BY RICHARD MARINUCCI
The fire service has seen a tremendous increase in research into various aspects of the job that has proven to be very helpful in raising awareness on certain issues and creating discussion to better respond to calls and service the public.
It has also improved firefighter health and wellness. Most of the research has been on firefighting in structures, looking at fire behavior, and either confirming preexisting knowledge or debunking myths. Yet in other aspects of the job, firefighters and fire departments have been “experimenting” on their own trying to find out what works best in an ever-changing world. This is not to say anything negative about the research taking place but to emphasize the vast responsibilities for organizations to prepare for more complexity in their work.
This is very true in the vehicle rescue and extrication field. When you investigate the changes made in transportation modalities, you can see how much there is to learn and the preparation required. In automobiles, the structural makeup, including high-strength steel, affects firefighters’ ability to access patients. Safety features such as air bags increase the risks to responders. Add to this the plethora of methods to propel the vehicle, from traditional gasolines to batteries to alternative fuels such as natural gas and propane, and you begin to get a grasp of the potential challenges. It is imperative for fire departments and their responders to do their research and due diligence to develop the appropriate response to best serve the public—those who access the 911 system.
Vehicle rescues and extrications require the same elements as other parts of the job like fire extinguishment. They require training, practice, equipment, and procedures. Demands of the job may curtail some of the preincident preparations—i.e., run volume; licensure requirements; needed training for high-risk, low-frequency events; and the like. But, competence in this area is extremely important and can produce results that make a huge difference. The ability to shorten the time to complete a rescue and extricate a victim translates into getting the injured to a definitive care facility that will not only potentially save a life but shorten hospital stays and recovery time with less time in rehabilitation.
The hazards present when performing rescues and extrications include many that have always been part of the picture and those that are emerging as technology changes the work environment. Clearly, the hazards of working on the roadway have always been present. Because of the fine work of many people, particularly those at the Emergency Responder Safety Institute and its learning network, more information is available to offer additional protection to firefighters working on the roadway. This has not eliminated the threat but has improved working conditions. But, this is only the case where people have availed themselves of this resource. There are plenty of organizations that are either unaware of what can be done to improve roadway safety or choose not to invest in the resource (which, by the way, is mostly free). There is a need to continue to look for ways to get better at what should be considered a basic element of the job.
Training and practice are essential for both service delivery that is done with quality in mind and also for the safety of the responders. There is a need to perform research on developing training programs. There is also benefit in seeking out experts who can help. This depends on the organization’s resources. Training officers and those who are assigned this task on a part-time basis who have limited access to resources could benefit from consulting with others who have more capabilities. This could involve attending sessions at conferences such as FDIC International, where much information can be gleaned and networks broadened.
As more challenges emerge for rescues and extrications, more tools are either developed or “repurposed.” That is to say that an organization may have something that will be beneficial but it will be used differently than previously considered. As the number of tools increases, there are a couple of issues to consider. First, where will they be carried? Is there space on existing apparatus? Will equipment used less frequently need to be removed? Often, once something gets in a compartment, it never gets removed as there is always that chance it will be needed. Some may say this is a form of “hoarding”! Take an inventory from time to time to see if certain tools are really needed and part of the operation. Thinning out may be needed, and the most usable equipment should be carried.
As you add equipment, there must also be time to learn the capabilities of the equipment through experimentation and practice. Once the best options are discovered, train regularly and routinely to ensure competence and proficiency. This will also lead to speed of operation. Remember that extrications and rescues need to be done relatively quickly to have a positive outcome. The quicker patients are treated and removed for transport, the better the outcomes. Getting good involves practice. Competence allows more options for unusual situations and less than ideal working conditions.
Equipment maintenance must be considered. What time is required, and are any special materials needed? This is based on the manufacturer’s requirements and suggested methods. If departments don’t pay attention to this, they may arrive on an emergency scene and have a tool that does not work. Not only is it embarrassing, it prevents efficient and effective operations that could make a significant difference. For most, rescues and extrications are low-frequency events so they can easily fall off the “radar” screen. Out of sight, out of mind. Efforts must be made to make sure this does not happen.
Rescue and extrication, like all other aspects of the job, have become more complex and specialized because of the changing work environment and new methods to improve efficiencies and effectiveness. Organizations are challenged to stay current and maintain appropriate competency, all while doing the same with the other job requirements. This involves learning new methods, obtaining additional equipment, and changing the way an incident will be approached. Training and practice help improve capabilities and also contribute to skills maintenance. Added work is always a challenge, but if you strive to get better, you must make the effort.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment and Fire Engineering Editorial Advisory Board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.