Pennsylvania’s Approach to Rescue Certification

Montgomery County, PA-On August 28, representatives from five Montgomery County fire companies gathered to be formally recognized as certified under the Pennsylvania Volunteer Rescue Service Program. Recognized were:

  • Goodwill Fire and Rescue, Pottstown, PA: Advanced Heavy Rescue Level
  • Weldon Fire Company, Glenside, PA: Operations Level
  • Willow Grove Fire Company, Upper Moreland, PA: First Response Level
  • Horsham Fire Company, Horsham, PA: First Response Level
  • Cheltenham Fire Company, Cheltenham, PA: First Response Level.
The purpose of the Volunteer Rescue Service (VRSR) Program is to recognize those emergency services that can safely and efficiently perform rescue operations in a variety of areas including collapse rescue, confined space rescue, industrial rescue, trench/cave-in rescue, and water/ice rescue. The program was developed by the Rescue Task Force of the Pennsylvania Emergency Health Services Council with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, EMS Office, “to formally recognize services that have met the goals and successfully completed the recognition program.” The program addresses equipment requirements and includes minimum manpower and training requirements.

The levels of certification are:

  • First Response: Identifies basic tools, equipment (mostly hand tools), manpower, and training requirements that personnel trained to the awareness level can use to undertake basic technical rescue operations. The equipment may be carried on any first line fire or rescue apparatus.
  • Operations: Identifies basic tools, equipment (hand and basic power tools), manpower, and training requirements that personnel trained to the operations levels can use to undertake basic to moderate rescue operations. This equipment may be carried on any first line fore or rescue apparatus.
  • Advanced Heavy Rescue: Identifies basic tools, equipment (hand and basic power tools), manpower, and training requirements that personnel trained to advanced levels can use to undertake basic through complex rescue operations. This equipment may be carried on a heavy rescue squad or other specialized rescue unit.
These broad definitions don’t do justice to the process that must take place to attain certification. The paper trail that fire companies must create covers apparatus, training, operational guidelines of the company, equipment carried, etc. Documentation is the key. Program administrators cite three benefits of the voluntary program: the rescue service meets the PA rescue standards; appropriately trained rescue and medical personnel are available; and dispatch centers know the capabilities of the services and can dispatch those most needed to the scene. But more importantly, what the voluntary certification does for the individual company is allow it take stock of itself.

Fire companies have myriad ways to document training, apparatus inspections, equipment inspections, etc. What this program does is force a company to take a hard look at itself, its processes, and organize itself. For companies that are already organized, this process is a little easier, but for other companies that may have lost track a little over the years, this is an opportunity to truly evaluate their members, their skills, and the level expertise they can provide to their communities.

This is a Pennsylvania program. Sixteen fire companies in the state have pursued voluntary certification, with these five being in one corner of the state. Not only can they say they have been certified by the State of Pennsylvania to a particular level, but they also have a very clear picture of their capabilities, both from the standpoints of personnel, and of apparatus/equipment capabilities.

For more information on this program, visit http://www.montcopa.org/eoc/MCEMS/Protocols/vrsr2000.pdf.

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