ICS, Training, and Situational Awareness for Technical Rescue Incidents

Recently, NIOSH issued the summary of their investigation into the line-of-duty death of aNIOSH volunteer firefighter that occurred during a technical rescue on February 1, 2014.  The death occurred when the firefighter was struck by a cell tower that collapsed.

While this report does not specifically deal with vehicle/farm rescue, it still is a technical rescue incident and deserves review by ANY technical rescuer.

NIOSH listed the following as contributing factors in this incident/death:

  1. Sequential collapses of two cell phone towers
  2. Ineffective Incident Command
  3. Lack of situational awareness
  4. Lack of training for the specific incident response
  5. Lack of an Incident Safety Officer.

While bullet point #1 is very specific to this incident since the collapse of the cell towers is what started the whole thing, I believe in my mind that the other four contributing factors create the biggest concerns with this incident.

How many of us can share experiences about an ineffective command system at an incident?  I can and I am sure most of the rest of you can too.  Incident command is the foundation of our entire response system.  To be effective, not only the actual incident commander, but all responders must have training in ICS.  (It’s actually the law…)  Understanding and using ICS, even at smaller incidents, will ingrain responders with the concept and use of an effective incident management program.

Situational awareness at ANY incident is extremely important – whether fire or technical rescue.  Many responders tend to overlook this and become too focused on one aspect of an incident losing the “big picture”.  Even with the “simple” vehicle accident today, the changes and complexity of newer vehicles, new and different fuel/energy systems, increased occupant safety systems, and  just the complexity of some accidents require technical rescuers to be fully aware of what is ongoing.

Likewise the equipment, training, and practice needed to be effective and safe technical rescuer (or rescue company) is just as important.  Many organizations fail to recognize their limitations when it comes to certain types of responses and this makes them even more dangerous at an incident.  These limitations need to be assessed BEFORE attempting to do something.

Utilizing an incident-specific safety officer will not only aid the incident commander, but all responders and provide that overarching situational awareness at a scene.  An incident safety officer will also help to make the decision as to whether responders are properly trained and equipped to deal with the incident at hand.

Every technical rescuer really needs to read this report and within your individual agencies discuss the key recommendations presented and how they can be implemented within the organization:

  • Fire departments should develop, implement and enforce an occupational safety and health program in accordance with NFPA 1500 Standard for a Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program
  • Fire departments should ensure that the incident commander conducts an initial size-up and risk assessment of the incident scene before beginning operations, establishes a stationary command post, maintains the role of director of the incident scene and does not become involved in operations
  • Fire departments should ensure that fire fighters are trained in situational awareness, personal safety, and accountability
  • Fire departments should develop pre-incident plans for deployment to technical rescue incidents and conduct a risk benefit analysis for the deployment
  • Fire departments should ensure that a separate Incident Safety Officer, independent from the Incident Commander, is appointed at technical rescue incidents
  • Fire departments, especially volunteer departments, should consider limiting their special operations functions to those that they are properly trained and equipped for.

The link to the full report is: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face201403.html

As always…   Keep it safe!