UK government updates COVID-19 guidance for SAR responders

Search and Rescue vessel. Credit: HASENPUSCH. DIETMAR

The UK government has revised search and rescue (SAR) practices during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce the risk of infection to emergency responders.  

In the amendment to the UK Search and Rescue (SAR) framework it is noted that some people do not show COVID-19 symptoms and so until further notice SAR responders should assume all casualties have the potential to present a risk of transmission to the rescuer.

When cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is required only employ the use of chest compressions. The nose and mouth of a casualty must be covered with a mask or cloth, for example a balaclava or dressing laid over face. The guidance warns that airways, bag and mask, or face masks should not be ultilised as this can potentially increase risk of transmission due to aerosolising of the virus [dispersing fluid from the patient into the air].

If a casualty is showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and the situation is stable, SAR responders should control the scene and keep at a distance until the specialist responders arrive, these include; ambulance, ambulance hazard area response teams or special operations response team.

The guidance specifies how SAR responders can ‘control the scene’ by placing the symptomatic person in a safe, well ventilated place away from others. If there is not a separate room available, responders should ask others who are not involved in providing assistance to stay at least two metres away from the individual. Enclosed shelters and bivy tents [lightweight, emergency shelters] should not be used for casualties.

The guidance states that the number of rescue personnel who have contact with the symptomatic individual should be limited, and if possible, it is advised to stay upwind of the casualty.

Standard decontamination protocols should be followed after any contact with casualties.  Foul/wet weather clothing must be washed down or cleaned after contact with a suspected casualty and workwear and overalls must be hot washed with detergent following the manufacturers guidance.

Where possible unused equipment must be kept at least two metres and upwind from casualties until required, for example; stretcher, first aid kit, technical rescue equipment, which will help to avoid unnecessary potential contamination.

As well as casualty care and rescue equipment, laminated maps, operations guides and other equipment such as radios, compasses, and binoculars must also be cleaned if used.

For the full guidance for SAR responder and rescuers, click here.

For more information regard new CPR techniques and face covering, click here.

For more information on aerosol generating procedures, click here.