I first remember hearing someone utter the acronym US&R (Urban Search & Rescue) in the late 1980s. I was at the National Fire Academy, sitting in the pub drinking a beer with a group of other students. It was one of my Executive Fire Officer stints, and Hank Blackwell (then an assistant chief from New Mexico) was telling me about his assignment to San Francisco for the earthquake a few years ago.

Now, we didn’t have anything like that in Toledo-no organized team. In fact, I believed at the time that US&R was a “West Coast thing” because of the earthquakes and all the other “stuff” that happens there. How times have changed!

For several reasons, the information about and use of US&R teams have grown all over the country in the past decade or so. There are federal, regional, state, and local teams across the United States. Deployment times have diminished, and a fully trained team can be at your side within 24 hours or less in most areas.

For those firefighters and departments that participate in US&R teams, regardless of their size or level of involvement, thank you! It’s a high commitment of time (both training and deployment) and effort. For you who don’t participate, please still remember that you may be on your own for a day or so. Have contingency plans, and practice them. Whether it’s a hurricane, an earthquake, a flood, or a man-made disaster, know your area and its vulnerabilities, and have a plan for each type of event.

-John “Skip” Coleman, deputy chief of fire prevention, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue, is author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), a technical editor of Fire Engineering, and a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board.

Question: Does your department support and encourage participation with a state or federal Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) team? How is the support provided? How has it improved your local service delivery?

Ron Hiraki, assistant chief,
Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One

Response: We encourage and support participation with the FEMA Urban Search & Rescue Team. We have two members on the roster of the regional task force.

For a suburban fire department, this can be a challenge financially and operationally. In the early years of the FEMA Urban Search & Rescue team, we encouraged participation but only provided limited support. Today, FEMA and other grant programs provide solid support for the team. Additionally, we have planned and budgeted to support these members financially and operationally as necessary.

Without a doubt, the knowledge, skills, and experiences learned through FEMA training and deployments have improved local service delivery. Our members bring what they learned back to Gig Harbor and share that with our technical rescue team members. Additionally, there is an opportunity for networking and to see and use equipment before we purchase it. As a suburban fire department, we rely on mutual aid for larger incidents. Our participation on the FEMA US&R team provides another venue for our operations members and our chiefs to work together. This strengthens our relationships for “regular” mutual-aid activities.

Thomas Jaksetic,
captain of special operations,
Toledo (OH) Department of Fire & Rescue

Response: Our department formed the Bureau of Homeland Security & Special Operations in September 2002 in response to the additional demands placed on our country’s fire service post-September 11, 2001. Chief Michael Bell assigned this bureau the task of developing a state-sponsored US&R team. Initially, the bureau was staffed by a deputy chief, a battalion chief, and a captain (me). Today, our staffing includes three additional lieutenants.

Through the efforts of many regional partners, we have developed the Region 1, Northwest Ohio US&R team. The captain and lieutenants assigned to the bureau form the command structure for the team and are responsible for equipment purchases, recruiting, training, and team development. We have 33 members assigned to the team.

We provided three vehicles and equipment in addition to that purchased with Homeland Security funds. The Northwest Ohio US&R acquired a tractor/trailer and equipment cache, housed at Toledo Fire and Rescue’s Training Academy. The other US&R support vehicles are housed at Toledo’s Fire Shop. Our mechanics and maintenance officer maintain the vehicles and equipment.

Currently, the US&R program has improved local service delivery by providing a structural collapse operations capability to Northwest Ohio; the region with a logistic support capability for tornadoes, floods, and other disasters; additional training opportunities for the region’s firefighters; mutual aid with other state-sponsored regional US&R teams; and a networking capability that is priceless.

Mike Mason, lieutenant,
Downers Grove (IL) Fire Department

Response: In our area and our department, we are sincerely committed to technical rescue in all its disciplines through our involvement with other departments that help create our multiagency teams. These teams are prepared; trained; and available for technical rescues within the immediate area all the way up to statewide responses and, when necessary, the federal level. Our teams are known as C.A.R.T. (Combined Agency Response Team); there are additional mutual-aid box alarm system (MABAS) response divisions within our area. Teams involved in our C.A.R.T. responses are divided into colors: Silver Teams, Red Teams, and Green Teams, which indicate different geographical and departmental involvements for an area, depending on the size and scope of an incident. We recognize the need among different jurisdictions for mutual-aid systems and services. Because of this commitment, communities benefit from the sharing of resources and training. Area departments and their communities are willing participants, creating a successful joining of forces when needed for a response.

