The rescue and recovery of firefighters is challenging. Difficult decisions may need to be made. The situation calls for clear judgement, often while struggling to keep emotions under control.
If the incident commander and other commanders fail to maintain control, it may lead to an outcome with serious health and safety consequences. Personnel are likely to place themselves at considerable risk to rescue or recover colleagues.
A situation where a firefighter needs rescuing is very likely to lead to personnel and others experiencing increased stress. This can affect the way people make decisions and process information. For further information refer to Personal resilience.
If there is an indication of a firefighter emergency, the command team must work quickly but consider firefighter safety at the same time. They should alert all personnel on the scene and take a roll call if necessary. They should also assess the resources needed, for example, fresh crews to carry out search and rescue, and consider the need for specialist teams or tactical advisers. Commanders should be aware that when BA emergency rescue operations need to be undertaken, a significant amount of resources will be required.
The incident commander’s resilience and ability to manage pressure in this situation is critical to maintain control. Other important factors are maintaining good situational awareness and sharing accurate information such as last known locations and tasks firefighters were undertaking.
The incident commander should consider a number of factors in their decision-making, particularly the benefit of taking action against the risks. These include:
- The likely condition of affected personnel
- The level of risk to the rescue personnel against the possible outcomes
- The nature of the incident, for example:
- Extent of firespread
- Extent of structural collapse, and potential for secondary or further collapse
- Likely reoccurrence of events such as explosions or attacks
- The impact of emergency evacuation of responders on the rescue effort
Where personnel are committed to undertake a rescue, their safety is a priority. The incident commander should hold a thorough briefing, even though personnel are likely to be impatient to enter the hazard area. Incident commanders should consider the appropriate level of additional control measures and resources required to support the rescue operation.
Once resources permit, consideration should be given to replacing some or all of the command team. This is not a reflection on their ability, but for the following reasons:
- Managing the welfare of personnel at a difficult and potentially traumatic stage of the incident
- Personal capacity to continue working in such an environment
- Time for commanders to gather their thoughts and to make contemporaneous notes of their actions
- The likely impact that a rapid police investigation could have on the command team decision-making process
Commanders must also consider the welfare of other personnel involved with the incident, including those who have been working on rescue or recovery and fire control personnel.
After an incident there may be a requirement to investigate its cause. This may be part of a fire and rescue service review to identify the cause of the incident or to look at how effective fire safety measures were. Additionally, it may be part of a criminal investigation by the police. Other agencies may also have a legal requirement to investigate, for example, the Air Accident Investigation Branch, Marine Accident Investigation Branch, Rail Accident Investigation Branch or the Health and Safety Executive.
From the start of an internal or external investigation, personnel should make sure that evidence is not destroyed or disturbed as this may inform the investigation. They should also make observations and notes to help investigators.
Guidance on investigations is provided in the National Operational Guidance – Operations:
In the event of a firefighter fatality, fire and rescue services should refer to the information available in the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Death in the Workplace Guidance.
Health and Safety Executive guidance includes: