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Guidelines of the National Fire Protection Association

by Darrell Adams:
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The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards have become the most widely accepted standards for agencies that are responsible for providing technical search and rescue services in the United States. These standards provide a framework to help agencies more effectively manage their operations, reasonably ensure they have competently trained personnel, and limit liability by conforming or adhering to consensus based standards that have been developed by the search and rescue community, product manufacturers, training organizations and other technical rescue professionals. The NFPA standards address many different professional qualifications for the technical rescue disciplines such as water rescue, rope rescue, confined space, vehicle and machinery extrication, and several more. There are NFPA standards that also cover other aspects like the health and safety of response personnel, as well as working equipment and the personal protective ensemble of the response personnel. NFPA standards are reviewed periodically to address the changes within the search and rescue communities’ methodology and to address manufacturer changes and advancements.

There are two standards that address the majority of the aspects of technical rescue with the first being the NFPA 1670 (Standard on Operations and Training for Technical Search and Rescue Incidents 2014 edition) standard that identifies and establishes the level of “functional capability” for organizations who respond to technical search and rescue incidents. The 1670 Standard outlines how to conduct technical rescue operations safely and effectively while minimizing risk to rescuers. The 1670 Standard is intended to help the “Authority Having Jurisdiction” (AHJ) assess technical rescue hazards within a given response area, identify the level of operational capability, and establish guidelines for incident operations and training. Within this standard it addresses thirteen different technical rescue disciplines (Rope, Structural Collapse, Confine Space, Vehicle, Water, Wilderness, Trench, Machinery, Cave, Mine, Helicopter, Tower, and Animal Search and Rescue). An organization can determine the level of operational capability to each of these disciplines as they apply to their agency based on an individual needs assessment. These different levels of operational capability address specific concerns that are associated with the specific environments. Rope rescue however is one of those disciplines that blends and crosses over into the other disciplines and is not limited by environment. Therefore, it should be considered when an agency is developing programs in these other areas. The levels of operational capability for the disciplines in NFPA 1670 are listed as:

The Awareness Level that “represents the minimum capabilities of organizations that provide response in technical search and rescue incidents.”

The Operations Level that “represents the capability of organizations to respond to technical search and rescue incidents and to identify hazards, use equipment and apply limited techniques specific in this standard to support and participate in technical search and rescue incidents.”

The Technician Level that “represents the capability of organizations to respond to technical search and rescue incidents, to identity hazards, use equipment, and apply advanced techniques specified in this standard necessary to coordinate, perform, and supervise technical search and rescue incidents.”

The second standard is NFPA 1006 (Standard for Rescue Technician Professional Qualifications 2013 edition). This standard identifies the minimum job performance requirements (JPRs) for technical response personnel who perform technical rescue operations. This standard does not limit an organization on training but it does establish a “minimum level of competency for a rescuer” within each rescue discipline. It is aimed at the rescuer’s ability to demonstrate skill proficiency. The job performance requirements defined in chapter five “shall be met prior to being qualified as a technical rescuer relative to the discipline specific chapters.” The subject matter addressed in chapter five is: Site Operations, Victim Management, Maintenance, and Ropes/Rigging. The chapter-specific disciplines of NFPA 1006 are: Ropes, Confine Space, Trench, Structure Collapse, Vehicle Rescue, Surface Water, Swiftwater, Dive, Ice, Surf, Wilderness, Mine and Tunnel, Cave and Machinery Rescue. Within each of these disciplines there are two levels of qualifications:

Level I. This level shall apply to individuals who identify hazards, use equipment, and apply limited techniques specified in this standard to perform technical rescue operations.

Level II. This level shall apply to individuals who identify hazards, use equipment, and apply advanced techniques specified in this standard to perform technical rescue operations.

Some of these rescue environments are low frequency events for a lot of technical rescue organizations and are considered high risk events. So one has to remember that this standard again only establishes the “minimum level of competency for a rescuer” therefore, retention of knowledge and developed skill sets are very fragile. These skill sets must be maintained to ensure that a rescuer is able to perform when the need arises. Monthly, periodic and annual currency and proficiency training is a must for agencies providing technical rescue services. With some disciplines there may be OSHA regulations that also require annual training like confine space and trench.

Some other relevant NFPA standards to the technical rescue arena are:
NFPA 1983 (Standard on Life Safety Rope and Equipment for Emergency Services – 2012 Edition)

NFPA 1951 (Standard on protective Ensembles for Technical Rescue Incidents – 2013 Edition)

NFPA 1855 (Standard for Selection, Care and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Technical Rescue Incidents – 2013 Edition)

NFPA 1952 (Standard on Surface Water Operations Protective Clothing and Equipment – 2015 Edition)

NFPA 1936 (Standard on Power Rescue Tools – 2015 Edition)

NFPA 1561 (Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System and Command Safety – 2014 Edition)

NFPA 1410 (Standard on Training for Emergency Scene Operations – 2015 Edition)

NFPA 1401 (Standard for Fire Service Respiratory Protection Training – 2013 Edition)

NFPA 471 (Standard on Recommended practice for Responding to Hazardous Materials Incidents – 2002 Edition)

NFPA 472 (Standard for Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents – 2013 Edition)

NFPA 473 (Standard for Competencies for EMS Personnel Responding to Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Incidents – 2013 Edition)

NFPA 1500 (Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program – 2012 Edition)

NFPA 1521 (Standard for Fire Department Safety Officer Professional Qualifications – 2015 Edition)

NFPA 1583 (Standard on Health-Related Fitness Programs for Fire Department Members – 2015 Edition)

NFPA 1584 (Standard on the Rehabilitation Process for Members during Emergency Operations and Training Exercises – 2015 Edition)

NFPA Standards on the horizon:
NFPA 1952 (Standard on Protective Ensembles for Contaminated Water Diving – Proposed future date 2016)

NFPA 1986 (Standard on Respiratory Protection Equipment for Technical and Tactical Operations – Proposed future date 2017)

The NFPA Standards exist to provide an organization with a foundational framework for agency operation and incident management as well as training guidelines. While these standards are not regulatory, they have been widely accepted among those in the technical rescue arena as a consensus-based standard. They should be considered when an agency is looking into organization development and training programs. One really should obtain copies of the standards that are and will be relevant to them, and really dive into them to grasp a better understanding of them. The training programs of ERDI have been, and will continue to be, researched to make sure they achieve adherence to the relevant NFPA standards as they apply to agency programs. “There are no walls in the ocean to hold onto, no time-outs can be called, and re-dos are not granted when things are not going as planned.” Proper planning prior to an emergency is paramount. So grab some coffee and sit back with the Lil’ red books of NFPA.


Darrell Adams
SDI/TDI/ERDI Instructor Trainer with Air Hogs Scuba in Garner, NC, Captain with the Harnett County Underwater Search & Recovery Dive Team and technical rescue instructor for NC Fire and Rescue Commission

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