We also enhance through standard operating procedures systems that would apply to other types of responses. The C.A.R.T. and MABAS teams are diligent in regard to training in all the disciplines of technical rescue, which include confined space, water and ice, high angle, trench, industrial, and building collapse. All technical rescue training exercises and evolutions are conducted under rigorous scrutiny within an incident command system and the presence of safety personnel.

Our regional mutual-aid responses are based mostly on pooled resources along with shared specialties, in which several departments or jurisdictions provide personnel, resources, or funding to organize and operate a team. The components of the regional responses are well-oiled, integrated operations; all involved participate in establishing the operations and share in the responsibilities. Success is attributed to commonly accepted standard operating procedures; members who are trained in the use of all tools, equipment, and safety measures; solid framework regarding incident command; effective radio communications; and strong interagency training programs.

Although all this is great to have in your backyard, in our area we’ve also trained first responders in their roles and responsibilities in a technical rescue response. These first-in companies at these responses, just as in fire suppression calls, set the tone and affect the probability for successful outcomes of the responses. We try to make these companies and their members aware of the need for establishing priorities through the use of standard operating guidelines. It begins with collecting as much information as possible about what happened. There is a need for good communications with incoming technical rescue support agencies so vital information regarding the incident action plan can be conveyed to the teams. It also advocates securing the scene, removing any hazards if possible, notifying the IC and the teams of the hazards present, preparing an arrival or staging area for rescue teams, helping to support rescue team members with the necessary resources, arranging for the presence of EMS personnel and equipment and notifying area-based hospitals, and ensuring that a strong command system-or at least the framework for it-is established before the rescue teams arrive.

Gary Seidel, chief,
Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department

Response: Oregon recently has formed a state US&R team; our department is a member. We have taken a very active role in this program; several of our members are on the governance board and are involved in training and mobilization. In addition, we participate in the State US&R program (SUS&R), and several of our members are trained FEMA US&R instructors.

As one who came from the FEMA US&R program as a task force leader, FEMA US&R WMD Working Group and Incident Support Team, I am definitely behind this program. The fire service needs to consolidate services in specialty disciplines. This is evident in incidents where US&R units/personnel are dispatched. So often, these US&R resources become a limited resource, so any effort to strengthen our mutual aid, automatic aid, and state aid agreements in specialized disciplines is a win for all departments and the citizens we serve.

The reason we maintain this service level is our community risk analysis, which dictated the level of service and capability we need. Therefore, management supports these services: Our personnel get the appropriate training and continuous in-service training, and we have the tools/equipment needed to safely mitigate the incidents to which we respond.

In the technical rescue realm, we maintain our personnel at the technician level. Currently, all personnel are at the technician level in vehicle/machinery, trench, confined space, and rope rescue. We are at an operations level for swift water rescue. We are currently in the process of providing technician-level training in structural collapse.

Craig H. Shelley, EFO, CFO, MIFireE
fire protection advisor, Advanced Fire Training Center, Saudi Aramaco Fire Protection

Response: Our department does not participate with a US&R team, but my previous department did. I was a member of FEMA US&R TF-1, consisting of FDNY, FDNY EMS, and NYPD personnel. The task force was under the guidance and overall administration of the New York State Office of Emergency Management during my tenure. This made us a state asset. In the early days of our operation, we did not have a 100-percent stand-alone cache; we used some equipment from our rescue companies and technical services warehouse. The New York City Office of Emergency Management (NYCOEM) also had oversight of the task force, which enabled the team to be an asset for additional disasters within New York City. This local oversight was necessary to coordinate the three separate entities comprising the team. The mayor of New York City and the emergency management directors of the city and state were very supportive of the team. As a state asset, portions of the team and equipment were used during a major ice storm in upstate New York; as a city asset, New York City sent portions of the team to Puerto Rico to assist with recovery and rescue efforts after a gas explosion. The city’s response capabilities were enhanced by the acquisition of equipment and the training of personnel. In addition, interagency cooperation was improved in the rescue arena. Working together to train and deploy the teams brought members of the three NYC emergency services together and allowed better communications and interoperability, which carried over into real emergencies in the city.

Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant,
Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services

Response: Our department encourages member participation with state and federal US&R teams. Members of our department have a variety of training opportunities that include local-, regional-, state-, and federal-level training.

Our department is part of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). Members operate primarily on a local or regional level, but they have been deployed or placed on standby to deploy within the state to assist at the scene of natural disasters.

