But, there is not a standard for that!

CarolinaFireJournal - By Bob Twomey
By Bob Twomey
01/10/2013 -

Recently, while discussing training standards in North Carolina with members of a rescue association, the topic centered on all of the “rescue standards” available to both paid and volunteer rescuers. Mainly, discussion centered around NFPA and IFSAC standards as they relate to the various disciplines in today’s rescue service.

Now mind you, the discussions were not against technical standards, but more in support of them, since they require rescuers to be trained similarly, in the same techniques and applications, with the equipment of the agency having jurisdiction (AHJ). But then, a question was asked, “why aren’t there standards covering everything we as rescuers can get into?” I must have given the audience the “deer in the headlights” look. If dumb looks were worth anything, I’d be a millionaire!


Time-honored Ladder as a Derrick rescue application, with emphasis on skills, perfection and confidence

But the question really got me to thinking. Are our young people, who are entering into the rescue service today, so attuned to requiring a “rescue standard” that they cannot solve unique rescue problems in the field without a “technical standard”? Problems in the field do not have standards, but methodologies and techniques to solve them do. Consider this photo of a rescue from a river below a dam and in a gorge: extrication from a car might be needed, as well as water rescue during and after extrication, then highline rope rigging to evacuate the patient, as well as helicopter LZ management. Look at all of the technical standards involved in various specialties!

A rescue may involve numerous specialty areas and their associated training and standards.

In my day, we called this “adapt, improvise and overcome.” Yes, we had training, but most of us found out rather quickly that even the best training does NOT, and cannot possibly cover every rescue situation one will face in the field (real life). For 30 years I have tried to teach rescuers to “think on their own two feet” so to say, such that they can take all the training and skills learned and INDEPENDENTLY apply that knowledge to perform a safe, successful rescue. Does this mean that teamwork is de-emphasized or neglected? Not at all! But it does mean that a team, such as a high-level rescue team or a SAR team, can go miles out into nowhere and perform a successful rescue without being told how to do it. It also means that this team, when faced with extremely difficult circumstances requiring utilization of multi-discipline skills, could select the standardized skills to function safely and effectively, often under the harshest of conditions. It means that when they are cut off from upper-level decision makers, they can decide on a course of action, pull from their training and experience, and make it happen.

So what does this have to do with rescue and training standards and certifications? It means that rescuers with the best training and some experience can, when faced with the harshest field conditions and a rescue that will require parts of training from many rescue disciplines (or fields) to get the job done, WILL get the rescue done properly. It means that they can use basic rescue skills such that, when linked together, they “build” a system that accomplishes the required tasks safely. It also means that the rescuers may have to build a system that was never shown in any training, and finally, it means that the rescuer must think and act on their own. THIS is what I have meant in many of my articles when I have discussed “thinking outside the box” and using “tools out of the toolbox.” It is the ability of rescuers to call upon all their knowledge and skills, either independently or as a team, to create a technical system that will get the job done.

As training officers, this means that WE are the ones to instill a level of confidence in our members, based upon sound standards and training, so that when the time comes (and it will for nearly all rescuers) they can function effectively and safely. We must emphasize to our trainees the importance of being able to objectively think about the rescue at hand, devise a plan (and of course a backup plan), select the skills and tools required to make it happen, and then “just do it.”

I admire the wonderful and barrowed term from the Nike commercials: “just do it.” I can assure you that my department has heard that statement many times. I push them hard to be the best, because I know that the time has come in the past, and will come again, where they will be the ones “on the front line of a rescue,” when they alone, as a team or individual, will have to get the job done. And from experience, I know each rescuer will have to “dig deep” into their own minds and souls, to find that courage and decide how to proceed with the rescue — and then “just do it.”

Let us NEVER just teach rescue standards and certifications as less than what they truly are. Rather, let us teach them as those things that will build rescuer character, confidence and technical ability, so that when the going gets tough, they can “just do it.”

Bob Twomey is the current chief and founder of the North Carolina High Level Extraction Rescue Team, Inc., a volunteer helicopter search and rescue support team. He is the senior helicopter pilot for Wolf Tree Aviation, LLC operating out of Transylvania Community Airport. He also serves as Deputy Chief for Training in Brevard Rescue Squad. Twomey can be reached at 828-884-7174 or [email protected].
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