CFS Press

Equipping the Engine Company
for Flood and Swiftwater Response

by Slim Ray

Last month we looked at some basics of training and organizing a department for swiftwater. This month we'll look at the nuts and bolts of equipping engine companies for flood and swiftwater response. What do you need, who needs it, how much does it cost, and where can I get it? For examples we'll look at two departments here in North Carolina. One, Charlotte, is a fairly typical big city fire department. The other, Asheville, is fairly typical of a small to medium sized department.

Charlotte Fire Department

Charlotte is North Carolina's largest city with 1.3 million people in the metro area. It has the state's largest fire department with 750 operations personnel (195 minimum staffing for 3 shifts). Charlotte has 32 stations with 33 Engine Companies, 11 Ladder Companies, 2 Rescue and 2 HAZMAT.

Engine Company:

    4 America's Cup "River Rogue" Type III/V PFDs (Orange)
    4 70 foot x 3/8 inch polypropylene rope throw bags
    4 Fox 40 whistles
    4 Clip-on flashlights
    1 County map book from consolidated mapping system
    1 Decon kit

(HAZMAT companies have this basic equipment plus a hose filler kit, plus a major decon capability. HAZMAT companies also carry a color version of the city map book with more detailed information and a 36 inch X 48 inch laminated map of each watershed.)

Ladder Companies:

    4 America's Cup "River Rogue" Type III/V PFDs (Orange)
    2 Type III PFDs for victims—marked for use
    4 Fox 40 whistles
    4 Throw bags
    4 Clip-on flashlights
    1 County map book
    1 Decon kit


    2 200 foot x ½ inch NFPA rescue rope
    4 Class II rescue harnesses
    4 Bullard Advent II rescue helmets
    Assorted rope hardware/equipment such as brake bars, figure eights, carabiners, "O" rings, rigging plates, webbing, Prusik cord, single and double sheave pulleys, ascenders, and a stokes basket.

Each ladder is equipped with two manufactured attachment points at the tip or the bucket. Ropes can be quickly attached to the aerial using carabiners rather than rigging ropes directly to the ladder sections. A harness has also been developed to speed up rigging when using the aerial as a high directional or reaching/extension tool.


    6 Swiftwater "Ranger" Rescue PFDs (yellow—Note color change)
    10 Type III PFDs for victims (including children's)
    6 Throw bags
    6 Gerber "River Shorty" knives
    6 Clip-on flashlights and strobe/flashlight combinations
    6 Blue Water sport helmets
    6 Radio plastic pouches
    6 Radio harnesses
    Assortment of neoprene wetsuits and booties for crew
    1 Rescue Rocket
    TM line deployment kit
    1 hose inflation kit
    1 LSP Cinch Collar
    1 Decon Kit
    1 Color/detailed county map book
    1 Set of 38 inch X 48 inch watershed maps
    1 6 person NRS "Scout" inflatable raft w/inflation kit

Exhaustive assortment of technical rope/rigging equipment.

Support Equipment:

    1 Zodiac 3 meter inflatable w/25 hp prop-equipped motor
    Doppler radar screen and PC access provided by Channel 36 (located in fire communications)

Asheville Fire Department

Asheville is a city of 65,000 located in the mountainous western part of the state. The Asheville Fire Department has a paid staff of 205 full-time personnel and is fairly typical of a small to medium size fire department.

Engine company:

    1 Type III/V PFD w/ signal light and knife (for driver)
    3 "Ranger" rescue PFDs with an attached signal light and knife
    4 water rescue helmets
    2 65 foot throw bags
    1 fire hose inflation kit

These companies are normally used as first response units and would not be expected to conduct in-water rescues. Each firefighter is trained to a minimum of swiftwater first responder.

Companies designated specifically as water rescue companies also carry:

    1 Type III/V PFD w/ signal light and knife (for driver)
    3 "Ranger" rescue PFDs w/ signal light, whistle, knife, & 2 carabiners
    4 water rescue helmets
    3 65 foot throw bags
    3 dry suits

Each firefighter is trained to at least swiftwater rescue technician level, and can be expected to conduct in-water rescues.

Each truck also has a "team bag" consisting of:

    1 Rescue board
    1 set of swim fins
    1 hose inflation kit
    1 Type III/V PFD
    1 Radio harness

A rigging kit consisting of:

    1 300 foot ½ inch rope
    1 200 foot ½ inc rope
    1 150 foot ½ inc rope
    1 200 foot ¼ inc rope
    anchor kit
    12 locking carabiners
    10 pieces of 15 foot X 1 inc webbing, six 6mm Prusiks
    2 Rescuescenders?

The engine companies are backstopped by Rescue 33, which has an extensive array of additional rescue equipment including motorized inflatable rescue boats.


Budgets are shrinking, but equipping a department for flood response doesn't have to break the bank. First the basics: a decent quality Type III/V PFD costs $65-80. Don't buy cheap ski vests or horsecollars, even though they are cheaper. The more specialized Type V rescue PFDs cost $150-300; water rescue helmets go for $40-75.

To give you a ballpark idea of per person costs we'll look at some equipment packages Rescue Source in California has come up with for swiftwater rescuers. You can compare these with the equipment lists above.

The "First Responder" package includes a water rescue helmet, "Ranger" rescue PFD, gloves, booties, a whistle, knife, and 70 foot throw bag. It goes for $300. The same thing with a non-rescue PFD would be about $75 less.

The "Instructor's Choice" package includes a helmet, "Ranger" rescue PFD, a wetsuit or drysuit, booties, gloves, knife, whistle, 70 foot throw bag; and river swim fins (not the same as dive fins). It will set you back about $750 for the wetsuit version and $850 if you want a dry suit.

The "Four Person Basic Rescue Cache" has enough gear for a basic four-man swiftwater rescue team, including 1 "Ranger" rescue PFD; 3 Type III/V PFDs; a Rescue Board and fins; 4 wet- or dry suits; 4 helmets; 4 sets gloves; 4 each knives, whistles, and booties; a box of light sticks; 4 headlamps and 4 flashlights; two 200 foot ropes and one 300 foot rope; plus various associated technical rope gear (pulleys, webbing, Prusiks, Rescuescenders
TM, etc.) The whole thing goes for $4500 with wetsuits and $4850 with dry suits.

Finally, don't skimp on training! All that shiny equipment is no good without real world, in water training from someone who knows what they're doing!

© Slim Ray 2000 All rights reserved
This article originally appeared in Fire-Rescue magazine

Back to CFS Press Home Page Order Information Higgins and Langley Memorial Awards About Slim Ray, Author
Swiftwater RescueSwiftwater Rescue Field GuideAnimal Rescue in Flood and Swiftwater Incidents

CFS Press 8 Pelham Road, Asheville, NC 28803
Phone 828-505-2917
Fax 828-505-1030
[email protected]