Our city government supports our department members by providing them with the necessary time off to properly train and deploy when they are called. This training serves a twofold purpose. Our training allows our department to function at all levels, from local to federal. All members from the chief down to the newest members are speaking the same language. Regardless of the type of incident response, our members will be operating on the same page. Because of the training they receive, service to our residents has greatly and measurably improved.

Al Lobeto, captain,
Cedar Hammock (FL) Fire Rescue

Response: Our department is part of the Florida Urban Search & Rescue System. We are part of a three-department team that includes Longboat Key Fire Rescue and West Manatee Fire Rescue. We have 20 members and deploy with six.

Organized in 2005, our team is identified as a light technical rescue team, Team 644 (LTRT Type II), and is in region six of the Florida US&R system. The chiefs of the three departments (Randall Stulce, Cedar Hammock; Andy Price, West Manatee; and Julius Halas, Longboat Key) are very supportive of the team and the Florida US&R mission. Chief Stulce is our team manager/administrator and has personally participated in all team training, meetings, and planning. Not too many organizations can boast of that type of leadership and support.

The state of Florida funded the basic cache of equipment and the preliminary training for certification of 20 team members. This training included operations-level training for vehicle and machinery extrication, rope rescue, confined space, trench, and building collapse. Backfill and overtime monies were also funded. All Team 644 members volunteered for the team. Cedar Hammock and West Manatee members were not paid for training time or meetings. Longboat Key members were paid because of union contract stipulations. Several team members continued on to the technician level of training in one or more disciplines, which was not required or paid for by the state.

Local agencies donated our cache trailer and tow vehicle. All other training and equipment above the basic-issued cache and mandatory training were paid for by the three departments or were donated. The team has greatly improved local and area service by providing enhanced training and resource availability. Florida is fortunate to have a very comprehensive and effective US&R system. We are surrounded by every level of US&R resources (local, state, and federal) available. Florida has been very proactive and effective in implementing US&R levels because of its history of natural disasters.

Randall W. Hanifen, lieutenant,
West Chester (OH) Fire-Rescue

Response: We support the local, state-sponsored, regional, and federal level US&R teams by providing days off for training and purchasing the personal protective equipment for team members. This support, of course, has to be balanced against the department’s daily needs, such as staffing fire companies. The department, however, understands that without its participation, this resource would not exist. Ohio teams are comprised of a collaboration of personnel from many departments.

The trade-off for participating and supporting this program is the return of information to the department. Personnel who participate in these programs deliver special operations training to department personnel. Their hands-on experience with the topics results in “real-world” training. Also, the networking that takes place among team members enables our members to bring back new ideas for improving response capabilities. Another area that has paid dividends is equipment acquisition. By using equipment that may be different from that used in the department, team members can present the advantages and disadvantages of items to those purchasing equipment for the department. These personnel also gain experience in managing large-scale incidents and using the ICS. Another reason for supporting the team is the possibility that the department/community may some day need the team’s services.

Jay Woron, captain/training officer,
Middletown (CT) Fire Department

Response: Our department has three members assigned to the Connecticut Urban Search & Rescue Team (CT-TF1): Lieutenant John Ricci is a manager of Logistics, Firefighter Joseph DeAngelo is an assistant squad officer, and I am a squad officer.

Our department’s management and union representatives reached an agreement to allow the three of us to participate. We get 25 hours of compensatory time each quarter for US&R training and administrative meetings and are fully covered for any formal deployments.

This participation has allowed us to bring technician-level rescue skills back to our organization on shift and department levels. As our department’s training officer, I bring back the technician-level skills obtained in US&R training. This fall, in partnership with the Connecticut Fire Academy (CFA), we trained our entire organization to the new National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1006, Standard for Rescue Technician Professional Qualifications. Our CT-TF1 members and CFA staff trained our entire department in the core training skills acquired through US&R; there was a 100 percent pass rate. We plan to train our department in a technician-level rescue discipline each year, starting with vehicle and machinery rescue technician. Providing this level of training directly correlates with our involvement with CT-TF1.

Ross A. Baker, firefighter,
Washington Township (OH) Fire Department

Response: Our department has allowed members to be involved with the state and federal US&R programs. It has allowed personnel to go to training and has purchased the necessary gear and equipment. The involvement has benefited the department through the training members receive and bring back for our training program. We have also increased our awareness and equipment needs at the local level.

