“Suicide in Progress”: Response Strategies

IT’S INCREASINGLY COMMON FOR FIREFIGHTERS TO respond to incidents involving “jumpers” and other self-threatening emergencies. The subjects involved in these calls may be located in hard-to-reach places like bridges, high towers, and rooftops of high-rise buildings, which present serious dangers for responders, the public, as well as the subject, who is threatening harm in the worst cases. He may have a hostage-often one of his own children or some other innocent person-who is also in danger. These high-drama events draw media and public attention, and the gathering crowds sometimes create a spectacle, which further complicates the responders’ job. These emergencies can stretch into hours as the subject weighs options and as professional crisis negotiators or the first-arriving firefighters, law enforcement officers, or EMS providers attempt to sway him toward a positive outcome.

Responders face serious challenges in these situations, because initially they do not know what the subject is planning or is capable of doing. When the subject is in a hard-to-reach place, it is difficult to establish and maintain communications and initiate safety precautions and operational plans. The subject may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol (or both), neglecting to take prescribed medications, or chronically depressed. In some cases, the subject may have suffered an acute loss or may have taken the life of another person and has decided to end it all by provoking responders into a reaction that will help to push him over the proverbial edge. He may suddenly produce a weapon, forcing law enforcement to eliminate the threat (this is sometimes referred to as “suicide by cop”; it obviously happens with sufficient frequency to have a recognizable name).

The outcomes of these types of situations are uncertain and difficult to determine, but responders’ actions can affect the result. If you are called to such an incident, secure the scene and reduce the number of distractions (i.e., crowds, traffic, news media helicopters, for example) to help stabilize the situation until trained crisis negotiators arrive. Continually look for any cues that may indicate that the subject is about to take a deadly action. Some finesse and an accurate evaluation of the scene are important here.

If you note such a cue, “tactical rescue” may be an option-if it’s feasible and reasonably safe. In most cases, attempting to grab the subject or making a move toward him is not recommended as an early course of action. Such moves could provoke the subject to jump (possibly taking someone with him) or to make another deadly move. In addition, making the wrong move-especially if it is “caught on tape” and broadcast repeatedly by the news media-could present liability concerns for responders and their agencies.

In a growing number of other communities, law enforcement agencies are increasingly calling on the local fire/rescue agency to provide backup and safety support for crisis/hostage negotiators working at such incidents, which also may involve other high-angle-rescue situations, confined spaces, or environments that are immediately dangerous to life or health.

Doctor Barry Perrou (retired LA County Sheriff Department sergeant and former leader of its Crisis/Hostage Negotiation Team and now a psychologist) has given the name “suicides in progress” to incidents involving jumpers and other self-threatening situations. He advocates the so-called “Five Cs”: Command, Contain, Communicate, Coordinate, and Control when confronted by these events. You may want to add LCES (Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones) to these components. The objective in these situations is not to allow rescuers to become victims. Fire departments should establish good working relationships with local crisis negotiators and law enforcement and work out plans for handling these incidents in a logical and effective manner.

PHASES OF RESCUE

According to Perrou, a three-phase system has proven effective in managing these difficult situations. Some of the tactics (designating a shooter as part of the crisis negotiation team, for example)1 are law enforcement actions, but the law enforcement representative at the scene should let fire/rescue personnel know that these tactics are being considered, because they affect operations and safety. This illustrates the need for unified command, coordination, and communication between law enforcement and the fire department.

Phase One

First Responders

  • Stabilize the situation as best you can, including securing the area and denying access to bystanders and others who will be in the way or in the line of danger. Remove hecklers and others whose actions might exacerbate the situation.
  • Secure an exclusion zone and a larger support perimeter (isolate, deny entry).
  • Talk to the subject from a safe distance, and attempt to establish a rapport with the person to find out what the motivating issue is. Use a low-key, nonaggressive, nonconfrontational approach; you want to keep the situation from escalating. Do not challenge the person or force an issue. If the situation is already at a peak of intensity when you arrive and it’s obvious that something is going to happen, establish contingencies such as positioning rescue air cushions (see “Rescue Air Cushions for Fall Protection” on page 106). Have a tactical rescue plan ready and a medical team in place for immediate treatment and transportation if the subject jumps or falls.


