About Operational Support
Around the World
The concept of 'Operational Support' (previously known as Fire Police) has existed in the international arena for more than 150 years. Wikipedia notes that New Jersey State code has supported Fire Support in their duties since as early as the 1850s. Brigades in the United States and in Europe operate Fire Support in various ways. Their existance seems to depend very much on local Fire Service administration and also relates to the availability, and efficiency, of the local Constabulary.
In New Zealand
Fire Support (formerly Fire Police have existed in various forms for nearly as long as organised firefighting services in New Zealand.
The earliest record of Fire Support activity in NZ we are aware of is in the mid 1930s, in Auckland. After a substantial fire in the Central Business District, Firefighting resources were stretched and the Police were not available in sufficient strength to act against major looting of evacuated buildings. The Chief of the Fire Brigades was forced to call in Naval Personnel from Devonport who arrived with Bayonets Fixed.
Shortly thereafter a Fire Support Unit was formed in Auckland, mainly utilising former Firefighters and other volunteers. They were tasked to assist with Scene Security and Crowd Safety at major incidents.
Fire Support gain their authority through legislation; currently the Fire Service Act 1975
Section 28 of the Act defines the 'functions, duties and powers of a Chief Fire Officer' and is the legal justification for most of what the New Zealand Fire Service's rights are under law.
Fire Support, as members of the New Zealand Fire Service, gain all the powers held by the Chief Fire Officer (as delegated), as per Section 28 of the Act. These powers are quite substantial, and provide sufficient powers to take all actions required in the interests of public safety during a Fire or Other Emergency.
Role of Fire Support
The role of Fire Support tends to vary a little depending on where you are - the needs typically being governed by local circumstance. Fire Support are a an 'Operational Support' facility governed by the Fire Service under Section 28 of the Act.
Fire Brigades can use volunteer non-firefighters for a variety of tasks, and the role that Fire Support fill is usually a combination of the tasks as defined by NZFS.
Fire Support traditionally carry out tasks often required in support of the Fire Brigade, without being directly involved in extinguishing a fire or dealing with another emergency that the Fire Service have been called to attend.
Typical Duties can include:
Traffic Control and Points Duties
Fire and other Emergencies almost always require some form of traffic management. Fire Appliances are not small vehicles and simply having one parked outside a building may create a Traffic Hazard. Fire Support often called upon to manage a traffic situation - Shunts, Diversions and Points Duty are used to keep traffic flowing as well as possible and reduce impact on the public at large.
Crowd Control & Scene Safety
The Fire Service obviously have safety as a very high priority. Safety of the Fire Crews, other emergency services personnel and the public is usually an area of responsibility for Fire Support - Cordons, Scene Protection and of course Traffic related issues being the major areas involved.
There is often a need to set up portable lighting equipment at an emergency scene. Fire Support can be utilised in this role, leaving qualified Firefighting personnel free to concentrate on their other duties for which they are trained.
All NZFS Personnel are trained in emergency First Aid as a matter of course. Beyond that, though, in some regions the local Fire Brigade provide a first-response (or co-response) service in support of the local Ambulance service, mainly in situations where it is likely that Ambulance response would be delayed, and where that delay would be life-threatening. Co/1st-Responders are trained in first aid to a higher level than other Fire Service personnel, with training provided by the Ambulance services. This is usually the case in rural areas where professional ambulance response is often seriously delayed, and is a case-by-case arrangement via a Memorandum of Understanding between NZFS and the Ambulance service concerned.
Salvage is the term given to the art of saving property from Fire, Smoke and Water Damage that tends to go hand-in-hand with Firefighting. Being a non-firefighting task, Fire Support may be trained to assist in the removal or relocation of personal property, as well as covering items of furniture, appliances etc with Salvage Sheets if they cannot easily be removed.
Emergency Logistics & CIMS roles
Fire Support may be trained in any combination of the below, depending on local needs. Because of the training and abilities of the Fire Support and the strong relationship between the NZ Fire Service and the NZ Police, they are often called upon by the Police to provide assistance.
Communications and Logistics-related tasks
These can include personnel involvement at all areas of an incident including the Incident Command Post (ICP).
Whilst not a primary function of Fire Support, usually basic training in this area is provided in order that members are prepared to assist as required in an emergency.
A 'paddling pool' type arrangement put together in a hurry with Ladders, Poles, Sheets and Rope, used for various cooling purposes such as Gas Cylinders which have been exposed to fire. They are also used as a water store in areas without a reticulated supply, being filled from nearby streams and rivers. Fire Support may be involved both in the creation of a Portable Dam and in the manning of it - ensuring it remains full of water.
Fire Support are often playing the role of 'Canteen' (formerly known as 'K19' in some areas). This may involve anything from cold-drinks-and-biscuits right through to a full meal at a large incident, depending on local capabilities.