Search That Saves Lives

Photo by Tony Greco

By David DeStefano

To mount a successful interior attack, you must locate the seat of the fire as quickly as possible as well as have the engine company members mount an aggressive attack using the appropriate diameter and length hoseline. If the fire’s location is not obvious on arrival, first-arriving truck company members (or those assigned truck company duties) must search for it as they begin their primary search operation. Crews must undertake and continue these functions only with constant size-up of conditions and application of an appropriate risk/benefit analysis.

Begin the primary search on the fire floor by finding the seat of the fire and directing engine company members to the point of best advantage. At the same time, truck company firefighters must begin their search for victims at the point closest to the fire where viable victims may be rescued. By searching for life and fire, the truck company members are not only providing the best opportunity for victim survivability, but their actions make the fireground safer for firefighters by finding the fire’s location and enabling an efficient fire attack by the engine company. Once the fire attack has begun, the truck company can vent as they search, continuing to improve conditions, enhancing visibility, and increasing the chance of finding victims.

A well-coordinated effort with good communication between interior companies and the incident commander will bring about the best chance for a successful attack and the rescue of endangered occupants. As the truck company searches for life on the fire floor, the engine company firefighters must be aware of the ongoing search and take actions to support these efforts as necessary. This may be accomplished by continual forward progress on the fire. Working from a point that protects common corridors, stairs, or other means of access and egress while continuing to advance on the fire allows the members conducting search to operate safely and confidently as they move from the point closest to the fire—where viable victims may be found—back toward their point of entry.

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These tried-and-true tactics performed using continual size-up of fire and building conditions provide aggressive fire attack on manageable offensive fires as well as the best opportunity to conduct a primary search in close proximity to the seat of the fire. Each occupancy and fire may provide differing circumstances; fire departments must operate within the parameters of their own resources. However, there is little doubt that finding the seat of the fire and searching from that point to the egress point while directing placement of an attack line will provide an optimal scenario for locating endangered occupants.

Conducting a rapid search for life and fire coordinated with proper size-up and situational awareness saves not only civilian but firefighter lives as well. The sooner you locate and rescue occupants, the better their chance for survival. The quicker you locate and begin to attack the fire, the better the situation for civilians and firefighters alike.

It is up to you as s firefighter to master the science and the techniques of the primary search. Companies engaging in search for life and fire must read the building, the smoke, and the fire as well as the occupant profile. Additionally, you must conduct a risk/benefit analysis on a continual basis with awareness of changing interior and exterior conditions. The availability and effectiveness of handline operations will be key to the continuation of the search once the fire has been located. Engine and truck companies working in concert to find the fire, locate trapped occupants, confine fire spread, and perform fire attack is search that saves lives.


David DeStefano is a 26-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he serves as captain of Ladder Co. 1. He was previously assigned as a Lieutenant in Ladder 1 and Engine 3 and a firefighter in Ladder 1. He has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in fire science. He is an instructor/coordinator for the Rhode Island Fire Academy and teaches a variety of fire service topics throughout Southern New England. He can be reached at

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