The provision of technical and rescue services in the late 1990s has become more common. Even the accreditation process that many departments are exploring references the delivery of technical rescue services. For many years, organizations and individuals have been developing service systems, training, and delivery to customers based on local requirements, state guidelines, or organizational prerogatives. National technical rescue service delivery and the associated identification of specific training and organizational requirements remained in limbo until February 4, 1999.

The new NFPA 1670, Standard on Operations and Training for Technical Rescue Incidents, now provides an excellent platform that those planning on providing such services can benchmark. In addition, a national consensus standard exists that aligns training requirements, organizational planning, definitions, and operational levels of service. To complement this standard, another committee is working on NFPA 1006, Standard for Professional Competencies for Responders to Technical Rescue Incidents. That document will certainly mirror the requirements outlined in NFPA 1670 for the Technician level.

The NFPA 1670 document also incorporates the old NFPA 1470, Standard on Structural Collapse Training and Operations. The specific discipline of structural collapse is incorporated into a document addressing all technical rescue training and operations.

Like most NFPA standards, NFPA 1670 provides guidelines and general requirements an organization needs to plan for or provide technical rescue services. Additionally, the standard aligns itself operationally with current OSHA, ANSI, and other national laws. This article introduces organizations and personnel to the “guts” of the standard. Certainly, anyone involved in providing, teaching, or supervising technical rescue operations had better become intimately familiar with the document.

The standard identifies seven specific disciplines that are addressed in detail (each is considered a technical rescue discipline), provides operational levels an organization may explore, and outlines specific requirements (training levels) that must be met for each operational level. These and other components of the standard are discussed in detail later.

The standard also allows different geographical areas of the country to compare programs and service levels based on specific knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) rather than program names or descriptions.

Finally, people from the East Coast, West Coast, and Midwest can talk about levels of service based on KSAs instead of program names or descriptions. For example, programs such as Rescue Systems 1 and 2 (RS-1 and 2), Basic Emergency Rescue Technician (BERT), Emergency Response Technician (ERT), and Heavy and Tactical Rescue (HTR) may be evaluated based entirely on how they address each level of service based on KSAs, not the program name. This allows for standard-specific curriculums that mirror each other and ultimately provide the same level of KSAs for participants.

Organizations will be able to speak the same language and create a more efficient program evaluation nationally. This benefits all organizations when discussing reciprocity, cross-certification, and service levels, allowing all to use common terminology.

An example: the current Federal Emergency Management Agency`s US&R Rescue Specialist Program is being reformatted to meet the requirements and address the prerequisite knowledge required for a structural collapse technician. This service level description represents the highest level of commitment in structural collapse rescue delivery. As a result, “structural collapse technician” will mean the same thing in Virginia Beach as it does in Seattle or Boone County, Missouri.

References to specific courses that may not meet the minimum requirements are eliminated. For example, FEMA documents are eliminating the reference to Rescue Systems 1 or Equivalent, opting instead to provide specific KSAs as outlined in the 1670 standard.

Let`s examine these concepts, discussing specific issues that may affect or reaffirm what organizations are currently doing and what they plan to do in the future. We can best do this by examining key issues within the standard, addressing pitfalls that the standard might create and the difference between standard-specific curriculums and other types of courses.


Like any NFPA standard, 1670 is a consensus standard, which means that departments have no legal requirement to adhere to the standard or to restructure programs to meet the guidelines set forth within it. Almost every question about whether an organization should adhere or should have adhered to an NFPA standard is decided by a judge or a jury of your peers. Accompanying that is the delineation between “standard-specific” and “nonstandard-specific” curriculums.

Standard-specific curriculums are programs that are developed or reformatted to specifically meet the 1670 standard criteria. This course curriculum would meet or exceed all KSAs outlined in a given discipline and at a given operational service level. For example, an organization may choose to develop or retool its current trench rescue program to meet the specific requirements outlined in Awareness, Operations, and Technician. This means that an organization may or may not have to evaluate specific skills taught at a certain level and the time frames associated with providing the course to meet the KSAs outlined at a given service level.

Let`s provide a specific example to clarify the issues associated with standard-specific courses and nonstandard-specific courses. The most complex issue is that of program development and review. The Virginia Department of Fire Programs has for many years had a Heavy and Tactical Rescue program. Through a team teaching concept, this program provides technical rescue training in all of the disciplines throughout the state. Additionally, many municipal departments have adopted these standards of teaching and the associated KSAs for their specific departments. However, with the advent of NFPA 1670, Virginia must now determine if it wishes to restructure the courses to meet the NFPA 1670 guidelines for Awareness, Operations, and Technician. The current program would have to be reorganized into three specific courses, with specific time frames and KSAs taught in each module. The current program offers only Trench Rescue Awareness and Trench Rescue. While the Awareness level meets the NFPA standard requirements, the Trench Rescue program meets neither the Operations nor the Technician requirements. Instead, it blends a little of both and in some instances leaves out information that is standard-specific. For the program to become standard-specific, the organization must reevaluate the KSAs taught, the time frame used to teach them, and the process by which tasks will be taught to meet the KSAs for each module.

