The Emergency services in the UK respond to an ever increasing frequency of major flood and water rescue incidents events. If we look at the statistics we can see there were a total of 381 drowning and water-related deaths from accidents or natural causes across the UK in 2013, according to a report published by the National Water Safety Forum (NWSF). There were 260 deaths in England, 56 in Scotland, 41 in Wales and 11 in Northern Ireland. In England, the South West (53) and the South East (50) regions had the highest number of deaths. So the need for Emergency Services and support teams cannot be underestimated.
Water rescue incident management must be able to adapt from generic major emergency procedures to specialised flood rescue response. During these emergencies effective and safe operational decision-making depends upon a thorough understanding of existing water rescue procedures and an ability to work closely with partner agencies. Emergency managers need a broad set of skills to meet these challenges to ensure a high degree of operational assurance.
As a swift water rescue scene evolves, the Incident Command System (ICS) will emerge. ICS is a national protocol used for managing emergencies. The response team may be drawn from multiple agencies that do not routinely work together, and ICS is designed to give standard response and operation procedures to reduce the problems and potential for miscommunication on such incidents. All rescue operations demand vigilance with regards to safety. ICS provides that a Safety Officer be present to monitor and address all safety issues. One of these issues pertains to the incident scene.
Zones of operation
The immediate area of operations at the incident is divided into three zones of operation, “Cold”, “Warm”, and “Hot”. Certain requirements regarding training and personal protective equipment (PPE) exist for personnel operating within these three zones. The Cold Zone is considered to be anything greater than 15 feet (4.6 m) from the water’s edge. Awareness Level personnel shall approach no closer than the Cold zone. The Warm Zone begins 15 feet (4.6m) from the water’s edge, and ends at the water’s edge. Personnel operating in the Warm Zone shall be trained to the Operations Level, and must wear a properly fitted and secured personal flotation device (PFD). The Hot Zone refers to any and all activities taking place in the water. These activities shall be performed by personnel trained to the Technician Level, provided they are wearing a properly fitted and secured personal flotation device.
In order to provide for the safety of both the rescuer and victim, a low to high risk algorithm has evolved for the implementation of various rescue methods in Swift Water Rescue. Under times of stress, the implementation of this algorithm helps to prevent a rescuer from endangering himself and the victim, thus providing a sound, step by step approach when affecting a rescue. As the algorithm progresses, the danger and threat to rescuer and victim increases.
The algorithm called the Rescue Formula is, “Shout”, “Reach”, ”Throw”, “Go”, “Helo”, (this has been changed due to the increase safety of helicopter operations and the increased deaths of rescuers in boats). While it is safest to talk a victim into performing a self-rescue, there exists a substantial increase in danger once a rescuer enters the water.
“Shout” refers to the dialogue that takes place between the rescuer and victim, and includes the rescuer directing the victim in methods of self-rescue, such as swimming to shore. If unsuccessful, the rescuer will attempt to “Reach” with an object, such as a tree branch (if available), paddle (if available), or a telescopic pole to the victim, so that the victim can be pulled to safety or at least held until further rescue personnel are on the scene. “Throw” is using a bag with a floating line inside which is thrown and held on to by the causality for them to be pulled to safety. If this is unsuccessful, then “Go” is simply the rescue personnel entering the water and risking their life. It has only been the last couple of years that new innovative technology being a telescopic lightweight rescue pole has become available to “Reach” which is stopping rescuers from risking their own lives in the dangerous waters and enabling first responders to rescue at the scene saving time thus saving lives.
This rescue formula will allow all levels of water rescue teams set the limits as to where they are able to respond. From an industrial level teams will only go to “REACH AND THROW” where most emergency services will be able to commit to all levels.