Health and Safety Executive Conducts Extensive Review of Water Rescue Incidents
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently conducted an extensive review of water rescue incidents where Fire and Rescue Service commanders have committed crew members into water to search for and attempt the rescue and recovery of submerged casualties. Many of the incidents reviewed involve firefighters entering water whilst wearing their turnout gear or after removing their PPE altogether. Some incidents involved firefighters diving beneath the water surface in an attempt to rescue submerged casualties.
Operational discretion for unusual or unforeseeable incidents currently determines the best course of action for the methods deployed for water rescue. HSE now believe this is an outdated concept. In fact, they say as that as it’s highly likely fire crews will be called to water rescue incidents with submerged casualties, it is “no longer appropriate for crews to be committed to water” under the guidance of operational discretion.
Assessing Survivability Fundamental to Controlling Risk
To assist incident commanders in deciding the best course of action, a survivability model has been developed. The main factor considered in this model is the length of time a casualty has been submerged – in simple terms, the longer they’re in the water, the less likely it is that crews will be conducting a rescue for a live casualty. Water temperature also plays an important role in the decision-making process – the chances of survivability can increase the colder water gets. These factors should be considered when carrying out a risk assessment on-scene and shared between all emergency services and rescue organisations in attendance.
Agency Responsibility at Water Rescue
In the UK, it is the role of the Police to have responsibility for missing persons; this responsibility does not diminish in flooding or when casualties are submerged. Whilst the guidance highlighted in this update from HSE will be common knowledge to those agencies with specific water rescue expertise, we feel it’s important to point out that whilst Police co-ordinate search efforts for submerged casualties, they recognise the crucial support provided by partner agencies such as volunteer and professional swift water and flood rescue teams.
For submerged casualties specifically, HSE offer up the following criteria once proper risk assessment has been carried out:
– The rescue crew must be suitably trained and equipped to operate in the environment where the rescue is required.
– PPE should never be removed to conduct a rescue.
– Rescue should be conducted on the surface of the water. If this is not possible, rescues should be attempted using tools designed for water rescue, such as reach type devices.
The hazards found in water rescue scenarios are exacerbated when casualties have or are likely to become submerged. The most notable of these hazards is the lack of visibility of what’s beneath the water surface – debris, reeds, man hold covers, etc.; all contribute to maximising the potential danger to fire crews when conducting submerged casualty rescue and recovery.
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