue operations is becoming more and more common. Fire departments are realizing both the cost-saving benefits as well as the benefits of keeping structural turnouts from being destroyed during technical rescue operations. This dual-rated PPE is also purported to help reduce heat-related medical issues in firefighters operating at nonstructure fire related calls, such as vehicle rescues, performed in hot and arid climates.
In these times of shrinking department budgets and ever decreasing storage space in our apparatus, perhaps a little “thinking outside the box” when we consider or reconsider our current resources and future purchases will offer us the opportunity to safely and effectively use some of the tools of our trade in multiple disciplines.
CARL J. HADDON is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board and the director of Five Star Fire Training LLC, which is sponsored, in part, by Volvo North America. He serves as assistant chief and fire commissioner for the North Fork (ID) Fire Department and is a career veteran of more than 25 years in the fire and EMS services in southern California. He is a certified Level 2 fire instructor and an ISFSI member and teaches Five Star Auto Extrication and NFPA 610 classes across the country.