Disaster Management for the Company Officer


Disaster management can be extremely challenging for the company officer. Unfortunately I have seen my share of disasters while deploying on 5 different tornadoes responses. Early on I realized that middle management becomes a very difficult place to work because of the sheer magnitude of many of these disasters. I learned a tip awhile back that really helps with lining out the responsibilities of each crew member so that we fall in line with the National Incident Management System. When you find yourself in a disaster management situation ask yourself these questions.

What's my job?

This is the first question you should ask in order to define your role in the response.

Who do I work for?

It is very important to define who you work for or who you should report to throughout the operation. This will help disseminate information through the proper channels and reduce the duplication of effort.

Who works for me?

Things will move quickly during the initial stages of a disaster operation. Find out who will be working under you to make sure you have the ability to perform personnel accountability reports and can effectively manage those assigned to work with you.

Where do I get my stuff?

Your assignment can vary greatly and each response may require equipment that is not readily available. You need to find out where to retrieve specialized equipment and how to request additional equipment.

How long do I have?

Defining your operational period will help you understand the time incident command staff believe you should be finished with your assignment. You need to report your status through the proper chain of command and if additional time is needed let your supervisor know what is going on.

In the video below I discuss these topics and how to use the above 5 questions to help you get organized during a disaster response.


Introduction to Drone Operations


Drone operations have gained a lot of popularity in the last few years for firefighters and emergency responders. They offer tremendous value for search and rescue operations, hazardous materials responses, and even structural firefighting. In this Introduction to Drone Operations we will go over the three primary categories of flying a drone. These categories are provided by the FAA and define the flight you will be conducting. We will also go over the registration process so you can get your drone properly registered.

Categories of Flight

In order to conduct drone operations you need to define your flight operations. The most common categories of flights for drones are listed below:

  • Recreational
  • Commercial
  • Public

In the video below we explain these categories of flight and how they are defined.

Register Your Drone

Any drone that is between .55 pounds and 55 pounds must be registered with the FAA. If you are considering performing commercial operations or public operations you must register the drone as a commercial drone. You cannot commercially or publicly operate a drone with a recreational registration number. I explain more in the video below. You can CLICK HERE to go to the registration site for your drone.


Scott Sight - FDIC 2016


Scott released it's newest innovation at FDIC 2016, the Scott Sight. We had a great opportunity to check out this brand new device and from what we have seen so far the future of thermal imaging is very bright. Immediately the very first question firefighters ask is "How much does it cost?" knowing that this technology must be out of reach. However, Scott shocked most firefighters when they announced the list price on the entire system (Mask and Imager) would be around $1,875. They were selling the Scott Sight system, as a show special, at FDIC for less than $1000. We were very fortunate to meet with a very well educated representative from Scott who explained many intricate details behind the product's success. I wanted to break down a few of the key discussion points to help all of you find the answers to the questions you may have. We have provided two videos for you to check out below followed by our breakdown of the key questions.

The Scott Sight


Our live Periscope Broadcast from FDIC 2016


How much does it weigh?

The Scott Sight reportedly weighs just 4 ounces. When we think about the weight of accessories on the face piece we generally do not want any extra weight than necessary. This system is very light considering the value of having an in-mask thermal imaging system. You also have to realize the imager itself rides just in front of your ear. This places the imager in a really good center of gravity point and does not feel like it pulls the face piece down like some of the other accessories.

How good is the image?

The image is surprisingly good considering how small the display actually is. We were told the system actually delivers an image that represents a distance of about 12 feet away. So, you would think that firefighters wearing glasses may struggle seeing the image when they actually can see the image fairly clearly because the focal point is so far away. The display itself rides on a hinge system just above the nose cone and is adjustable up and down using a small tool. This lets you line the display up to each firefighter's personal preference.

What kind of batteries does it use?

Right now the system uses standard AAA batteries but I could see this turning into a rechargeable system in the future. We were told they were seeing close to 4 hour run times during FDIC.

How do you clean the Scott Sight?

The entire system can be dunked into a cleaning solution. However, you can actually remove the entire camera from the mask if you want to perform a better cleaning job. The lens is held in with a removable bezel which can be removed to clean the lens if you have trouble getting debris out of the small opening.

What information is on the display?

Right now you can see standard information like air and battery levels. This system could be used to send a lot more information in the future. Just think about information we can already gather like accountability info or breathing rates, etc. Basically any data we can obtain could be pushed to the face piece in the future. This opens the door to many interesting concepts.