(1) A disoriented and possibly psychotic man threatened to jump from a 60-foot light standard at a baseball diamond. Two rescuers and a crisis negotiator initiated face-to-face discussions with the subject from an aerial platform. At the same time, rescuers deployed two rescue air cushions (RACs), one on each side of the pole. Even though the man finally agreed to climb down on his own, he dove into one of the cushions halfway down. He was taken into protective custody. (Photos by author.)
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In most cases, time is on your side, and there is time for professional crisis negotiators (who are trained and have more experience) to assess the situation and help devise a strategy. In some cases, crisis negotiators will adopt a “carrot-stick” strategy to purposely drag out the incident, wait the person out, and allow the person to become sufficiently uncomfortable (e.g., hungry, thirsty, hot, cold, tired) so that he will choose to come down peacefully. This approach has worked in many cases. Rely on the training, experience, and intuition of the crisis negotiators to determine when patience is the best practice, with the understanding that we can’t tie up fire department and other emergency resources indefinitely.

  • Assess the situation for weapons. Some jumpers may wish to harm police, firefighters, and others sent to help by taking them with them when they jump. In cases where the person is perched above the rescuers (who are essentially sitting ducks) and there is a potential that the subject is armed, law enforcement may consider having a marksman in position and ready to prevent the subject from harming anyone.
  • Do not automatically rush in to conduct a tactical rescue. You might provoke the victim into doing something that will make the situation worse. If you provoke the person into jumping by cornering him or forcing his hand prematurely, you can subject yourself and your department to liability. Use good judgment and an evenhanded approach. Work with law enforcement to keep the subject in the safest location possible, request appropriate additional resources, reduce exposure to personnel and the public, secure the scene, establish contingencies like RACs and fall protection, expedite the response of crisis negotiators, and take any other actions for which you are trained.
  • Keep in mind that the subject may have unseen weapons, explosives, chemicals, or other hazardous objects.
  • Evaluate the situation for possible unintended consequences of your actions. Sometimes it’s best to secure the scene, get contingencies in place, and hang back until crisis negotiators arrive to engage the subject.

Crisis Negotiators

In some situations, crisis negotiators work in pairs: The first negotiator, “the talker,” makes contact with the subject and does most of the interacting with him. The second negotiator (or another law enforcement member) is sometimes designated as “the shooter” and prepares to take action in case the subject suddenly makes a move that threatens responders or the public or pulls out a weapon.

Experience has shown that some despondent people may lack the willingness to take their own lives and may find it easier to force someone else “to do it for them” (suicide by cop).

In other cases, angry people may choose to take others with them when they die. In a recent example in South America, a person threatening to jump from a bridge suddenly reached into his pocket and produced a live grenade just as rescuers and negotiators were moving closer to him. The grenade slipped from his hand, fell off the bridge to the ground, bounced in the air (as responders were diving for cover), and exploded just far enough below them so that no serious injuries occurred. Firefighters and other rescuers should be advised in a safety briefing when the negotiation team is operating in the “talker-and-shooter” mode, so they can stay out of the potential line of fire. The briefing also reminds firefighters that all may not be as it seems when they first arrived.


(2) This psychiatric male patient threatened to jump from the top of a railroad trestle on a busy street in Whittier, California. After ascertaining that he was a repeat jumper and failed to take his prescribed medications and that it would be difficult to establish dialog with him, rescuers confined him to a small area so that a RAC could be deployed and crisis negotiators could interact with him.
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(3) The operation necessitated special calling another truck company, the Los Angeles Fire Department RAC Task Force, and a Los Angeles County Fire Department aerial platform. Aerials blocked the subject’s movement across the girders, and a USAR Task Force 103 climbing team, operating from the middle of the girder system, restricted the subject’s movements to a small area.
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Firefighters and rescuers at crisis negotiations emergencies should wear flak vests and other protection in case bullets or other weapons start flying.