Jim Grady III, chief,
Frankfort (IL) Fire District

Response: We support and encourage participation within the local, state, and federal US&R teams by sponsoring several members from our organization as active members on our local rescue team C.A.R.T.; they are active also on our state team, which transcends to national response if called. Our local response has been enhanced in that our team members have had advanced training and received certification in many fields. This has given me as an incident commander the peace of mind in knowing that our team is well trained. In addition, and perhaps the most important aspect, is that we can recognize the scope of the situation at hand and call for additional resources, if needed, immediately.

As chief, I will continue to support the efforts of the special teams and the work done at the state and national levels to keep our members ready to respond to calls for assistance. The elected officials of our Fire District Board also support and acknowledge these efforts with their continued support.

Ed Herrmann, captain,
Boynton Beach (FL) Fire Rescue

Response: Our department’s administration has shown continued support for our Special Operations Team’s transition into the Florida’s US&R system. One of the largest hurdles we faced was the state’s mandate that each of our personnel retake nearly every technical rescue class we had taken in the past 10 years. The reasoning for this was clear from the standpoint of standardization, but the cost involved hiring a state-approved private training company, and the time personnel had to invest in retraining was significant. Some of this cost would be offset by funds the state would provide for training and the equipment cache.

To smooth out the training process, our department joined with the two other Light Technical Rescue Teams (Type 2) in our county to pool our state funding dollars for training. This has worked well not only in terms of finances and scheduling but also in helping the personnel on the three teams to get to know each other and work together when the next disaster hits our region. If it is a relatively small incident, these teams may have to handle it to completion without additional assistance. In a larger incident, these teams will have to manage the event for the hours, or possibly days, it could take for the larger state and national teams to arrive in our area. Since our county alone has approximately 1.3 million residents, these three 18-person teams could find themselves stretched to the point that being familiar with each other and having standardized training and equipment could make a significant difference in the outcome.

When we take a step back from looking at the response to headline-grabbing disasters, this departmental commitment to advanced training delivers a significant benefit. Every call to which the firefighters trained in these classes respond now has added an edge to the skills and techniques that became possible only because they were passed on by instructors who have “been there, done that.” In the end, this program labeled a “federal, state, and local partnership” has brought tremendous benefits to our citizens, and we are hoping this governmental cooperation will continue long into the future.

Ed Federkeil, battalion chief,
Broward Sheriff (FL) Fire Rescue

Response: Our department supports all areas of special operations. We have dedicated haz mat and technical rescue teams that are also recognized state assets that can be deployed within the southeast region of the state. In addition to local and regional deployments, the department has always supported our members participating on federal US&R teams. Many of our department’s Special Operations Command (SOC) personnel serve in various positions on Florida Task Force 2.

Our members get the time off they need for federal deployments and training exercises as long as it doesn’t deplete our ability to respond on a local level. Staffing levels dictate how many members can go out the door on a deployment.

The major benefit to the department is the added training and experience our members receive from being a part of a federal US&R team. The experience our members receive on state and federal deployments is invaluable and enhances our capabilities on a local level. This cooperative effort benefits not only our members but also the people we serve.

Rick Lasky, chief,
Lewisville (TX) Fire Department

Response: We have department members who work within the US&R response system, and the department and the city support their involvement. We take every step possible to ensure that participating department members get the time off to respond to an event. We are extremely fortunate in Texas to have Texas Task Force 1. The US&R concept works because it’s made up of people with the widest array of talents and because it has the support of progressive-thinking fire department administrators and local, state, and federal government officials.

P.D. Hoyle, lieutenant,
Portsmouth (VA) Fire, Rescue & Emergency Services

Response: After several years of nonparticipation, our department recently had two personnel selected for US&R Task Force 2 (TF-2) located in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Our department began focusing heavily on our ability to provide technical rescue services to our community over the past few years, and we frequently train and drill with other departments in the area to develop and maintain proficiency. Many of the personnel we train with are represented on US&R TF-2, so having our own personnel selected as team members seemed to be a natural progression. Our department supports participation on the team through aggressive training, locally and with other departments represented on the team. We host one of the quarterly technical rescue drills each year for surrounding departments and attend those hosted by other departments. Although our team members have yet to deploy with TF-2, we are ready to support the deployment of those members. Additionally, we provide time for them to attend TF-2 training and drills so they can meet their obligations. Our department is the designated rescue resource on file for many of the industries within our city. Our ability to meet these obligations is enhanced by the experience and training our personnel receive as members of TF-2.

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