A fire truck is a heavy vehicle equipped with specialized systems supporting fire suppression efforts. Examples of these systems include water tanks, pumps, aerial ladders, tower platforms, hydraulic rescue tools, and generators. Most types of fire trucks also transport fire fighting crews. Interestingly, firefighters rarely refer to these vehicles as fire trucks. Instead, we use the terms apparatus or unit when communicating with other fire fighters. A fire engine is one type of fire apparatus and refers to a vehicle that can pump water and is equipped with a water tank and hose lines. A rescue squad is a specialty unit equipped with high power electric generators, winch systems and hydraulic rescue tools. A crew of fire fighters staffs both types of units.
Fire fighting units operate in a semi-military organization. Each fire apparatus that responds has a functional responsibility and a crew. By convention, these units are called companies. A fire engine is called an Engine Company and rescue squad is called a Rescue Company. Likewise, the aerial ladder truck is called a Truck Company. The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad operates as Rescue Company One in Montgomery County.
The rescue squad is tightly integrated with the county’s fire and rescue department. All rescue squad personnel are trained to the same standard as other fire fighters certified to serve in Montgomery County. When 911 operators in Montgomery County receive a call for help, a central database with a list of the closest fire stations is used to select the closest resources for engine companies (the fire engine), truck companies (aerial ladders or platforms), rescue squads, ambulances and chiefs. When Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad is the closest station with a rescue squad, typically the case in the Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Glen Echo and Cabin John areas, the 911 center selects our rescue squad to respond. At an emergency incident, the rescue squad operates as a fire fighting unit under the supervision of the chief who is in charge. Supervisors may be chiefs from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad, other volunteer fire departments or chiefs employed by Montgomery County. When working, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad fire fighters follow standard operating procedures that apply to all fire fighters serving Montgomery County.
Maryland law requires patient transport be performed by approved basic life support (BLS) or advanced life support (ALS) transport units equipped with safely mounted cots. Fire trucks have transported patients in extreme circumstances, with a Montgomery County engine recently transporting a patient in cardiac arrest during a snowstorm when roads were blocked.
There are several reasons why the Montgomery County 911 center sends a rescue squad truck to assist an ambulance during a medical incident. All rescue squad crewmembers are EMTs or paramedics. The most common reason the rescue squad truck is dispatched with an ambulance or paramedic unit is to provide additional EMTs to assist with patient treatment. Another common reason is when a transport unit is not as close as the rescue squad truck. Finally, the truck is summoned whenever the tools or technical rescue expertise of the crew is required.
The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad typically staffs the rescue squad with three to six fire fighters.
Each member of the rescue squad truck crew begins by completing training as an EMT. Once licensed by the State of Maryland to provide patient care, the member takes a formal program of fire fighting classes from the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute. These classes adhere to national fire fighter education curriculum standards established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The unit officer, supervisor of the rescue squad crew, must take additional training courses that include technical rescue, fire fighting and tactics, pumps and hydraulics and aerial ladder operations. The driver, as well, must take specialized training to operate the vehicle. All members participate in on-going refresher training to remain current on tools and practices.
If you are in a crash that damages your vehicle so much that you cannot exit, the vehicle may be very unstable and hazardous. If the vehicle is not on fire, you should remain in the vehicle. The rescue squad crew will immediately secure the car so that it does not move. They will then assess the safest and fastest approach to free you from the vehicle. Do not move injured patients.
Do not turn any electric light or appliance on. Immediately leave the house and, once you are out of the house, call 911 to report the problem.
Carbon monoxide alarms are very important early warning systems that save lives. However, these systems have expiration dates and can malfunction. Systems operated on battery power and may fail when battery power becomes low. Replace the units when they become obsolete and replace batteries when you replace the smoke detector batteries. To be sure, Montgomery County has experienced several cases where family members became ill or perished because of high carbon monoxide levels. If the alarm goes off for an unknown reason, leave the house, call 911 and report the problem. Be sure to inform the 911 center if someone is feeling ill with headaches or not behaving with normal mental alertness. The closest fire truck will be sent to investigate. All fire trucks, including the rescue squad, carry specialized meters to test for gases and carbon monoxide. The crew will use this meter to carefully check for a problem. If a problem is found, the crew will ensure the problem is corrected safely.
Our fire fighters draw great satisfaction working with the physical and technical challenges that come with fire and rescue efforts. In many cases, these members would prefer to serve on the rescue squad truck instead of on the ambulance units. However, all fire fighters at the rescue squad are experienced licensed EMTs. It is very difficult to develop this expertise if you do desire to deliver emergency medical care.
It takes approximately 18 months to become an EMT. Training to serve at a basic level of operational expertise on the rescue squad takes another 12 months. Click here for more information on becoming a volunteer fire fighter / EMT.