  • Strongly consider using aerial platforms; they provide safer work stations for rescuers and negotiators than the tip of an aerial ladder. They are also safer for removing the subject if he is brought down under controlled conditions. Request mutual aid if your agency doesn’t have aerial platforms, or request the response of agencies that have them. In one recent case, we requested from law enforcement the response (with law enforcement escort ) of a 180-foot aerial platform operated by the LA Department of Water and Power to help us deal with a jumper perched on an electrical tower.
  • An increasing number of metropolitan fire departments that respond to high-angle crisis situations have specialized units equipped with RACs and personnel trained in deploying them. Incident commanders faced with these situations should request the RAC-equipped unit (through mutual aid, if necessary).
  • Determine, in cooperation with law enforcement and crisis negotiators, the nature of the threat-whether it’s a genuine threat of harm or a public nuisance that can be isolated and allowed to diminish with a “deescalation” strategy-and the appropriate course of action.
  • Observe the total situation-bystanders, family members, news media presence, local traffic, potential for secondary devices, and other factors that could influence safety.
  • Request the appropriate law enforcement authorities to control traffic and ensure that the freeway is shut down in both directions if the emergency is on an overpass or in another location where traffic is a factor. Traffic racing past on one side of a freeway while rescuers are conducting delicate negotiations with a potential jumper and setting up contingencies on the other side of the freeway does not work.
  • Request crisis negotiators and appropriate mental health authorities to respond, or ensure that they are en route and determine their estimated time of arrival.
  • Identify local emergency room hospitals, trauma centers, and routes. Consider having EMS helicopters and other units standing by in inconspicuous locations in case transportation to a trauma center is needed.
  • Avoid/prevent heroic or independent acts until appropriate or necessary. When they are necessary, conduct them in a timely manner and with deliberateness. Once again, the main goal is to stabilize the situation and bring the incident to a conclusion without unnecessary injuries or loss of life.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement policy should include automatically requesting that the local fire department and EMS respond to a staging location where they can meet with the law enforcement commanders to develop a unified incident action plan. Rescue companies and USAR units (as well as other trained and equipped units) should be prepared to provide belay lines and other protection for the negotiators and be ready in case of an “adverse event” (e.g., the subject jumps or becomes hung up above the ground).

Phase Two

 

First Responders

  • If the first-arriving firefighters or cops are communicating effectively with the subject, leave them in place until it is appropriate to relieve them with trained crisis negotiators. In some cases, a member of the public or the victim’s family may already be in place and talking with the subject on your arrival. Don’t automatically order that “talker” down. Evaluate the situation: Is what that person is doing helping the situation or making it worse? If it is helping to stabilize and “deescalate” the situation, leave that person in place until the professional crisis negotiators arrive. In the meantime, make sure that the contact person is protected from a fall and other hazards. If this is not possible, you may have to ask the contact person to come down because of the physical danger of the environment. Who knows? The subject may also choose to come down. This, obviously, is a judgment call, but one that can have significant effects.
  • Develop a plan between the fire and police departments to ensure everyone is on the same page. Avoid strategic and tactical surprises, which can be prevented through good communication and planning.
  • Have a “strategic rescue plan” ready to go and alternate plans in case conditions change. Typically, the fire department will have completed preparations to conduct the technical aspects of a tactical rescue (established belay and rope rescue systems, prepared climbing teams to ascend high towers, or prepared rescuers to sweep in to secure the subject on a ledge or tower). Law enforcement usually will take control of the rescued or secured subject and be prepared for violence if it erupts.
  • Videotape the situation for later documentation and lessons learned.
  • Request that the subject’s family members and friends remain in the command post; keep them out of sight.
  • Gather information for a profile of the subject. Law enforcement and negotiators generally will request a databank search on the person to determine past history, criminal record, and other information.
  • Assess the subject for rationality: Does he comprehend what is happening, what you are telling him, and that you are trying to help him?
  • Assess for alcohol and recreational drug use-common factors in suicide threats and attempts.
  • Create a secure working area for the crisis negotiators (eliminate slips, falls, and other hazards).

