DFES - Department of Fire and Emergency Services
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Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services assists the Western Australia Police in Urban Search and Rescue (USAR). DFES has the capability to rescue casualties trapped by buildings, landfalls or slippages which collapse as a result of industrial accidents, explosions, natural disasters and terrorist activity.

Additional funding in recent years has allowed significant advances to be made in the Western Australia’s preparedness, response and recovery capabilities for USAR.

Career Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS), Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service (VFRS), State Emergency Service (SES), Volunteer Fire Brigades (VFS) and multi-skilled Volunteer Emergency Service (VES) units provide this service throughout the State.


USAR responders are trained to three levels:

  • Category 1 (CAT 1), which qualifies the responder to provide initial response and conduct above ground searches,
  • Category 2 (CAT 2), which qualifies the responder as a technician with the competencies to conduct underground searches, and;
  • Category 3 (CAT 3, which qualifies the responder to lead a USAR taskforce.

To date, all career firefighters are trained to CAT 1 and there are several CAT 2 technicians available to respond to incidents requiring the specialised skills of the USAR Task Force.

Western Australia now has a qualified volunteer USAR Canine Team to enhance our operational capacity and is the only State with an integrated canine team in its USAR Task Force.

USAR Canine teams are skilled in the efficient and speedy location of trapped live victims due to building collapses. The canines are trained to work independently of their Canine Handler on unstable surfaces, in potentially dangerous situations, to find and indicate on the strongest source of live human scent, even if the unseen victim is metres below the ground. Canine teams are an essential element of a USAR Task Force, particularly in the critical period after an incident has first occurred.

The USAR team recently developed an Australian-first training resource kit for USAR Canine Teams. Our dedicated volunteer canine handlers, along with support personnel, train every Sunday to maintain our certified operational capability. Canine Unit Recruitment

Canine Unit Recruitment

Our USAR Canine capability is supplied by a team of volunteers integrated into the USAR Task Force. We are regularly recruiting and are looking for handlers, trainers and support personnel who are keen to be involved in rescue work as part of a committed team.

If you are interested in taking a look at the roles on offer and the recruitment process, follow the below links for more information, and contact the USAR K9 WA Facebook Facebook page for any questions and information on how to apply.

USAR K9 on Facebook

National Support

During the 2011 Queensland floods, four DFES Fire and Rescue Service USAR technicians worked as part of a national taskforce conducting damage assessment and recovery operations in the Brisbane area, where there was significant damage to residential, industrial and commercial structures.

The USAR taskforce performed rapid damage assessments, assessed water levels and structural damage, identified hazards and prioritised tasks in a difficult environment of escalating odours from hazardous materials, putrefying foods and the thick layer of mud left by receding floodwaters.

Following the magnitude 6.3 earthquake that occurred in Christchurch on 22 February 2011, six DFES USAR specialists departed on 4 March 2011 for a 12 day deployment. They joined USAR teams from New Zealand, Australia, USA, UK, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and China in Christchurch.

Working alongside structural engineers, seismologists, geologists, construction workers, crane and digger operators and demolition experts, the USAR team undertook a range of activities while maintaining a state of preparedness to respond to further aftershocks.

They searched for missing persons, conducted primary and secondary risk assessments of buildings prior to re-habitation, undertook building marking, cordoning and demarcation of identified collapse zones and assisted police to retrieve personal belongings from damaged buildings.

As part of the first Australian multi-jurisdictional USAR task force deployed overseas, DFES team members gained valuable operational experience in a major disaster as well as establishing and extending important ‘special risk’ networks across national and international jurisdictions.

International Support

The relationship between DFES and the Singapore Civil Defence Force was consolidated further through:

  • continued mutual training and professional development exchange opportunities – six career firefighters visited Singapore in December 2006 to undertake USAR CAT2 training.
  • exchange of information and ideas in regard to operational procedures, research and development, equipment and training simulations.

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