Out-of-area Responses

Your technical team has been requested to respond to an out-of-county incident for a multiday deployment. Do you have a plan in place for this? Who needs to give permission for this to happen? How will your team members be compensated?

For out-of-area responses related to fire, many states have a regional or statewide mobilization plan that addresses deploying personnel and equipment. These plans often do not include technical rescue deployments, however. Structural collapse and flooding are common situations that often require outside agency assistance. This article will discuss responding to multiple-day, nonfire suppression deployments, and how to be prepared for the call.

Getting approval

A county or regional team will be easier to deploy as agencies requesting assistance are able to call one number to access the team. Participating agencies should have a plan prior to the incident and have an administrative structure in place to approve a deployment. Generally, this will involve communications among chief officers of each participating agency prior to deploying the team.

Multiple-hour, single-day deployments are the norm and are usually done using mutual-aid and automatic-aid agreements. Payment is usually discussed only in regards to replacing broken, lost, or disposable equipment. When a response extends into the next day/shift, however, overtime costs create a whole new ball game. Overtime costs must be discussed between agencies prior to a response, as the costs for a six-person team to be on the road for multiple days can be quite high. Some agencies may be required to pay portal-to-portal (24/7 timesheet costs), while others only pay for hours actually working on the incident.

Many states participate in a fire mobilization plan where departments send resources to wildland fires throughout the state for both wildland suppression and structural protection. That organizational structure could be used for coordinating rescue responses as well. The state of California, for example, does this through its Office of Emergency Services (OES). The biggest issue is reimbursement, which can be complex and should be resolved prior to an incident.

The right equipment

Find out from the agency requesting assistance what it is specifically looking for in the way of assistance. Is it technical equipment, specifically trained rescue personnel, or simply staffing to do manual labor? You do not need to be a rescue technician to use a shovel. Do you need to bring your technical rescue unit, or are you being requested to perform a specific task? If you are responding to assist with a rope rescue incident, then you likely will not need a large heavy rescue rig. What type of terrain will you need to drive over? Will you need four-wheel drive? If transferring equipment from your rescue rig to another unit, take the time to think about what you’ll need to perform the tasks. Prepackaged gear bags will help prevent leaving behind essential equipment. If you are going to a water-related incident, be sure to have sufficient PPE for all your personnel. Be prepared for a wide range of weather conditions as well. Find out ahead of time how long your team will need to be self-sufficient, and bring enough food and water to at least get you through one day so that the response has sufficient time to develop an infrastructure to support responders.

Minding your gear

When you respond to a rescue incident with other agencies, they will likely be using similar equipment. Remember: Label your gear. Unmarked carabiners and other rigging gear are like dollar bills-they belong to the person who found them. While working the landslide in Oso, Washington, my company found an unmarked prusik minding pulley and a radio in thick brush on steep terrain. Knowing what unit was operating there, we were able to return the items, but you may not be so lucky. Label your gear so that you get it back. Also, maintain a written inventory of what’s in your gear bags and what’s stored in the compartments so that anyone can follow up and verify that all the equipment is back in place. Don’t leave without checking that you have all your gear. Report any broken or lost equipment prior to leaving the incident.

Packing the rig

Unlike for an automatic- or mutual-aid deployment, travel times to these incidents will likely be longer. Take the time to ensure that you have all the equipment and personnel needed prior to hitting the road. Most fire and rescue apparatus are not configured to hold the additional equipment needed to support a multiday deployment, and often this means that gear bags are carried in pump wells, on top of apparatus, and in already crowded compartments. Make sure that all equipment is secure. Helmets and gear bags have a nasty habit of falling off apparatus-make sure it’s not yours.

Keeping track of it all

As the team leader, rescue group supervisor (RGS), or task force leader, you’ll need to keep track of your personnel, mileage traveled, equipment used, and assignments. If you don’t already have a program in place for this, get a notebook that will fit in your pocket and use it to record information such as the start and end of each work period and who you checked in and out with. Make sure to keep all receipts.