Crisis Negotiators

  • Record the discussion with the subject.
  • Assess the subject for evidence of psychosis, paranoia, or agitation. Firefighters and EMS personnel should be watching for the same signs and symptoms, because they may affect the method of approach to the situation-for example, has the person been refusing to take medications prescribed to prevent psychotic behavior? Is the subject fleeing from authorities because of clinical paranoia? These are also medical emergency issues that relate to the department’s EMS response.

USAR/Rescue Companies

  • Assess hazards and advise on remedies.
  • Establish backup/safety for negotiators.
  • Provide special equipment.
  • Assist in tactical rescue plan.
  • Assist in tactical rescue.
  • Provide safety for the subject (as appropriate).

Phase Three

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Crisis Negotiators

For the negotiators, the clock starts now, not when the first units arrived. The crisis negotiators typically look at the situation with a new set of eyes. They may adopt a strategy of patient coaxing, withholding food and water, or other methods that may seem to be time consuming but that may ultimately result in a more successful outcome than if we try to expedite a conclusion by forcing the person’s hand.


(4) Rescuers were strategically positioned and able to move in quickly and grab this female subject. The tactical rescue approach was chosen after a RAC was deployed between the two buildings and other fall precautions were initiated. Attempt tactical rescue only after fall protection is in place, if possible, or if there are no other viable options.
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Crisis negotiators will develop a tactical plan for the subject that may include the following:

  • verbal intervention (issues causing despair);
  • tactical intervention/rescue (when appropriate);
  • use of a trained primary negotiator/talker (possibly female);
  • use of a trained secondary/nontalker/shooter;
  • keeping containment officers advised;
  • developing a Surrender Plan;
  • having negotiators on a separate, restricted, or dedicated frequency;
  • crisis intervention/negotiation;
  • good-faith negotiation;
  • compassion, respect, dignity, hope, and help;
  • preparation for rage and anger;
  • tactical rescue: first ask, “Why?” and “Why now?” (use one command that everyone understands); and
  • assessment for predeath behaviors during negotiations (if the situation is not going well): rhythmic movements (bad sign!), counting (bad sign!), and closing eyes as if to avoid watching the scene.

In addition, responders should never initiate independent or heroic acts that aren’t certain. They should be prepared to assist with the subject’s surrender and be respectful to the subject as he surrenders. Negotiators should remain with the subject while en route to the hospital, when in custody, and so on. Critical incident stress debriefing should be seriously considered if the outcome is negative.

Endnote

1. In some cases, one of the two crisis negotiators is designated as “the shooter.” His job is to allow “the talker” to negotiate with the subject but to remain ready to shoot the subject in case he tries to pull a gun, take the negotiator hostage, or otherwise harm “the talker.” Firefighters on the scene may not immediately be aware of this tactic, but they should be made aware of it so they can remain out of the line of fire and wear personal protective equipment like flak vests and helmets.

Rescue Air Cushions for Fall Protection

“Jumpers” and other high-angle crisis negotiation situations combine all the elements of a typical high-angle rescue, with one critical additional factor: Someone is threatening to jump, toss or push another person from the location, or both. Approach these situations with an additional sense of caution, because the person you are trying to help may not wish to cooperate. In the worst-case scenario, the person may actively fight the assistance and may attempt to take someone else with him.

The strategic placing of rescue air cushions (RACs) has helped to reduce the risk of injury or death for subjects, hostages, crisis negotiators, and rescuers in some high-angle emergencies and potential “jumper” or hostage situations. RACs are particularly effective in mitigating some hazards when the jumper is potentially suicidal and the fire department is to provide fall protection for crisis negotiators and rescuers and to attempt a tactical rescue should it become necessary. In some cases, the deployment of RACs reduces the level of danger to the point where the subject decides to come down because the threat of jumping has lost its impact.


