Objective At this moment, in the Netherlands, rescue workers are not given any specific standardized training in disaster response or disaster management.After the café fire in Volendam, the Netherlands, on New Year’s Eve 2000, around 200 rescue workers were deployed on-site. The aim of this study is to investigate the rescue workers’ experiences with regard to their level of preparation for the emergency response. Methods In 2002, 30 members of the medical and paramedical personnel were requested to participate in a structured interview, focused on education, task perception, triage and registration. Results Twenty-seven participated. Twenty-two rescue workers received previous training in emergency medicine. During the alarm phase, 11 rescue workers had a clear perception of their tasks. Twenty-four were involved in triage and injury assessment. Three rescue workers used a protocol for triage and 15 for injury assessment. Twenty-five rescue workers gave on-scene treatment and 15 used a protocol. Eight registered their findings. Conclusions Preparation for the emergency response lacked standardized procedures. The use of triage protocols was extremely poor, as was documentation of actions. Slightly more than half of the personnel followed treatment protocols. It is advisable that all rescue workers become familiar with the basic uniform principles and protocols regarding disaster management. A dedicated and standardized national disaster management course is needed for all rescue workers.