As company officers, we must be prepared for any call at any time. Most of us graduated from the fire academy with an abundance of knowledge for structural firefighting and some basic knowledge in rope knots, hazardous materials and water rescue.
Participating in preplanning, as well as in service inspections, will make you and your crew aware of some of the hazards in your response area. Talking to the fire-prevention officers as well as other inspection services may give you some insight as to what chemicals are stored or manufactured in your community.
It is always a good idea to ask questions. For example, if you have cell towers or wind turbines in your response area, are the maintenance personnel for those structures trained to self-extricate in an emergency or are they depending on the local fire department? What if one of those employees suffers a medical emergency 125 feet in the air? Do you have the equipment and training to help? Do NFPA standards 1670 and 1006 cover the training and competencies needed to make a high-angle rescue? If you’re not qualified, do you know what your mutual aid resources are?
Most fire departments train continuously for EMS. It’s a service we provide daily and we’re pretty good at it. But consider all the other events we’re dispatched to, like structural collapse—a hazard that occurs often in the United States. Earthquakes or mudslides on the West Coast, flooding in the Midwest, natural gas leaks and heavy snow loads—all of these can bring a building down in seconds.
Yet most departments consider this type of training as specialized.
The next time your department acquires a vacant structure to conduct a live burn, ask the local building inspector if they would spend some time pointing out important features of the building that, when compromised, may cause a collapse.
OSHA requires anyone who enters a confined space to have a permit, an attendant and the contact person responsible for rescue. Nine times out of ten, the permit lists the local fire department as the rescuer, but they hardly ever notify the local department before entry is made.
Preplanning is a great time to ask local businesses if they allow their employees to enter confined spaces. If they do, are they depending on you to perform a rescue if needed? Maybe a company will allow you to train at their facility and donate any equipment you lack for confined space rescue.
We don’t need to know every confined space in our district, but we do need to know that if we’re expected to rescue someone, we have the proper tools and training.
Water hazards pose a wide range of challenges for first responders: swift-water, cold-water, rising-water, ice-surface rescue. First responders should have the proper equipment for the task at hand.
Ice-rescue suits should not be used for swift-water rescue; and a personal flotation device is not enough for ice rescue. Company officers should be familiar with the water hazards in their communities and if they differ depending on the time of year. Can you launch a boat in as many locations in the spring as you can in the fall? Is the victim in moving water? If so, your incident is moving as well.
In addition to high-angle rope rescue, NFPA 1006 sets the standards for many other technical rescues firefighters encounter: confined-space rescue, trench rescue, structural collapse, vehicle rescue, surface-water rescue and machinery rescue. And they all have their own hazards.
Not all departments can afford to staff a full-time heavy-rescue company. The company officer on the first arriving unit will be tasked with developing the initial action plan and setting the scene for a successful rescue.
Company officers should be proficient with the tools on the rig. A four-gas meter can be used in several hazard areas to check for LEL/UEL at a gas leak, oxygen-deficient atmospheres in a confined space and carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide at a structure fire.
Because we’re company officers, all eyes are on us when we arrive on scene. It’s impossible to predict all the hazards we’ll encounter. However, it is possible to prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario and train our crews to operate safely until the incident is stabilized.