(1) Personnel from Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Fleet Services Division designed and built the department’s rescue air cushion storage system.
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RACs (also known as fall bags, often used in movie stunts and other nonemergency situations) are typically composed of an upper and a lower cell, separated by a membrane. The joined cells, which are not completely sealed, form a system that reduces the impact of a fall. The upper cell absorbs most of the energy generated by the impact. It dissipates the energy by releasing air from the breather ports on its side and front. An elastic cord tied over the breather ports regulates the amount of air released. The tighter the cord, the less air released, thus creating a firmer cushion.

The lower cell does not have a breather port; consequently, very little air is released on impact. Thus, the lower cell has twice the energy-absorbing capability of the upper cell. It provides the safety margin for the air pack and determines the maximum height from which a person may safely fall. The RAC absorbs and dissipates the energy of impact in less than one-sixth of a second.

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(2-3)Two electric blowers, the cushion, and all accessories comprise a compact package that can be carried on a utility (lift-gate) truck or in a small trailer. (Photos by author.)
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The durable, resilient cushions are constructed of fire-retardant and waterproof vinyl-reinforced fabric that has a tear strength of more than 50 pounds psi. The cushion seams are sewn with heavy-duty nylon thread, which is stronger than the cushion material.

Each cell of the RAC is inflated by a separate one-half horsepower electric fan blower through an air tube or sock. Electricity for the blowers can be supplied by onboard generators on fire department units, portable generators, or 110-volt house current. RACs are supplements to, not substitutes for, safety/belay lines and other recognized fall-protection measures. If the RAC is torn or punctured during an operation, it usually will not seriously affect its capability. The cushion is filled with air but is not sealed like a balloon. The dual-blower configuration continually pumps air into the two cells and continually exhausts it through the breather ports. If the air cushion incurs minor damage, the blowers will easily compensate for the additional loss of air. Minor damage to the cushion might go unnoticed until it is inspected.

The air cushion rating is based on the maximum floor level from which a person may fall-10 feet per floor. The jumper lands on the buttocks or back with a cushioning effect that is safely below the human tolerance level (per the U.S. Air Force in “Human Tolerance to Shock”).

Recently, the LA County Fire Department established three RAC task forces, which are strategically located to provide timely response in each of its three regional operations bureaus.1 Each task force has a RAC rated for a 10-story fall, with inflation fans and related equipment.

One RAC task force is automatically dispatched on the first alarm when a subject is reported to be threatening to jump from a tower, an overpass, a bridge, a multistory building, a power pole, or some other “high-angle” location. Response on the first alarm consists of one each of the following: engine company, truck company, USAR task force, RAC task force, squad, battalion chief, and ambulance.

Naturally, incident commanders are responsible for evaluating the most appropriate use and strategic positioning of RACs at urban high-angle emergencies and jumper incidents, consulting as necessary with USAR task force personnel, RAC task force members, and crisis negotiation team members.

RAC task forces may also be dispatched to other high-angle rescue emergencies (i.e., multistory fires, explosions, or terrorist attacks with possible jumpers and hostage situations at significant heights) where incident commanders determine that a RAC may provide additional fall protection. Additional RAC task forces may be requested if multiple RACs are needed to provide adequate protection, such as when two or more sides of a tower need to be covered.

ARRIVAL AND SIZE-UP

On arrival, the first-in unit needs to assess and determine the need for RACs to be deployed as fall protection or as a deterrent and protection for the subject. The units should address the following tasks:

  • Identify the most advantageous location to deploy the RAC.
  • Isolate and deny entry as necessary to reduce the chance of a victim’s being struck from above and to stabilize the situation until the RAC and other fall protection can be put in place.
  • Request law enforcement for scene security.
  • If the emergency is a potential suicidal jumper or a hostage situation at significant heights, consult with the USAR task force and the crisis negotiation team about the best approach to avoid precipitating the subject’s jumping or falling while maintaining high-angle safety. Do not approach the jumper carelessly, and do not force the situation. Initially, try to communicate with the individual. Assign one member as the primary contact with the subject to reduce confusion and the potential for mixed messages.