All in all this is a really exciting system and I look forward to seeing what is in store for the future.

DJI and FLIR Imaging Video


Zenmuse XT As technology in the UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) rapidly moves forward DJI has just released its partnership with FLIR to provide thermal imaging on board their current UAS platforms. This will be a topic for many of us performing fire and SAR operations.

Check out the video below to see the features and how this system could be used.





Generation Why? - Part 2


In the last article, we discussed the often maligned generation Y(generation why?). The act of questioning methods and processes can actually advance our cause in technical rescue. This can be achieved with questioning, critical thinking, and constructive debate. In Part 2 we will explore some "why's?" that may close capability gaps or even get people's blood pressure up. We will not cover each of these issues exhaustively, but may revisit some of them in the coming months. So let's fire the first shot... Have you evaluated your rescue practices and do you understand why you are doing the things that you do?

Why do some practitioners insist on tying a safety or back-up knot in the figure-eight family and some other knots? An overhand safety in the running part of the rope over the standing part does not get actuated. It takes more time to tie the knot properly. It requires some to untie and re-tie to get the tail length correct. Strength is not added to the figure eight with a safety. I have seen people even load the safety side of the knot when tied in the middle of a rope?! Perhaps we should focus on the knot having low gain and being dressed and tied correctly.

Why does the Bowline family of knots get so beat up and ostracized by parts of the rescue community? With the addition of a Yosemite Finish, a double-overhand bend, or slight modification of the knot (double loop / high strength), the bowlines can be reliable, strong, and easy to untie.  There are so many varieties of the knot that they can be tied into multi-point anchors, tied in-line, hard-tied into a fixed rope system, and many others.



Do you use a Munter Hitch as a progress capture? Will the “Whistle Test” deter you from using this method?

Why does the Munter Hitch get such a bad rap?

Whistle test? -Perhaps not. Two-person load? –Absolutely. We catch 600-800 lb. loads all the time using the Munter Hitch. The key to success is that the operator must manage slack and plan for some type of edge friction into the system. We use one change-of-direction carabiner. As for the whistle test- what happens if your Engineer is going code-3 into a curve and let’s go of the wheel or has a heart attack? Does the whistle save your people?  Should we back-up our drivers with safety-drivers? Or maybe take two SCBAs in a fire. I like many devices and tools out there, but the Munter Hitch has no cost, can catch big loads, can act as a Progress Capture Device, and facilitate twin-tensioned systems in lowering and hauling applications.

I know everyone in US&R has cut-off saws that will allow you to cut just under 5” of depth. Have you ever heard of, or tried a ring saw?  As technology improves why has a ring saw not made it into your cache yet? You can achieve 10” of cut depth on a platform that runs on gasoline or hydraulic power.  It might really save a team a good amount of time on the dreaded step cut. On a similar note, why is your team only sporting the 27” long Petrogen Torch that comes in the US&R Ensemble but train and work cutting in confined areas such as a 36” culvert. Thirty inches of torch in a 36” of culvert is unwieldy. Why has your team not looked into the 7” Breaching Torch that Petrogen manufactures.  It has a 45-degree head rather than the 90-degree.  It might be a handy enhancement to your cache when you are tunneling through rebar like pick-up-sticks. How about- Why is the central mode of operations, in training and response, of some overland SAR teams a grid search? With training organizations like NASAR; and programs like FUNSAR, SARTECH Exams, and Managing the Lost Person Incident, there are too many better uses of resources than walking a dress-right-line in the woods. Save that for thorough secondary and tertiary searches or when a rescuer loses his flashlight or keys.  Rapid / hasty searches, hailing searches, trailing / tracking, qualified canine assets, and technical search assets are all better options and require diligent practice and training. Active searching and following a heading are day-one skills. Modern searches even use victim profiling and actuarial tables to predict traits and behavior. Have you heard about aerial drones in SAR? Let’s elevate our profession by incorporating modern and practical methods.

"Would you perform a VEIS operation if a mother was screaming her child was in the living room? If so, what constitutes untenable conditions for your dept. at a Confined Space call?"

