Regardless of staffing, our primary reason for existence is to find and help those who cannot help themselves… to save lives. We accomplish this by entering IDLH atmospheres, locating and removing victims. Victims are not the only reason why we search buildings. A well-trained and experienced crew should enter the building ahead of the hose line, search for and find the fire. By searching for victims AND fire, we can increase the speed of fire attack and extinguishment which creates a safer fireground for everyone.
Some of the most basic ways to search a building are the Directional Search (Left-hand/Right-hand), Oriented Search and Vent-Enter-Search. Each of these methods demand an effective size-up of the building and fire conditions as well as consideration of the staffing, training and experience of your crew.
Here are some examples:
A two firefighter search crew could easily search an 1800 sqft, 1-story single-family dwelling (SFD) with two to four bedrooms using a Directional Search.
However, 3 firefighters, or multiple search crews, may be needed to accomplish an oriented search in a 4000 sqft SFD five or more bedrooms.
Now let’s consider a 2000 sqft, 2-story SFD with heavy fire on the first floor. In this house, the three or four bedrooms are most likely upstairs and passing the fire poses a risk for the search crew. Also, because one or two handlines may be in operation, the first floor, and front door, may be crowded. Entering a crowded first floor and having to find the stairs can consume a lot of time and air. In this case, a vent-enter-search (VES) method may be ideal, particularly with limited resources. It will allow you to search the “high risk” areas while minimizing time, exposure to the IDLH atmosphere and air consumption. Now let’s talk about some important factors for completing each type of search.
- Most basic search technique
- Easily performed by two person search crew
- Members search together either in line or spread out side by side, but almost always within reach
- Accountability and progress are easily tracked by IC
- Completed one room at a time
- Very quick and effective (if trained)
- Ideal for search crews of 3 or more, but can be performed by 2 firefighters
- One person stays at the doorway or on the wall (stays oriented) while the other member(s) search rooms or general areas
- Allows the middle of larger rooms/areas to be searched
- Very beneficial in today’s “open” floor plan homes and commercial occupancies
- Members stay in voice or visual contact
- Members can conserve air by alternating who searches and who is oriented
- With 3-firefighter crew, two members can search different rooms (within voice and/or visual contact of oriented member) enabling a faster search and less time in the building.
- VES is started from the exterior of the building, with search initiated from windows/ ladders
- Member(s) carry search tools AND an appropriate ground ladder(s)
- Systematic room-to-room search
- Member(s) ladders and vents a window, proceeds to the doorway, sweeps the hallway around the door, shuts the door, searches the room, exits the room via ladder and moves the next window
- Great way for crew of limited manpower to access high risk areas quickly
- If the outside or search crew firefighters each carry a couple of ladders, they can ladder as they go, leaving the ladders at the searched rooms for means of egress for interior crews.
Searching is one of the most important tactics on the fireground. If done safely and aggressively, it can be one of the most beneficial tactics performed in terms of stabilizing the incident and protecting life. However, only a well-trained crew can accomplish an efficient search. There is no “one size fits all” search method. The ability to be flexible without losing speed or effectiveness may be the difference between life and death.
“VES Size up” from www.vententersearch.com (go to the November 22,2008 post from Rick Van Sant to get the first hand account of the situation)
“Three Words that Can Save lives- vent-enter-search”, Mike Clumpner
“Vent Enter Search” from Fire engineering TV with DC Anthony Avillo and Frank Ricci