While the designated member or the crisis negotiators are attempting to open a line of communication with the subject, the other members should discreetly and carefully attempt to confine the jumper to as small an area as possible. Reduce lateral room and depth of the area to the approximate footprint of the RAC.

Keep the subject (slowly, carefully, and with extreme discretion) within the designated perimeter to reduce the size of the target area on the ground. Personnel must be aware of the main potential hazards of getting too close to the person, such as jumping before the RAC or other fall protection is in place or pushing someone else.

RESCUE AIR CUSHION DEPLOYMENT

Set up the RAC in a selected predeployment area that is a safe distance from the target area to prevent the person from prematurely jumping. Do not set up (inflate) the RAC in the target area. To the potential jumper above, the RAC may appear to be fully inflated when it is not. The predeployment area should be out of the potential jumper’s sight so the individual cannot see the preparations underway, to prevent the chance of his jumping before the RAC is in place.

LACoFD RAC task force assignments are as follows:

  • RAC truck/quint company captain serves as the safety officer for the overall operation (including LCES and watching for falling objects), supervises deployment of the RAC, observes the victim/jumper, and determines the timing of the RAC deployment, to prevent personnel from being struck.
  • RAC truck/quint engineer places and operates the primary power source (portable generator) and secondary power source (fixed electrical) for the electric blowers.
  • RAC truck/quint firefighter #1 assists in moving the air cushion to the target area and in deploying the air cushions.
  • RAC truck/quint firefighter #2 (if available) assists in moving the air cushion to the target area and deploying it.
  • RAC engine company captain inspects the target area for hazards that can damage the air cushion-sprinkler heads, broken glass, for example; ensures that the RAC is fully inflated; and coordinates crowd control with law enforcement.
  • RAC engine engineer assists the truck/quint engineer in deploying electric blowers to the target area.
  • RAC engine firefighter #1 assists in deploying the air cushion to the target area.
  • RAC engine firefighter #2 (if available) assists in deploying the air cushion to target area.

DEPLOYMENT PROCEDURES

  • Move the RAC and blowers to the selected predeployment area, where the RAC will be set up and inflated, before moving the RAC into position below the potential victim. Ensure that the predeployment area is free of objects that might damage the cushion (i.e., sprinkler heads, broken glass, etc.) before unrolling it.
  • Place the RAC on the ground, and unroll it into the desired position.
  • Roll the air socks out flat.
  • Attach air socks to the blowers, and cinch the draw straps tightly.
  • Start both blowers by plugging into a power source. A 110-AC power source is preferable. A remote power source has the added advantage of reducing noise levels at the incident scene, facilitating communications. An onboard apparatus generator is the next preferred power source; it can start and run two blowers simultaneously. Portable generators carried by truck companies are the third preferred source, because they generally do not have the capacity to start two blowers at the same time. As a last resort, portable gasoline-powered blowers can be used to inflate the RAC. These blowers, however, add a significant amount of noise to the scene and produce carbon monoxide, which causes long-term degeneration of the vinyl-reinforced RAC fabric.
  • The RAC will fully inflate in less than 60 seconds. Walk around the cushion to ensure that the breather port flanges are straight and hanging vertically.
  • Attach a drop bag cord to the eye at each corner of the cushion. A precut, six-foot length of drop cord works well. (Some cushions have lines preconnected.)
  • After the RAC is fully inflated, personnel can drag it, using the drop bag cords, into the target area. This should be a coordinated operation to avoid startling the subject into jumping or taking action against the personnel (e.g.. with a weapon or by falling on them). Maintain LCES during the deployment operation, to ensure personnel are not struck by objects or people falling from above.
  • For potential suicide jumper or hostage situations, coordinate with the crisis negotiator or whoever is engaging the individual before pulling the RAC into place. The standard method is to distract the individual from looking down while law enforcement and other personnel maintain the lateral perimeter. When a previously agreed-on signal is given, the RAC task force quickly pulls the RAC into place.
  • Move parked cars and other obstructions prior to deployment.

