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Firefighters may respond to incidents where a structure has partially or completely collapsed, in the course of their work.

These are rare but dangerous occurrences that threaten the lives of civilians, other assisting agencies and emergency responders.

Structural collapse may occur due to:

  • explosions
  • severe weather occurrences
  • structural degradation
  • vehicle collisions with structures
  • other causes

These structural collapses may occur during either:

  • construction
  • normal occupancy
  • demolition

While some fire departments provide structural collapse responses at the operations and technician level — which allow for entry into the collapsed structure, typically known as Urban Search & Rescue (USAR) or Heavy Urban Search & Rescue (HUSAR) — this level of service is rare and typically limited to a few large urban fire departments. Most fire departments operate at the awareness level only.


A collapsed structure is hazardous because of:

  • unstable building materials
  • falling objects
  • confined spaces
  • risk of fire, electrical hazard and gas hazards

Employers should provide special training, equipment and preparation to ensure that firefighters safely carry out structural collapse rescues.

Actions for employers

Employers must:

  • provide information, instruction and supervision to protect the health and safety of the worker

Employers should:

  • maintain records of the training
  • appoint a person with adequate knowledge, training and experience to conduct the training
  • develop written procedures and other measures for the protection of the firefighter
  • provide the equipment necessary to respond to the emergency safely and effectively
  • ensure provided equipment, materials and protective devices are maintained in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations
  • develop protocols for requesting assistance from other agencies (USAR, HUSAR, etc.) who can initiate hot zone entry and search and rescue

Considerations for training

Employers should provide training to firefighters that is consistent with the department’s level of response (awareness, operations or technician).

Employers should include the following in structural collapse training:

  • scene size-up and hazard recognition
  • utility control
  • incident isolation and evacuation procedures
  • safe work practices for working around structural collapses
  • gas detection
  • fire protection and control

Training should be developed and reviewed in consultation with the joint health and safety committee or the health and safety representative, if any.

Training should be reviewed whenever there is a change in circumstances that may affect worker safety and at least once a year.

Departments that perform structural collapse rescue above the awareness level, must ensure the training, equipment and written procedures reflect the level of service.

Applicable regulations and acts

Occupational Health and Safety Act

  • clause 25(2)(a) for providing information and instruction to a worker
  • clause 25(2)(h) for taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers

Relevant standards

For minimum job performance requirements for fire service personnel who perform technical rescue operations, read NFPA 1006 – Standard for technical rescuer professional qualifications.

For levels of functional capability for efficiently and effectively conducting operations at technical search and rescue incidents, read NFPA 1670 - Standard on operations and training for technical search and rescue incidents.


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