Why are we trained to perform a Vent-Enter-Isolate-Search (VEIS) operation with a confirmed child in a working house fire, but we do not enter a confined space with a patient guppy-breathing until it is too late? Firefighters will even circumvent two-in-two-out to save a life in a fire. Permitted Confined Space: a confined space with possible mechanical hazards, low oxygen, electrical hazards, flammable atmospheres, and other such hazards. In fires these hazards are not only a possibility, but rather a certainty. In the VES operation we mitigate these with turnouts-for flash protection, SCBAs for respiratory protection, helmets and PPE for mechanical protection, and speed to reduce time in the hazard space.  So why could rescuers not use the same ensemble with the addition of PH-Paper to perform grab-and-go rescues for the guppy-breather in the confined space or even trench realm? Especially if the company officer and competent person can reason that other potential hazards seem manageable. In-and-out. Grab-and-go. Arbitrary fast turnaround.  We make OSHA exceptions on the fireground. We are trained to risk allot to save allot. The last why for us to think hard on is- Why did Special Operations stop being special? A very basic Rescue Specialist will at least be up to speed in nine areas: EMS, Hazamt, Rope, Water, Wilderness, Confined Space, Vehicle & Machinery, Trench, and Structural Collapse.  Staying on top of these can be a full time job. Trust me. So why do Chiefs and Emergency Managers seem to think anyone can do these things? They put unqualified people on specialized rescues and teams. Everyone deserves to be saved. Our customers deserve a second chance at life. The people we are sworn to protect.  Think about your family or kids- do you want the best for them? I do. Why people in high places cannot see this- I don’t know.  People have opportunities to take classes.  Virtually all 1006 rescue and 472 hazmat classes are free in my state.  There is a huge distinction between certified and qualified. I would only trust a small percentage of the students that come through our rescue programs to do the job at the level that the people we protect deserve.

Special Operations participants should be vetted, interviewed tested, refreshed annually, and mentally / physically fit for duty.  The percentage of the general population in emergency services, that can perform at this level, is small. Think -FBI HRT, Secret Service CAT, Army Rangers, Coast Guard AST swimmers, Air Force PJs, etc.   I would say somewhere in the realm of 3%, in my state, are guys I’d want responsible for my family at a technical incident. Instead team participation and training are used as political poker chips and virtual entitlement programs for the masses. It takes decision makers that have really done the job to empathize with the rescuers and the people being rescued.  The they  will tell you- “Oh I took the class. It was tough. It was hot. I know how it is. . . “ This is not so. The guy that acts like that guy would probably risk more for his next promotion than he would for a child in a raging creek. That’s no the heart of a real Special Operations rescuer. Rather, they strive to be humble, consummate, professionals. Their calling is tradecraft and a source of pride. They are courageous and daring, not recklessly so, but because of the operators next to him, on his team. Their confidence comes from years of training and experience and the knowledge that the guy next to him would risk all and do all for the team and the people we serve.

Highline Operations The last one was long, but perhaps touches all of us in this field. It is important to use the knowledge and critical thinking responsibly. You will encounter closed minds and we are obligated to honor SOPs / SOGs within our teams and departments. In closing I would like to reiterate: do not accept old ways and the status quo blindly. Take courses, books, instructors, and check the facts. Conduct equipment trials and firehouse experiments. Try new methods and put the issues in the spotlight. Continue to ask why- just do it in the right way. Quietly and humbly enjoy the wins. Take your losses on the chin and sleep well knowing that you know the answer from firsthand experience.

For a downloadable/printable pdf version of this article click here.

Are you USAR Ready?


Tornado DamageI have had the unfortunate opportunity to work several tornado incidents each with it's own set of obstacles to overcome. I have seen the overwhelming need to be personally prepared for these incidents and for you to not rely on anyone or any agency for assistance.  Whether you respond locally or are deployed on a multi-day mission, you need to be prepared. There are many must have items when you are tasked with search and rescue operations during these disasters. Many of which you can prepare ahead of time or when imminent severe weather is approaching. I put together this video awhile back and thought it might need to be re-posted due to the recent events. Share this information with your fellow rescuers, you can never be to prepared when something like this happens.

If you need help building your own response kit, check out the National Association for Search and Rescue's Pack List.  You can click here to view and print this document.  You can use this list to decide what you believe is relevant to your needs.  I can assure you that you will nearly always need: Batteries, Navigation Equipment (GPS, Lensatic Compass), Flashlights, Boots, Gloves, Helmet, Food to snack on and plenty of WATER!

Even if you believe you are going on a USAR mission, one that will have an urban landscape, it will not be easy to navigate. Urban landscapes turn into wilderness landscapes very quickly after a tornado or hurricane. You will loose road signs, landmarks, electricity and even natural features will become hard to identify in the carnage.