AFTER DEPLOYMENT

  • If it becomes necessary for victims to jump, the victim should be instructed to fall as if he were sitting down. When falling in this position, the body naturally rotates so the person lands on the small of the back.
  • If two people must fall at the same time (not recommended normally, but conditions may leave no choice, especially if young children and parents are involved), they should hug each other tightly from the moment they jump until impact. It’s important that they not fall separately. If they fall even a fraction of a second apart, injury may occur.
  • After landing, have the jumper immediately roll off the cushion; allow 20 seconds for reinflation. The cushion is now ready to take another jumper.
  • Always assign a RAC task force to observe the operation to ensure that the RAC is fully inflated. A partially inflated cushion will not provide adequate support. The same member may also direct movement of the cushion if repositioning is necessary.

Endnote

1. The Los Angeles City Fire Department has 18 70-foot and six 100-foot air rescue cushions placed on strategically located units. It graciously offered to train the Los Angeles County Fire Department RAC task forces in deployment and use of RACs.

“Suicide in Progress” Responses: Sample Guideline

 

1. INTRODUCTION

A. Purpose: The purpose of this instruction is to establish operational guidelines for the effective and safe management of potential “jumper” emergencies and hostage or crisis negotiation situations in high-risk environments (e.g., on top of buildings, bridges, and towers; in metro rail tunnels) and to ensure appropriate safety-related support of Law Enforcement Crisis Negotiation Teams based on field-tested methods, recognizing that it’s impossible to predict every potential consequence and apply “template-style” solutions to fit the circumstances of every unusual incident. Other purposes are to comply with applicable worker safety laws; to reflect safety, equipment, and operational standards established by the National Fire Protection Association and other recognized authorities; and to apply lessons learned from the experiences of other agencies.

Local law enforcement agencies are typically charged with primary responsibility for crisis-negotiation operations. Many have established Crisis Negotiations Teams to respond to these incidents. However, fire departments and technical rescue teams are frequently called on to assist with “jumpers” and other crisis negotiation situations in high-risk environments that require extra protective measures for the negotiators. Fire department resources may be requested to be prepared to conduct or assist with tactical rescue operations of crisis negotiators, subjects, hostages, or bystanders. Additionally, fire department units are frequently requested to stand by in case of injury to subjects, negotiators, law enforcement officers, or bystanders or in case a fire erupts during negotiations or tactical actions.

Fire department rescue and USAR units in some areas of the nation train regularly with local Crisis/Hostage Negotiation Teams to ensure effective operations in high-angle situations and other high-risk environments. In these areas, fire departments are dispatched in support of the Crisis Negotiation Teams in high-risk environments, and they have developed a number of field-tested protocols and approaches that have proven effective in resolving these incidents. This sample guideline is based, in part, on the results of this collaboration and the lessons learned.

2. RESPONSIBILITY

A. All incident commanders should be responsible for the following tasks:

  • Being familiar with, and applying, these guidelines.
  • Initiating first responder operations within the parameters of fire department training, equipment, and capabilities and requesting rescue companies, USAR units, rescue air cushion (RAC) units, and other appropriate resources to support first responders.
  • Recognizing if and when the safe working limits of first responders have been reached and ensuring actions to secure and stabilize the scene until the rescue companies, USAR units, and other secondary responders arrive.
  • Requesting additional resources based on the need for specialized equipment and rescue-trained personnel to establish rigging, operate rope systems, staff litter teams and (when applicable) rapid intervention crews, and conduct tactical rescue in coordination with the Crisis Negotiation Team.
  • Complying with applicable worker safety regulations for operations in environments characterized as immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH), including situations where two-in/two-out, rapid intervention, and personnel accountability protocols are required.
  • Complying with rapid intervention and other safety-related policies and procedures.

