Duties of Operational Support members
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. Operational Support units are 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 Operational Support - cordons, scene protection and of course traffic related issues being the major areas involved.
Operational 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.
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, Operational 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.
There is often a need to set up portable lighting equipment at an emergency scene. Operational 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.
Whilst Operational Support don't handle the nozzle/branch/delivery end of the hose all that often, managing maze of hoses that leads from Hydrant to Pump, and Pump to Firefighter, can be quite labour intensive. Operational Support staff are usually trained to assist firefighters in this area.
Transport and Logistics
One area that Operational Support are often valuable in, is in Transport and Logistics. With appropriate training, support staff can move fire appliances and support vehicles around, either in emergency response conditions or as part of a brigade's business-as-usual requirements.
Command, Control and Communications Support
Maintaining a clear command-and-control picture is very important; the senior Fire Officers charged with responsibility for an emergency situation need clear, accurate and timely information, and to be able to get instructions out to their subordinates as quickly as possible. Operational Support staff may fill roles such as runner, radio operator or IT specialist, anywhere from the Fireground to the Regional Emergency Operations Centres found around the country.
Key is the fact that Volunteer Firefighters (including Operational Support) can bring the skills derived from their hobbies and careers to bear. With the role of Operational Support opening up volunteer fire brigade membership to a wider audience, both NZFS and our communities are able to directly benefit from the wider set of skills and experience found amongst volunteers.
Content courtesy of Mark Foster