The first 24 hours of an incident will be a dynamic period. In some cases, you will receive instructions from the dispatch center relayed from the incident commander (IC), and you may not meet face-to-face with local responders for the first portion of the day, as your route of approach may allow you access to part of the incident that is inaccessible to local responders. As the incident grows and there is a response infrastructure, check in with the incident management team. Make sure that they know where you are and what you are doing. Once, while on a wildland deployment, my company had spent the night protecting homes in a rural, forested area when a chief officer drove up and commented, “We didn’t know anyone was up here.” Had the fire shifted, this would not have had a good ending. Make sure that someone knows where you are and you check in on a regular basis.

On Arrival

Be ready to work at the incident on arrival. There is a difference between arriving at an incident within a few hours of the initial alarm and several days later. If you are arriving within a few hours, arrive ready to work. If you are arriving days after the initial response, you should have a pretty good idea of what you will be doing. Rather than inundate the command post with your entire crew, check in with the IC on your own or with one other team member, then brief all your other members. Prior to deploying, gather the following information:

  •  Tactical objectives.
  •  Radio frequency.
  •  Name and designation for supervisor.
  •  Emergency action plan for injured members.
  •  Emergency signals (air horns, sirens, etc.).
  •  Appropriate PPE.
  •  Safety hazards.
  •  Site map if possible.

Find out if there is an equipment cache or if you will need to provide all technical rescue equipment for your team members. Park your apparatus so that you can access equipment as needed. If you will not be able to access your vehicle, take the time to determine the best way to move your gear-a stokes basket with a litter wheel may be appropriate. Don’t forget to bring a medical kit to treat your members. Assigning specific team members to particular areas of responsibility will ensure you have what you need and are able to complete tasks as they come up. At a minimum, assign the following positions:

  •  Medical: Responsible for initial treatment of an injured team member and for ensuring that there is a medical kit with the team.
  •  Equipment: Responsible to ensure that the team has all the gear that they will need to perform the assigned tasks prior to leaving the rig.
  •  Safety: Responsible to ensure that all team members have appropriate PPE and that they use it. With a small team, this may be an RGS or team leader responsibility.

Communications issues

Your portable radios may not have the same frequency as those working the incident. The IC will need to provide your team with at least one radio with the appropriate tactical channels on it. Write down what you need to know in regards to the tactical channels and how to change them, as some of the new radios can be complicated with multiple banks. Though your team may only have one local radio, all of your team members should have a portable radio and be able to communicate with each other. The team leader, RGS, or task force leader will have the local radio and can communicate with the IC or division supervisor.

Before you leave the scene

Prior to leaving the scene, conduct a debriefing or tailboard critique. This is an opportunity for participants to hear what happened and any issues that occurred. It may only be a five- or 10-minute session, but it is an opportunity to bring closure. The incident can then be followed up with a post incident analysis report, but an on-scene debriefing may be the only opportunity to have all the participants on site at the same time. Take advantage of it. This is also an opportunity to read the members of your team and see how they’re doing mentally and physically. A follow up call to them or their supervisors or contacting the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) team may be in order over the next few weeks.

This is not your incident

You’ve been called in to assist at someone else’s incident. Your primary responsibility is to ensure that your personnel go home at the end of the incident. In the end, it all goes back to what we learned playing in the sandbox: Share toys. Play nice with others. Many years ago, a colleague once related an out-of-area deployment to visiting your in-laws: “You smile and do whatever they tell you.” It’s something to consider.

Responding to out-of-area incidents can be a challenge: You are working in an unfamiliar area with unfamiliar personnel and equipment for a long duration. Prior to the response, think about what you can do to best prepare you and your personnel.

Sidebar – Outside Agency Rescue Deployment Checklist:

  •  Agency requesting assistance
  •  Name and phone number for point of contact
  •  Type of incident response
  •  Incident location
  •  Incident response number/deployment number/mobilization number
  •  Specific personnel or equipment needed-e.g., rope rescue technicians, shoring equipment, apparatus needs
  •  Radio frequency information to communicate with the IC
  •  Length of time that the resources are being requested
  •  Overnight lodging logistics (provided, or do you need to bring tents and sleeping bags?)
  •  Physical address or geographical description of the location where arriving units should check in

Sidebar – Deployment Personnel Information:
– Name: ________________________________
– Address: ______________________________
– Cell #: ________________________________
– DOB: _________________________________
– Rank/Position: _________________________
– Department: ___________________________
– Department Contact #: ___________________
– Emergency Contact Name and #: __________
– Medical Allergies: ______________________

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