Fire Department Technical Rescue

In my new position as Emergency Services Director I am learning as much about the specifics of fire operations as I can.  Because it is so very interesting, I thought you might want to read more about it.  So here is the first in my series of blogs about the FD and how they do their work in a modern fire department.  My first installment is TECHNICAL RESCUE.

I knew a little bit about Technical Rescue but not as much as I wanted to know so I spent some time the other evening talking with one of the members of our Technical Rescue team, Firefighter Gary Chapman, about what he does as a member of the team.  Other members are Firefighter Tony Randolph and Firefighter Mike McNamara. 

Firefighters Mike McNamara, Tony Randolph and Gary Chapman

Technical Rescue can be divided into several subcategories:

  • confined space rescue – these rescues can occur in steam tunnels or sewer pipes, places that are small and tight
  • high angle and low angle rope  rescue – this type of rescue might be out of a multi story building or down into a ravine; rescuing a person from a TV tower or water tower is another kind of example.
  • structural collapse –  Our team was on the list to be called into Joplin, MO after their terrible tornadoes with many collapsed buildings. 
  • trench rescue – often these are workers down in the ground who become trapped when the sides of trench they are working in collapses on top of them.  This team can go down as far as 22 feet to rescue a person given their training and equipment.

All firefighters have some training in rescue. There is an “awareness” level where they learn what it is and when to recognize the need for specialized skills.  “Operations” is the second level.  These folks can assist with some aspects.  “Technician” is the level that firefighters reach to be the ones actually doing the work — they are the ones doing the building repel or down in a collapsed structure cutting their way to the victims of a building collapse.  To be a technician level each of these specialties requires some serious training time: 

  • confined space – 40 hours
  • high angle and low angle rope rescues – 80 hours
  • structural collapse – 80 hours
  • trench rescue – 80 hours

Plus they train monthly to maintain these important skills.  Here is a video that gives an example of what technical rescuers do:  1991 New York Rescue  It is an example of a real life high angle rope rescue. 

You’ll be pleased to know that this is an area of shared services here in Oakland County that has been in operation long before anyone at the state government suggested that local governments ought to share – about 20 years.  Auburn Hills is part of a county team and they are part of a state team that delivers skilled personnel and equipment where needed.  Our team has about 32 personnel total for our east side of Oakland County made up of about 6 or 7 departments.  There is a west side team as well and one made up of the purely career departments (ours is a combination of career and paid on call) along Woodward Ave.  and then Southfield has its own.  When there is a need for  rescue team members are alerted by a page and 16 respond immediately.  The other 16 are on stand by in case they are needed to relieve the first team after 12 hours.  The team is also part of a larger in state response and could be called out for a situation anywhere in the state and even at the national level as a result of compacts between the states that direct trained personnel into critical incidents as quickly as possible when a large-scale event is in progress or when an event has exhausted the resources of the local area.

The team trains 4-8 hrs per month in scenario based training and twice a year they do a longer training that includes all 4 disciplines in one day.  They are looking for a multi story building to repel from as one of their next exercises. 

Here is a look at our Special Response Unit vehicle.  It has a command post in the front area of the truck and is loaded with stuff in each compartment.  There are ropes, extra air bottles, a decontamination set up for a hazardous materials incident, material to dam and soak up a hazardous material spill and many, many other pieces of equipment.

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I’ve been on scenes where people are trapped and frequently are injured and need help.  These firefighters do a challenging and sometimes dangerous job when they enter into these technical rescues.  I know they train so diligently and carefully maintain their equipment and training because they sincerely want to help people. 

I hope you never need to meet them on the job…..