Technical Rescue Requires the Right Equipment

chief concerns richard marinucci


Eichard Marinucci

One of the areas that has gotten much more complex as organizations expand their missions is the preparation needed for technical rescue response.

Some of this involves the ever-increasing cache of equipment needed to do the job properly and safely. There is no one tool that can address all the potential challenges present during technical rescues. There are a couple of considerations: carrying the equipment and conducting sufficient training to ensure responding firefighter competence.

Organizing Equipment

For example, consider the most common technical rescue for most departments: automobile extrication. To be ready for most extrication challenges, organizations need hydraulic tools, power tools, hand tools, struts, and shoring—just to start the list. Where and how these are carried help determine deployment efficiency and effectiveness. The equipment must be easily and quickly accessed once arriving on any scene requiring their use. This sounds simple but will depend on the entire cache of equipment on apparatus. Many times engine companies and the like are asked to perform a variety of technical rescues from the same vehicle required to carry the basics of structural firefighting. Occasionally, if the special equipment is not routinely used, it gets buried farther into the apparatus as time goes by.

Space considerations and assigning equipment to specific vehicles should be a well-thought-out endeavor. There are new developments in tools all the time, and it is necessary for departments to evaluate each piece of equipment’s benefit. As part of the evaluation, organizations need to consider which compartments on which trucks are the best option. There may be cases where everything cannot be held on just one vehicle. This can lead to challenges to ensure that the right equipment arrives on the scene when needed. It also means that those personnel assigned to the truck are properly trained and maintain their competence through routine practice with the equipment. In some instances, it will also mean that fill-in personnel also need to be familiar if they are working on a vehicle that is not their regular assignment.

Low-Frequency Incidents

The equipment issues get more complicated with other types of special rescue. These responses require additional training and certification. As such, many departments create specialized teams for these rare responses. The fact that these events’ frequency is low usually means that the bulk of the equipment is not carried on front-line apparatus. There may be a specialty vehicle, trailer, or reserve piece that is utilized (or any combination of these). The placement of the equipment will influence usage and deployment. The experts on this will be the individuals who have received the extra training and have additional information that will dictate certain aspects of equipment storage and mounting.

There are more requirements from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, standards, and regulations for technical rescue response. Some involve training, and others apply to operations. One such is the necessity for a safety officer on these calls. The safety officer must be minimally trained in the specialty. With this training may be some equipment needs. The safety officer must weigh in on the requirements and the best way to store and transport the equipment to the emergency scene.

Special rescue technicians should be the only personnel who actually use equipment during an event. This does not mean that others will not be part of the operation. There must be some general knowledge of various pieces of equipment so that assistance can be provided when necessary by those not trained to the technical level. As such, though the technicians will do the equipment checks and equipment maintenance, support staff (firefighters) must know equipment locations and terminology so they can retrieve equipment as quickly as possible and deliver it to the right location.

Front-Line Storage

Some technical equipment may require storage on front-line apparatus. This would be in cases where quick response to life-threatening incidents is mandated. It may also be situations where certain pieces of equipment can be used by first-arriving units to begin operations. They may even be seasonal. In northern parts of the country, ice rescues become likely at certain times of the year. It is not necessary to carry the equipment in the summer, but having it readily available in the cold months could make the difference between a rescue and a body recovery. The seasonal needs add challenges to storing the equipment on apparatus. Most organizations do not have unused space on vehicles. So when specialty equipment is to be added, either something must come off or a reevaluation of space usage must take place. Either way, a logical approach is needed, and the end user should provide the most input.

Compatibility Issues

One consideration often overlooked in storing special rescue equipment on apparatus is compatibility issues. For example, some hydrocarbon vapors may damage certain tools. Others may be subject to rust or rotting if exposed to too much moisture. You should refer to manufacturers’ recommendations and use some common sense. Related placement concerns involve battery-powered tools. Obviously, these cases require placement where charging devices can operate as intended. Manufacturers’ recommendations apply here again. Also, it should go without saying that qualified mechanics or experts in this area should do the installation.

Low-frequency events offer the biggest challenges to fire departments. There is the challenge to maintain personnel readiness that requires ongoing training and skills maintenance. Keeping motivation levels up is the responsibility of both the individual and leaders of the organization. This aspect needs its own discussion. The other part of the equation is acquiring, maintaining, and storing the needed equipment to maintain mission readiness. Personnel must be assigned to perform regular and routine maintenance. The equipment must be accessible and stored so that it can be deployed as quickly as possible given the organizational constraints. There is no worse feeling to a true professional than to arrive at an emergency where quick action will make a difference in the outcome and to find out that you don’t have the right equipment, it didn’t make it to the scene quickly enough, or it isn’t working properly. A clear majority of the calls that are received have some flexibility in response. True emergencies require fast action by well-trained firefighters with the right equipment at hand.

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.

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