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Relevant knowledge

To make an effective response, each fire and rescue service needs a consistent approach that forms the basis for common operational practices and supports interoperability between fire and rescue services, other emergency responders, infrastructure managers and users.

Fire and rescue service boundaries mean that different services may attend an incident. A joint approach is therefore essential. Understanding the typical hazards faced by incident commanders in these environments and adhering to the relevant control measures will ultimately lead to improved public and firefighter safety.

At an incident, the highest priority for fire and rescue services will always be the safety of the public and responders. Effective and informed action by responders can reduce hazards and help ensure the safety of the public and responders.

Large-scale incidents involving any structure during construction or in use are unusual, which makes it difficult for fire and rescue services to gain experience and test procedures, but the fundamental principles of operational response remain the same. All fire and rescue service personnel liaising with contractors or infrastructure managers should receive appropriate training in the skills and techniques required. It is also crucial that the statutory duties and limitations placed on the fire and rescue service, and those of the relevant duty holder, are examined and that those managing such projects understand this underpinning knowledge.

Although certain hazards will be common to all incidents, the environment in which they occur will vary. This is particularly the case during construction, where access and intervention will require specific strategies and procedures.

During an incident at a fully functioning structure, such as a road or rail tunnel, fire and rescue services may have the additional pressure of maintaining business continuity, especially where the incident has a significant impact and wide disruption is likely. From a fire and rescue service perspective, business continuity should be considered relative to the impact the incident has on the local community and economy. The most important consideration will always be the safety of emergency service personnel and the public.

At all incidents, it will be necessary to preserve the scene for investigation purposes. Other organisations may have to carry out their own investigations. The police, British Transport Police, Office of Road and Rail, Rail Accident Investigation Branch, as well as local agencies, will all need to be considered when dealing with certain subsurface-related incidents.

Fire and rescue services will regularly work at height at incidents, along with general day-to-day activities that require personnel to take measures to protect themselves and others from the risk of falls. Working at height may be achieved safely using a variety of equipment and techniques.

Environments that require personnel to work at height can be found above and below ground, in urban and rural areas, in natural and manmade structures, and in both operational and non-operational scenarios.

For the purpose of this guidance, above ground structures do not generally include buildings, unless the condition of the building requires the use of work at height equipment, such as when stairways and lifts have been compromised and aerial appliances, rope rescue or similar might be used to resolve the incident. Structures such as wind turbines and scaffolding will nearly always require specific work at height equipment.

Legislation clearly defines a confined space, and operating in these environments requires core and specialist skills, including techniques for working at height. Other areas that do not satisfy the specified risks for a confined space may be as challenging owing to varying degrees of difficulty in access and egress. Dealing with these environments will require similar skill sets and equipment as those for confined spaces.

Incidents involving underground structures may also require varied techniques and specialised equipment, including those needed for work at height and in confined spaces. In this guidance, underground structures may be referred to as subsurface or below ground structures, depending on the context.

All or any of the above may involve a collapsed or unstable structure, and as such could include a combination of hazards.