I have a unique view on the support required to maintain a properly equipped and trained technical rescue team. I have spent 15 years as an instructor on a fire departments rescue team as well as co-own a private rescue company. I understand many of the financial, technical and personnel challenges that exist.
When a department decides to stand up a technical rescue team it needs to be a decision that includes the firefighters on the floor. They are the ones who will make or break the team. Just deciding to “try and do rescue” will inevitably lead to disaster. The staff that will make up the team have to be committed to put the time in it takes to create a high performance team. While special operations teams in the military still have a hierarchy, each member does have more autonomy, responsibility and the ability to influence the outcome of the task. If fire departments want truly special operation capable teams, then the members of that team require the same latitude.
Without a doubt, money is far and away the single largest support piece required by a rescue team. Everything in rescue costs money, and usually a lot of it. A budget needs to be created. If possible have a committee made up of your rescue team members to provide input on what items the budget is allocated towards. Procurement procedures also need to be reviewed. Clear communications between the purchaser writing the RFP, and the rescue team using the equipment needs to occur. There are many similar pieces of equipment available that are incredibly different. A squared off, larger bar stock NFPA G rated aluminum carabineer may be fine in a CMC MPD, however tight and difficult to operate in a Petzl ID. A generic purchaser from the city will not know this, yet the rescue team will.
The rescue team needs time to train. Uninterrupted time. This would mean off shift or at a minimum, in a secondary response mode. The team will not “search for the solution”, they will just “run the drill” when they know that at any moment they may have to abandon the training and run a call. This does not lead to the pursuit of excellence; it simply maintains the knowledge already obtained.
The training needs to be scenario based, in real world conditions and be evaluated and graded; a somewhat controversial idea in the fire service. If the team fails the task, then they need to experience failing. Conducting training with no feedback or allowing mediocracy to occur in low frequency, high risk events will eventually lead to disaster.
World class rescue teams need world class gear. And Yes! This gear needs continual updating and replacement. Rescue gear is designed to be used. To be proficient on its use, the team needs to use it regularly. Team members should have the opportunity to bring in vendors, attend conferences and third party training to view new gear (and techniques). You are asking your members to perform dangerous tasks, they should not be worried about their equipment while doing these tasks.
While firefighters in general shy away from recognition, the rescue team needs to be recognized in some way. This recognition does not need to be financial such as a pay incentive. It could be as simple as issuing clothing that is more suitable for rescue then their station gear, or providing opportunities for advanced training. Recognition is an incentive to perform a task. Ensure the incentives you are providing are equally beneficial to the team members and the team itself (the one and the whole).
The rescue team requires the latitude to operate. Specialty teams are continual learning teams. This means mistakes will be made. Equipment will be broken. Egos will be bruised. Punishing the team or a team member for mistakes made honestly during this learning cycle will stifle any forward progression. If you want to stand up a rescue team, you will need to support them with funding, training and latitude. The women and men performing the tasks will ultimately have the final say. They can vote with their feet. Tit leads to tat, policy is created and enforced and meritocracy will reign supreme. The person who loses the most in this case would be the client we swore to assist.
This article is part 3 of Mark’s 4 part discussion of Special Ops in the Fire Service. The 3 previous articles are included below: