Date last updated: Tuesday, September 13, 10:32 PST

The Rehab Training Center
with Jeffrey Lindsey

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Disaster rehab for firefighters requires planning

This past month was a month of proportional magnitude, no pun intended, with an earthquake and a category one hurricane both taking place within the span of a week in late August.

Disaster events are occurring more than ever before across the country, at least it seems. No part of the country is immune from a natural or man-made event.

Therefore, every fire department needs to plan for any event that has potential impact on their community.

Waiting until the event occurs is not the time to prepare or plan. By then it is too late.

So what do major events have to do with rehab? So often we consider rehab for our major incidents such as fires, hazmats, and other incidents that may last a few hours.

However, disaster events can last for days or even weeks. Therefore, disasters can take on a different perspective when we think of rehab.

Rehab during disaster events should be considered similar to other major events except it plays out to a much longer duration.

Disasters can be categorized into two types — those you can prepare for such as a hurricane or flood and those you can't such as a tornado or earthquake.

You should be thinking of not only getting your equipment and facilities prepped, but also your personnel for the disasters you can prepare for.

Planning is the key to a successful event. Any non-critical events, meetings or training should be cancelled to provide crews with down time and to get as much rest as possible prior to the event.

An event that you do not have advance warning for does not allow any prep time for personnel and you cannot do anything necessarily to have personnel adequately rested.

However, if you continue to practice good rehab procedures, they will at least be ready for the immediate response.

Your plan should include increasing staff to handle the incidents along with creating a schedule to give personnel a break from working the incident.

Consider doing a 24 hour on, 24 hour off schedule for personnel or 12 hour on, 12 hour off type of schedule.

This type of schedule will allow personnel to get rest without having them work extended periods of time.

Depending on the situation, consideration to facilities such as local hotels should be considered for personnel to stay and rest during their off time.

Having personnel stay at the fire station or driving back and forth to home may not provide the necessary rest needed, especially if personnel have long drive times to the station.

This is similar to an incident scene where rehab is placed in a location away from the incident so personnel are focusing on rest and rehab and not on being in the incident.

Allowing personnel to work for extended periods of time greater than 24 hours is not a good practice regardless of the event.

Rehab including rest is critical for the health and well-being of your personnel.

In addition to rest, personnel need to be adequately hydrated and provided with nutritional balanced meals and snacks. This can be difficult depending on the event.

Granted, when it comes to a disaster event, conditions are not ideal; however, it is important to provide the best rehab possible for the most important resource of any fire and EMS agency and that is our personnel.

At your next training event, incorporate the role of rehab at a disaster event. Explain the purpose behind getting adequate rest and reasons for maintaining a shift structure to give personnel the best possible physical and mental rehab.

Discuss the importance of proper hydration and nutrition. In addition, discuss the importance of demobilizing the event with the proper consideration for the individual's physical and mental well-being.

Dr. Lindsey is the coordinator/lecturer for the University of Florida Fire and Emergency Service degree program. He serves as the chief learning officer for Health Safety Institute. He retired from the fire service as chief of Estero (Fla.) Fire Rescue. Dr. Lindsey earned his doctorate and master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from USF. He holds a bachelor’s degree in fire and safety engineering from the University of Cincinnati. He also has earned his chief fire officer designation and is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program. He was the 2011 recipient of the James O Page Leadership Award from IAFC. You can contact Jeffrey at

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