B. All personnel should be responsible for familiarity with, and use of, these operational guidelines.

3. POLICY

A. Response: Wherever there is a report of a possible “jumper” or a hostage/crisis negotiation situation in a high-angle or other high-risk environment (e.g., on railroad tracks or in a metro-rail station), the incident should be dispatched as a “jumper” or another appropriate response with the following recommended units as a minimum-one each of the following: engine; truck company; rescue company or USAR unit; RAC unit, if available; advanced life support/paramedic unit and ambulance; and battalion chief.

The dispatcher shall notify the Law Enforcement Crisis/Hostage Negotiation Team.

B. Size-up: On arrival, the incident commander shall assess and report the following conditions:

  • The exact location of the incident and the best access.
  • The nature of the subject’s predicament:
    -Is the subject injured?
    -If the subject falls or is dislodged from his present position, can he be injured?
    -Is the subject physically able to assist in his exit to a safe location if compelled to do so?
    -Can the subject be convinced to move to a safer location/position until help arrives?
    -Are there hostages?
    -Are there obvious weapons?
    -Are there signs of explosive devices (including secondary devices), booby traps, or other unexpected factors that can cause injury or death to firefighters and negotiators?
    -What are the plans and needs of the crisis negotiators?
    -Is there a need for fall bags or other special equipment like an aerial platform?
    -Is there a need to provide physical protection (i.e., belay systems, harnesses, and helmets) for crisis negotiators, the subject, and other involved parties?
    -Are negotiators in contact with the subject?

C. Operational Considerations: If a subject is perched on a cliff or in another high-angle predicament, the incident should ALWAYS be dispatched and treated as a potential rescue (in case a mishap occurs while crisis negotiators, hostages, bystanders, or personnel are in the danger zone). Until this benchmark is achieved, the incident should be treated as a potential rescue situation from the perspective of the resources needed to support the crisis negotiators.

4. Procedures

A. Initiating Operations

  • Incident commanders should refrain from canceling rescue resources until such time as the subject is rescued and all rescuers are out of the danger zone.
  • Be prepared to establish unified command on the arrival of law enforcement.

B. High-Angle Support Operations

  • Law enforcement and crisis negotiators sometimes use equipment and methods that differ from standard departmental operations and may be more advanced than those used by first responders. Discretion, cooperation, and good judgment are necessary to ensure safe and effective operations.
  • If high-angle rope systems are used, establish “bombproof” anchors. If vehicles are used as anchors, chock the wheels and remove the keys from the ignition to prevent unwanted movement.
  • Pad with edge protection any point where a rope passes a stationary object, to prevent catastrophic damage to the rope.
  • All members involved in the operation should wear gloves, helmets, brush gear, Nomex® jumpsuits, and other appropriate personal protective equipment. However, if the negotiators feel that yellow or other brightly colored attire may provoke the subject, the incident commander may approve the use of working uniforms and other dark-colored clothing to help meet the goal of the operation (safe conclusion of the incident).
  • Offer a helmet, a quick-don harness device, a belay line, a strap, or other safety measures to the subject (when practical), to demonstrate that all possible is being done to ensure the welfare of the subject. The crisis negotiator or rescuers may take these items to the subject.

LARRY COLLINS is a 27-year member of the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD); a captain; and a USAR specialist and paramedic assigned to USAR Task Force 103, which responds to technical rescues and multialarm fires across Los Angeles County. He is a search team manager for LACoFD’s FEMA/OFDA US&R Task Force for domestic and international response and serves as an US&R specialist on the “Red” FEMA US&R Incident Support Team (with deployments to the Oklahoma City bombing; the 9/11 Pentagon collapse; Hurricanes Frances, Ivan, Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma; and several national security events). He is a frequent contributor to Fire Engineering and is the author of Technical Rescue Operations Volumes I and II (Fire Engineering, 2004, 2005, respectively) and the Rescue chapter of The Fire Chief’s Handbook.

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