Mark David Richards
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What Is DCWatch?
|On June 4,
2001, A Captain Edward Pearson informed me that I would be assuming the
duties of the Special Operations Lieutenant at the Fire Training Academy.
This is a position in which I feel I have the credentials and where I
could make a difference toward mitigating risk to the community, risk to
the Department, and risk during emergency operations.
Special operations was created in August 1997 to coordinate the
- Hazardous Materials Operations
- Rescue Operations (including confined space, high angle rope rescue,
water rescue, collapse rescue and vehicle rescue)
- Metro Operations
- Rail Operations
- Fireboat Operations
- Counter Terrorism Planning and Operations
- Foam Unit
Recently, infection control, wellness and occupational health officer
and special events planning officer have been merged into special
operations. As the tri-Data report stated, "the organization of the
special operations into a single section is a very positive step towards
the efficient delivery of these services." However, with the
abolishment of the Battalion Chief and Lieutenant, Special Operations
positions. the operational effectiveness and safety of the Department with
regard to these incidents has been greatly diminished. Special operations
arc inherently the rarest of incidents. yet pose the greatest danger to
emergency responders and require the highest level of technical skill and
competence to perform safely and effectively.
The probability of risk is two-pronged. It relates not only to the
chance that something undesirable might happen, but also to the probable
outcome as rated on a scale of negative consequences. The evaluation of
risk potential involves determining or estimating the likelihood that an
event will occur and the consequences that will result if it does.
Probability is generally established by studying the frequency at which
incidents have occurred in the past. The magnitude of a loss might be
predictable from past experiences both national (such as the World Trade
Center or Oklahoma City) and local (Air Florida and Metro simultaneously
and B'nai Brith anthrax incident). It is important to remember that
incidents with the most severe consequences are usually the most rare.
Therefore, when prioritizing risk management actions it is important to
remember that special operations are low frequency but high severity, with
high potential losses to the organization.
After considering the probabilities of occurrence and probable
outcomes. the next step is to prioritize the risks and decide on the areas
that need to be addressed as priorities. Generally. risks with the most
severe potential outcomes are considered ahead of risks with relatively
minor outcomes, Unfortunately, with the fiscal crisis and the misperceived
risk based on low frequency of occurrence, special operations has been
reduced to an "bare-bones" function and increased risk within
three major categories:
- Risk to the community -- community risk
- Risk to the fire department organization -- organizational
- Risk during emergency operations -- operational risk
There are two key areas of potential exposure and associated
organizational risk management techniques that should be immediately
- There is a failure to meet minimum performance requirements with
regard to Hazardous Materials Operations (Level II) and Technician
(Level Ill). The current level of training is woefully inadequate with
regard to the severity of risk posed to this jurisdiction. Minimum
performance standards along with the mandated re-certification are not
being adhered to.
- There is a failure to train all Fire and EMS to Haz-Mat Level II.
EMS personnel are as susceptible to exposure as firefighting
- Ideally, all operational personnel should be trained to Level III
standard, while reserving Level IV training to the Special Operations
- Battalion Chief and all command personnel receiving Level V
- Members of the three rescue squads have not been re-certified in
either confined space (NEPA 1006:7.1), trench (NFPA 1006:9.1) or rope
(NFPA 1006:) in over two years. Individual company commanders have
taken great initiative in field drills but there are a significant
number of personnel who have never received formalized rescue training
from within the Department. This would be resolved with the
establishment of a performance based Rescue Technician Program
compliant with NFPA 1006 and 1670 and made available to all interested
members of the Department. This would address the variable efficiency
with regard to rotation of personnel detailed to a rescue squad, in
that the training would be standardized and comprehensive.
- The rescue companies do not get the opportunity to cross-train with
each other, sharing their designated specialties. In other
jurisdictions, rescue companies are fully interchangeable, and multi-
tasked. A confined space incident can have a high-angle component as
well as the potential for structural collapse. Each rescue squad is
supposed to back each other up during technical emergency
- The D.C. Fire and EMS Structural Collapse and Confined Space
Simulator have the potential to be a world-class prop, which could be
used for revenue generating classes. It should be re-engineered and
used on a regular basis. OSHA Standard 1910.146 mandates annual
recertification on confined space. There is a mistaken belief within
the Department that Federal OSHA Standards do not apply and are not
enforceable for the District of Columbia. Any operational failure,
which would result in injury or fatality, could be potentially met
with civil action for violation of the Standard for which the
Department would be accountable.
- The rescue squads currently respond to water rescue incidents but
the training has been limited and non-recurring. Drills using the
fireboat personnel to assist in training should be conducted. National
Airport has disbanded its dive rescue team. MPD uses its team
primarily for body recovery. The options for rescue with a capsized
boat or downed aircraft in the Potomac River are greatly reduced. The
establishment of a dive rescue team should be strongly considered
within the near future.
- Communication between rescue squad captains is important and should
occur on at least a quarterly basis. There should be formal meetings
with the rescue squad captains between the Risk-Management Office
(Special Ops) and the Office of the Firefighting Deputy. Deficiency
within both the FED and SO would be addressed and hopefully
- First responding units have diminished detection and immediate
treatment capabilities for Haz-Mat and NBC terrorist attack. The
community, organizational, and operational risk is greatly increased
without the addition of MACH IV Kits, binoculars, gas and radiological
dosimeters and current DOT and Haz-Mat references.
- Rescue Squads should be equipped with laptop computers to include
the Haz-Mat software and geographic and pre-planning references.
- There are specific requirements for rescue operations mandated by
NEPA 1670 and OSHA. It is essential to be familiar with these
provisions not only from an operational perspective but also of risk
from Organizational liability. The approved handling jurisdiction
shall establish levels of operational capability needed to conduct
operations at tech rescue incidents safety and effectively based on
hazard analysis, risk assessment. training level of personnel and
availability of internal and external resources. NEPA 2-1.2 requires
general awareness training and SOP's for all first line engine and
truck companies. The Department needs to define the level of service
consistent for the awareness, operations, and technician
- The rescue squads should conduct a hazard analysis and risk
assessment of the response area and should determine the feasibility
of conducting technical rescue. Potential hazards and their likelihood
of causing an incident shall be identified. These "rescue"
inspections are mandated in NFPA 2-2 and should be concurrent with the
provisions of Order Book Article XVIII.
The current budget deficit has obviously curtailed many operational
needs and training consensus standards. However, there are
"stop-gap" measures that could be implemented before FY '02
funding becomes available.
The recently formed National Medical Strike Team is being developed and
will soon be ready for operation within the Washington Metropolitan Region
D.C. Fire and FMS was invited to participate by the COG. However, the
Department has failed to make provisions for its qualified members. This
would be an opportunity for members to bring back medical management of
multi-casualty training and experience in working with other agencies and
jurisdictions. The Region is in contention for the 2011 Olympics and a
lack of serious commitment toward technical rescue capabilities and ALS
response to hazardous materials incidents will undoubtedly hurt our
chances for this major economic opportunity for the District of Columbia.