By Richard Marinucci
Fire departments have always been in the rescue business. Mostly rescues have been fire-related, but because of the assets, response times, and firefighters’ talents, the fire service has been called to virtually any situation that requires a rescue. It was not too long ago that the success of these rescues relied on the tools traditionally carried by fire departments to address fires and the creativity of firefighters to improvise during an emergency. Much has changed as equipment has been developed for specific circumstances, standards have been developed, and training has evolved to learn and practice particular skills related to the situations and available tools.
Anticipate and Assess
To properly prepare for potential rescues, departments need to anticipate the potential of various rescue situations that could occur in their response districts. Some are very obvious such as fires and vehicle crashes. There is a list of others, not all of which apply. For example, unless you live in a cold weather climate, ice rescues are not something that you need to consider. If you have no fast moving water, preparation for swift water rescues is not necessary.
Taking this a bit further, departments should also consider the likelihood of certain events and determine the best way to prepare for possible, but not likely, events. These could be incidents like industrial hazmat emergencies in communities with few industrial plants. Though a historical review may indicate the risk is low, a department or possibly the entire community must have a method to address mishaps or more serious incidents.
After completing an assessment, review applicable standards. This includes any legal mandates or governmental requirements such as those mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or others. There are also industry standards, most notably those published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). These documents identify the methods to employ for specific rescue situations. They will include equipment needs, training requirements, and safety considerations. Failure to follow legal directives or acceptable standards will cause problems after the incident-even if the outcome is good. There is an expectation that organizations that know the types of calls that may require a response are prepared for said responses.
Human resources are needed for all rescues-that is, people are needed to make sure that rescues are executed efficiently and effectively. Based on anticipated emergencies, recommended standards, and rules, a certain number of responders is required. Departments need to realistically determine not only if they have the human resources but also if there is adequate talent for the jobs to be done. As an example, departments that are considering water rescue may need to have certified SCUBA divers. It is not just a case of having a person available but one that has the necessary skills. Departments also need to consider other available resources. Some rescue situations require heavy equipment that is rarely part of a fire department’s fleet. This equipment could be available from other governmental agencies, like departments of public works or from the private sector. This equipment probably requires specially trained people to use it. The time to find these resources is not after a call to 911 has been made.
Many of the specialty rescue operations continually evolve based on new methods and equipment and tool developments. Departments must continually monitor the state of the art and be aware of improvements. This is done through active engagement in the profession. Regularly review periodicals and Web sites. Consider attending trade shows to see the latest and greatest firsthand. Often a network of like-minded professionals is beneficial in sharing ideas. A true professional rescuer will be up to date on the issues within his profession.
The proper equipment is essential when rescue situations occur for the best possible outcome. The types of incidents will dictate the equipment needs of a department. The organization will need the basics, especially for the first few minutes of a rescue when the right response could determine the outcome-whether it is successful or not. The equipment is only as good as its availability, reliability, and functionality. As many rescues are not frequent events, it is crucial that the equipment be maintained and tested.
Maintain equipment in accordance with the recommendations of the manufacturer. This should also be in line with NFPA standards. Personnel assigned to rescue roles must be put in charge of equipment maintenance. They must read the owner’s manuals to learn the proper way to keep the equipment in optimum condition. Failure during a rescue is not an option. In addition to the manual, members should develop a relationship with the vendors who provide the equipment. They can be very helpful in providing direction and tips on maintaining equipment for the best performance.
Regular readers of this column know that training is the most essential part of anything a fire department does. Rescues are no different. Members must prepare for the situations they may face and must continually practice with the equipment they are asked to use. Rescuers are challenged to create training scenarios that are realistic and practical. They must be set up to be done safely with minimal risk to participants. Occasionally departments have access to buildings to practice in. Other possibilities include creating circumstances such as digging a trench to practice that operation. The training must be as realistic as possible while maintaining the right margin of safety. The objective is to get better, but not at the expense of unnecessarily injuring someone in a training session.
Good training programs are creative. They look for resources that can be used to simulate situations and also for natural conditions. Vehicle rescues can be practiced on almost any vehicle. But, acquire modern vehicles to understand their challenges if possible. Communities with the potential for water rescues most likely have areas where training can take place. This needs to be planned well for maximum benefit with minimum risk. Some effective training can take place in a controlled environment such as a swimming pool. Cold weather locations provide opportunities for ice rescue practice. Regardless of what you select, planning is crucial for successful outcomes.
The Right Mix
All successful rescues require the right number of personnel with the proper tools arriving within a time frame where a difference can be made. The personnel must be trained in the tactics that are likely to be most effective and must have the skill level to properly use the tools and equipment. Personnel assigned to rescue crews must be passionate about their work and must understand that their services are not needed frequently. But, they must also know that they could be called on at a moment’s notice and therefore must be prepared at all times.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. 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 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.