You will find similarities and differences between fire operations and technical rescue operations. Obviously, firefighters have a natural affinity for offering help in both situations. There is a need for quality training and equipment for both.
The differences are in the approach to the emergency in terms of speed of operation and in the necessary adherence to standards. You can determine if you need improvement by looking at the technical rescue methodologies.
The elements of technical rescue can have a synergistic effect on other aspects of fire department operations. Lessons learned can improve competence and firefighter safety. We can analyze the benefits and transfer the positive aspects to improve overall operations. There is a different mindset regarding technical rescue, and there are standards that teams are required to meet, so discretion is not usually a factor in some of the decision making. There is a need for discipline by all members, which leads to a reduction of freelancing.
One word that comes to mind with technical rescue is patience. This is not to say there is not a sense of urgency and a commitment to rapid response. But the teams tend to “tap the brakes” when they realize that certain risks exist without corresponding benefit. They are not afraid to state that an incident has transitioned from a rescue to a body recovery. How many times have you heard those words uttered with respect to a fire that will not have a positive outcome? It is certainly admirable to play until the final whistle blows, but if you are down by four touchdowns with one minute left, the chances of winning are zero. When you can make that decision, you can then adjust your strategy and tactics to match the risks to the benefits. This sometimes seems like a foreign concept in structural firefighting, but the examples set by technical rescue could provide appropriate direction.
Standards exist for technical rescue and are almost always followed universally. There are Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards that provide extra incentive to comply. Team members are indoctrinated from the beginning that compliance with standards is mandatory and not an option. Compare that to the approach taken in structural firefighting. Standards such as National Fire Protection Association 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness Program, and 1710, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, are viewed as optional. The reasoning is that compliance would be too costly to the community. Therefore, there is an excuse to disregard standards that you do not agree with. Contrast this with the approach to technical rescue. Regardless of individuals’ perspectives, they will play by the rules. And, for those who choose to establish technical rescue teams, they will appropriate the necessary funds to do the job right.
Imagine committing to training for something you may never get to use. That would be like practicing your sport and never getting into a competition to see the results. It would take great discipline and dedication. It also would take an individual who understands how important it is to be totally prepared in case you are called on to do the work. Those who commit to technical rescue understand that by volunteering (mostly, though, there is compensation), they will be required to train and achieve competency in the areas of study. It will involve education (understanding the why behind the actions), training to learn new techniques, and repetition to achieve competence. This would be a good practice for all firefighters in the areas where the frequency of certain events is very low. There are many risky incidents that could potentially happen in every community. As an example, a serious fire in a hospital or nursing home does not happen too often. That is good. But the potential exists, so firefighters need to be prepared. Certainly, you can think of many other calls that would test your mettle and that of your organization. Think of the things that need to be done to be prepared.
New tools and techniques are part of effective technical rescue teams. As situations arise, more options to take care of the situation are developed. Teams are probably not looking at these rescues through the same lenses as they may have 15 or 20 years ago. Techniques are always being evaluated and tweaked. The situations presented dictate the approach. As newer challenges are presented, more appropriate tools are used. In comparison to some of what happens in basic firefighter strategies, many may approach fires the same way they have for years with the same tools. So many things have changed in recent times regarding building construction and building contents that you should evaluate your approach. Doing it the same way you always have may not be the best approach for a positive outcome and may also be more dangerous (unnecessary) than it should be.
With respect to tools, technical rescue gurus are very particular about the maintenance and upkeep. They make sure that all tools are up to standard, functional, and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. Team members are meticulous in their approach to tool maintenance and cleaning. They only use the tools for the time specified for the shelf life. They do not try to squeeze out an extra year. Contrast this with basic firefighting, where we will give any excuse to keep using a tool so we do not have to spend the money on a new one or because the equipment “is just getting broken in!” In tech rescue, the equipment could look brand new, but if it does not meet the standards, it is replaced.
The safety of operations seems to be the top priority for technical rescues. Personnel take the time necessary to ensure that they have the most protection possible during the operation. Rescuers wear protective clothing appropriately and maintain it in prime condition. Redundancy is used wherever possible so there is a fallback should something not go according to plan. The overall perspective is that keeping workers safe will have a positive effect on the incident’s outcome.
The fire service has been very receptive to accepting additional responsibilities—from emergency medical services to special rescue to hazardous materials responses. This has changed some of the fire service’s more traditional approaches when responding to emergencies. Although there are special challenges in all types of incidents, there are opportunities to evaluate what works and what does not. Lessons learned can improve operations, enhance firefighter safety, and lead to better outcomes. Not everything may transfer, but it is worth a look to see what will.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) and chief of the White Lake 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 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.