At this particular juncture, Virginia must decide whether it will reengineer the program to become standard-specific. Additionally, all of the other organizations and municipalities that have for years used this as a standard of training must reevaluate what Virginia does and then decide whether they wish to become NFPA-compliant. Suppose the state decides not to create standard-specific curriculums, but many of the organizations desire to become compliant. Many of the organizations will need to develop their own programs and self-certify their personnel.

Less difficult is the issue of reviewing in-house programs for KSA compliance and then making the necessary adjustments for an organization to document that its personnel are NFPA-compliant. Suppose Virginia Beach or New York City decides that it will make every effort to become compliant. In the long term, that might mean changing specific programs as described above. But in the short term, to address personnel who are already certified, it may mean simply evaluating the current level of knowledge, skills, and abilities your personnel have and filling in the gaps. Suppose that Virginia Beach looks at the structural collapse portion of the standard and decides that the affected personnel have met all the requirements of technician, except concrete breaching and breaking. It is then a simple matter of identifying those tasks necessary to meet the missing KSAs and then developing a course to meet those specific aspects and correct the deficiency.

Certainly many questions need to be addressed by an organization`s training divisions. Each organization must explore its options, examine its current programs, and develop strategies for compliance or decide that it will not provide standard-specific curriculums and get on with business. Many industrial brigades may not need to maintain standard-specific training but may need training specific to their particular environment. Each organization now has decisions to make.


This portion of the standard simply provides standardized definitions. Standardization allows a common language to apply within the standard and the professional fire/rescue community.


This outlines specific requirements that each organization must meet to provide technical rescue services effectively. While it is impossible to discuss or outline each requirement under this section, the following are key provisions that represent a level or organizational commitment and requirements to operate at technical rescue incidents safely and effectively.

•Each jurisdiction shall establish levels of capability (Awareness, Operations, Technician).

•Jurisdictions must develop standard operating procedures to address each level of service they intend to provide.

•All members shall be trained at the awareness level.

•The organization shall provide continuing education to maintain requirements based on level of capability and the requirements of the standard.

•The AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) must document all training. Documentation must be available for inspection by team members or authorized representatives.

•Organizations must conduct a hazard and risk assessment of their response area to determine the feasibility of conducting technical rescue operations. This includes identifying potential hazards and their likelihood to cause a technical rescue incident. This process must be documented, reviewed, and updated on a scheduled basis. The hazard analysis requires

1. A review of factors influencing the scope and frequency of events.

2. The identification of internal resources.

3. The identification of external resources.

4. Procedures to acquire those resources.

•Jurisdictions must develop a process for incident response planning. This should be a formal written special operations plan and must be distributed to personnel and agencies with responsibilities in the plan.

•The organization undertaking technical rescue operations must ensure that equipment commensurate with the operational capability is provided. This shall include training on all equipment.

•The AHJ shall ensure that all personnel have the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect personnel from the hazards to which they are going to be exposed. This includes all PPE that might be used including supplied air breathing apparatus (SABA) or SCBA.

•As with all operational NFPA documents, the organization undertaking technical rescue shall ensure the safety of all personnel through a variety of means to include but not be limited to the use of safety officers and the use of an incident management system.

•These sections provide guidance for organizations in evaluating current service delivery and provide a template for organizations just getting started in technical rescue. Following this process also enhances the organization`s ability to make rational and fiscally sound decisions when evaluating what operational level of capability it needs to provide. For example, during a risk and hazard assessment, an organization may discover that it has only ordinary frame and masonry structures in its response area. When all other factors are taken into account, the organization may decide that it need train only to the Operations Level for Structural Collapse to provide the necessary level of service. Certainly, it will need to train personnel to the Technician level in certain areas, but resource allocation decisions can be rationally made based on evaluation rather than just a gut feeling.


NFPA 1670 specifically addresses seven technical rescue disciplines that organizations may provide. These categories provide a wide-ranging examination of what services can be delivered and subsequently address each discipline by defining operational capability levels. The disciplines that the standard covers are

– Structural Collapse Rescue (chapter 3);

– Rope Rescue (chapter 4);

– Confined Space Rescue (chapter 5);

– Vehicle and Machinery Rescue (chapter 6);

– Water Rescue–ice, swift water, surf, and dive (chapter 7);

– Wilderness Search and Rescue (chapter 8); and

– Trench Rescue (chapter 9).

