Appropriately informed actions: Search and rescue of a submerged casualty

Control Measure Knowledge

NFCC Position Statement on submerged casualties

Unless services are able to address the identified gap in the required resources, equipment, training, and the actions that are required to remain compliant with legislation, when attending an incident involving a casualty that is submerged, all rescues of a submerged casualty should be taken from the land, the surface of the water or by personnel in the water.

Personnel should be competent to risk assess and carry out rescues and should maintain the correct levels of personal protective equipment (PPE). Operational discretion must not be used for the search or rescue of submerged casualties, including as justification to remove PPE, enter confined spaces underwater or act outside of service policy to go underwater.

There may be specific underwater situations that can be controlled to allow a rescue attempt. These situations will usually be when the casualty is visible and submerged in shallow water.

The NFCC will consider future National Operational Learning cases but are unlikely to re-evaluate existing guidance unless they include new evidence, alternative safe systems of work or equipment, or other technical solutions that are deemed as a potential improvement in this matter.

To assist with upholding the NFCC Position Statement on submerged casualties, it is important that the most appropriately equipped and competent resources are mobilised to a casualty who is submerged below the surface of the water. The position statement will assist fire and rescue services in identifying their own position against their identified risks in respects to undertaking rescues of submerged casualties.

Personnel must not be deployed to perform a rescue at an incident where a casualty is submerged that knowingly requires personnel to remove PPE. Personnel must not attempt a rescue that is not performed from the surface of the water, in the water, from land, or within agreed protocols and parameters.

Information gathered from the initial call and first attending responders should assist fire control rooms to mobilise the most appropriate and informed resources to the incident.

Dive teams

Fire and rescue services should try to identify dive teams, from the police or other organisations, that can provide an underwater search and rescue capability for incidents involving submerged casualties. It may be beneficial for a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to be developed between such organisations and the fire and rescue service.

If available, they should be mobilised to incidents where a fire and rescue service intervention is not possible. This may be due to the depth or position of a casualty, or a situation that may result in personnel being exposed to an underwater rescue situation.

Restrictions that prohibit dive teams from providing assistance, such as volunteer staffing levels, weather or reduced visibility, should be considered when mobilising or requesting resources.

Information gathering

Fire control rooms and initial responding personnel should contribute to effective information gathering regarding the rescue of a submerged casualty. This can improve on the actions taken in respect to the appropriate weight and effective intervention, by ensuring that the necessary resources are mobilised. For more information refer to Situational awareness: Water rescue.

The information collated should be used in conjunction with the survivability model to determine the actions and resources required. For more information refer to Apply the survivability model: Water rescue.

Depending on the information received, fire and rescue services may deem it necessary to minimise the risk of exposure by mobilising a member of personnel to survey the scene. This may be appropriate if a casualty has been submerged for longer than 90 minutes and the likelihood of them surviving due to the presence of an air pocket is minimal. Conversely, if the information received cannot be verified or the casualty is within the survivability model for rescue operations, mobilising an appropriate water rescue response should be considered.

The information gathered from the initial call handling will assist the incident commander in determining the level of equipment, resources and competence that is required to undertake a rescue. It will also help establish whether the rescue will be made from the surface of the water or using land access, such as the bankside or bridges. This information will also help to develop a tactical plan and establish whether a rescue attempt can be made. Any attempt to rescue a submerged casualty must follow service policies and procedures.

Specialist or alternative options

Once initial information has been established, if a rescue cannot be achieved specialist or alternative options should be promptly considered, such as:

  • Requesting attendance of specialist dive teams
  • Mobilising enhanced rescue teams, with capabilities to operate on the surface of the water
  • The attendance of resources with stand-off search and rescue capabilities, such as cameras and reach poles
  • Requesting specialist water search dogs

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions