Situational awareness: Submerged people

Control Measure Knowledge

This control measure should be read in conjunction with Search and rescue: Submerged casualty


The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) position statement on the rescue of submerged people states that all rescues of a submerged person should be conducted from land, the surface of the water or by personnel in the water maintaining the correct levels of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Operational discretion should not be used to remove PPE, enter confined spaces underwater or act outside of service policy to go underwater.

To minimise the risk of exposure to operational personnel, fire and rescue services may consider mobilising a subject matter adviser or member of personnel to survey the scene. This may be appropriate if a person has been submerged for longer than 90 minutes and their likelihood of surviving is minimal. Conversely, if the information received cannot be verified or the person is within the survivability model for rescue operations, consideration should be given to mobilising an appropriate water rescue response. More information about the survivability model can be found in Control measure – Apply the survivability model: Water rescue.

Fire control personnel should gather sufficient situational awareness to allow them to mobilise the most appropriate and informed resources as detailed by their fire and rescue service water rescue mobilising procedures.

Fire control personnel should share the situational awareness they have gained with operational personnel to support them with their risk assessments and decision-making, including information which may give an indication of when the 90 minutes survivability ‘clock’ should start.

Where possible, fire control personnel should gather the following information to aid mobilising decisions and share it with operational personnel and other responding agencies to inform a joint understanding of risk.


  • Whether someone witnessed the person or vehicle enter the water


  • The time that the person or vehicle entered the water
  • The time that the person was last seen before becoming submerged
  • Whether the person resurfaced and, if so, when
  • The time that the call was received (if received from another control room)


  • The number of people in the water
  • The age of the person in the water
  • The clothing that the person was wearing
  • Whether the person was conscious or unconscious
  • The persons’ state of mind
  • The persons’ position in the vehicle, where relevant

Vehicle (if relevant)

  • The type of vehicle
  • The size of the vehicle (if the type is unknown)
  • Whether the vehicle is fully submerged
  • Whether the windows or doors are open
  • Whether the vehicle is upright or upside down


  • The point that the person or vehicle entered the water (point of entry)
  • The point that the person or vehicle was last seen (point last seen)
  • The last known position of the person or vehicle (last known position)


  • The type or body of water
  • Whether the water is tidal, static, or fast- or slow-moving
  • The depth of the water
  • Whether the water is frozen or icy
  • The direction in which the water is flowing (in relation to other landmarks)

It is not possible to know for certain when a person became submerged, so the survivability clock should start when the first emergency responder arrives on scene. It should not be assumed that the person has been submerged for longer than this. However, if fire control personnel can gather credible information to identify an accurate time for when the person became submerged, the clock can be started at this point. Credible information sources that may be able to confirm this can be:

  • Technology allowing the streaming of video footage from a mobile phone, or similar technologies
  • Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage
  • Credible witnesses, such as other emergency service responders

All information gathered by fire control personnel should be recorded on the incident log and shared promptly with the incident commander.

Fire and rescue services should consider mobilising different levels of response based on the survivability model for submerged people. The levels of response should reflect the persons’ likelihood of surviving and the level of risk to which operational personnel will be exposed.

When fire control personnel are in any doubt about the credibility or accuracy of information received, appropriate mobilisation should take place.

Strategic Actions

Tactical Actions