Each discipline is further divided into operational capabilities an organization can provide and that also represent career steps an individual within the organization might strive for: Awareness, Operations, and Technician, as generically defined below.

— Awareness. This is the minimum level of capability (i.e., training and equipment) for a responder who in the course of his regular duties could be called on to respond to or be the first on the scene of a technical rescue incident. This level may involve search, rescue, and recovery operations. Members of a team at this level are generally not considered rescuers. Awareness personnel may make assessments and resource decisions and perform some operations but rarely, if ever, will be involved in actual rescue operations involving entry into a technical rescue environment. This level of capability is de-signed to keep the responder alive and offer some basic skills to control and evaluate a technical rescue incident.

— Operations. This represents the capability of hazard recognition, equipment use, and techniques necessary to support and participate safely in a technical rescue incident. This level can involve search, rescue, or recovery operations, but usually operations are carried out under the supervision of Technician-level personnel. Operations-level personnel can operate as team members but are limited with regard to the actual environments in which they can operate based on their level of training.

— Technician. This level represents the capability of hazard recognition, equipment use, and techniques necessary to safely and effectively coordinate, perform, and supervise a technical rescue incident. These personnel are the most highly trained, representing the key service providers who will make up the bulk of the technical rescue team. They are capable of performing in all environments with few actual restrictions.

Organizations will need an effective blend of all these types of personnel to deliver technical rescue services effectively. Certainly, everyone in the organization is required to be trained to the Awareness level. Certain levels of personnel will need to be trained to the Operations level to provide a support and staffing pool for technical rescue operations. Finally, specialty teams will need to be made up of technicians. How an organization accomplishes this blend of personnel, training, and equipment is unique to each jurisdiction. There are certainly some excellent models available to examine, evaluate, and possibly imitate.


A hierarchical system exists with regard to operational levels of capability and, therefore, levels of training. To completely understand the requirements of each level, one must read the standard and match KSAs with a certain level of operational capabilities. These KSAs are outlined for each of the three levels of operational capabilities and are supported by explanatory appendices that provide specific technical direction regarding the interpretation of a knowledge, a skill, or an ability listed under any of the operational capabilities. For this discussion, we can equate an operational level of capability to a level of training an individual might obtain that is accomplished through the completion of the listed KSAs for each level in each discipline.

Because technical rescue requires a wide variety of skills and requires responders to cross-train in multiple disciplines, certain prerequisites must be fulfilled to reach the next highest level of training or operational capability. Just as a student works his way through levels of English or math, likewise a technical rescue student works his way up through the training levels to obtain the level of technician in any given discipline.

The attainment of each level includes specific capabilities. Progressing through the levels, the student discovers that he can operate in more complex and dangerous environments. Let`s examine three aspects of career pathing: prerequisites and where they fit in a given career path, the restrictions when operating in certain environments and at a given operational level, and a career flowchart and some definitions regarding specific prerequisites.

Career Path Prerequisites

With the exception of rope rescue, all of the other disciplines require a series of prerequisite KSAs to progress from Awareness to Operations to Technician. The rope rescue career path is much like a rope practitioner`s family tree, straight as a ponderosa pine and with no branches. Rope is actually the most fundamental skill that is required for just about every other discipline as an entry-level or baseline skill.

Let`s examine the prerequisites for obtaining Swift Water Technician (one of four specific paths that can be elected in the Water Rescue discipline). First, students must qualify as a “competent person” as defined in Section 1-3 of the standard. Next, they must complete the standard`s Water Rescue Awareness training. They must meet the requirements in sections 7-2 and 7-3.1 to 7-3.5 and the specific sections that apply to swift water operations. Finally, students must obtain Rope Rescue Operations, and they are now at the Swift Water Operations level.

Should students wish to go further, they must complete Hazardous Materials Awareness as outlined in NFPA 472, Standard for Professional Competence for Responders to Hazardous Materials Incidents–1997, and Rope Rescue Technician as outlined in the standard, followed by a completion of the water requirements for Swift Water Technician. This career step is now completed.

Operational Level Restrictions

Each level of operational capability and its prerequisite KSAs provide an organization and an individual the opportunity to become more deeply involved in any given operation. Let`s examine Confined Space Rescue and its associated career steps as an example.

At the Awareness level, personnel are expected to perform an assessment, recognize hazards, make resource decisions, keep themselves and others safe, and perhaps perform a nonentry rescue. This may mean cranking the entrant out on a tripod to which he is already attached or hooking him with a long handle tool and pulling him out of the space. It does not, however, allow Awareness personnel to make any entries or do atmospheric monitoring or other skills needed to perform an entry.

On reaching the Operations level, personnel are expected to perform at a much higher level. This includes among many things the requirement to perform detection and monitoring and to interpret results. Additionally, it includes the ability to perform actual entries into a confined space. However, the entry parameters are quite clear and place certain restrictions on Operations level personnel. At the Operations level of confined space, personnel may enter a space to perform rescue operations if it meets the following criteria:

1. The internal configuration of the space is clear and unobstructed so retrieval systems can be used for rescuers without risking entanglement.

2. The victim can be easily seen from the outside of the space`s primary access opening.

3. Rescuers can pass easily through the access/egress opening(s) with room to spare when PPE is worn as recommended by the manufacturer.

4. The space can accommodate two or more rescuers in addition to the victim.

5. All hazards in and around the space have been identified, isolated, and controlled.

While this does not address all the KSAs associated with the Operations level, the purpose is to examine what restrictions occur at certain levels. You will discover that certain operational restrictions exist at all levels below technician for every discipline (operational capability). Supported by a risk assessment, this type of information will assist organizations in determining what level of operational capability they wish to provide, how they will accomplish a given level of service.

It is imperative that organizations review and understand the limitations associated with each level or operational capability when assessing a service delivery model.

Career Path Flow Chart

The flowchart provides only baseline information as to prerequisites and requirements for each step of any operational level of capability. You must read and understand each section of the standard to get a true representation of what is required for each level. There are so many small nuances, especially in the water rescue flowchart, that they must be read carefully to be fully understood.

Additionally, some general definitions are required regarding some of the prerequisites associated with certain disciplines. I have provided a clearly definable definition for each of the specific areas.

Competent Person. One who can identify existing hazards and predictable conditions in the surroundings or in the working area that are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees and who is authorized to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.

NFPA 472, Chapter 2 outlines the actions of first responders, or what an organization might typically consider Awareness Level Training.

NFPA 472, Chapter 3 outlines the actions at the Technician level. Organizations need to review this section carefully. The requirement is quite substantial for responders. The greatest impact here is at the Operations level for Vehicle and Machinery Rescue.


NFPA 1670 offers challenges and opportunities for the fire service in the technical rescue arena, just as NFPA 472 provided so many years ago in the hazardous-materials arena. Finally, the fire and rescue services have a document that promotes common approaches and operational capabilities nationwide. This common culture/common language approach is true not just for organizations but also for practitioners, instructors, and teams.

The technical rescue document provides a method organizations can use to determine what level of service they should provide using risk assessment models. It complements the decision-making model by outlining specific operational capabilities that align with specific levels of risk and response.

Most importantly, it identifies specific operational capabilities that can now be career tracked. This promotes common terminology, common learning, and skills requirements.

This standard creates some pitfalls for organizations as well. Course development and delivery, service delivery levels, standard-specific and nonstandard-specific curriculum, organizational commitment, and systems review issues cost time and money. Certainly, these changes take time, money, personnel commitment, and an organizational value adjustment. These barriers are often the most difficult to overcome in organizational culture.

For instructors, the standard provides a clear framework from which courses and the associated KSAs can be molded and then taught. We can concurrently align specific courses with a specific operational capability, creating a system that allows someone from the West Coast to identify and meet the same standards as someone from the Midwest in any given technical rescue discipline.

NFPA 1670 opens up a new chapter for the delivery of technical rescue services across the United States, Canada, and other countries that use NFPA standards. It identifies a standard of care or template that can be described and supported. This enables organizations to manage risk and liability more effectively before and during a response in a more standardized manner and in conformance with a nationally accepted practice.

Each organization must determine for itself what it can do or what it is willing to do to develop a given level of compliance. To answer those questions, each organization must evaluate and study the standard and assess the impact it will have on its organization.

NFPA 1670 provides a national standard for the prerequisites, terms, and skills used in local trench, vehicle, and other types of rescue programs. This promotes uniform terminology and skill requirements nationwide. (Photos by author.)

CHASE N. SARGENT is a 23-year veteran of the fire and rescue service currently serving as battalion chief and paramedic with the Virginia Beach (VA) Fire Department. He was a member of the NFPA 1470 committee and is presently a member of the NFPA 1670 committee. He is a leader with the US&R VA Task Force 2, a FEMA incident support member, and an instructor with the Department of Fire Programs Heavy and Tactical Rescue Team.

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