The Letter “I”

Vent-enter-search (VES) was a tactic developed by firefighters many years ago to enter an uninvolved area of the structure to search for a victim or fire. Since many cities had fire escapes that gave access to bedrooms, many victims’ lives were saved using this tactic. Years have passed, and we continue to use the tactic but some have “renamed” it so as not to miss a step. The letter “I” has been inserted in the acronym between the “E” and “S,” so now it reads VEIS (vent-enter-isolate-search). I wasn’t quite sure why it needed the addition if you had been taught and trained on the tactic properly in the first place, but let’s look at putting the “I” in it.

You pull up shorthanded to a dwelling fire at midday; the fire is in the kitchen and taking hold of the first floor. A woman meets you in the yard to let you know her two kids are napping in the second-floor bedroom. Interior access to the second floor is questionable because of the fire, and the porch roof gives you great access to the room, but the question is, can you perform the tactic? If you arrived on an engine, hopefully you can stretch a line and perform an immediate rescue simultaneously.

First, grab an appropriate size ladder off the rig and hope the chauffeur put the power switch on for the hydraulic ladder rack so you can lower the device. Now if the roof ladder is on the outside, will it reach the porch roof? If you grab the 24-foot extension ladder and you need to raise it, I hope the halyard isn’t tied like you were docking the Queen Elizabeth! You’ve managed to get the ladder into position while taking some hand tools, and you arrive safely on the porch roof after you’ve sounded it. You size up the window and notice the glass isn’t cracked, glazed, or stained; moderate smoke is issuing around the window frame.

Next, you take your hand tool and break the window; luckily, you broke out the entire sash with one swing. After a few more swings, you have completely removed the glass, screen, sash, curtains, and blinds. You’ve all heard in your training to make the window into a door; that applies to this situation. Remember, if conditions deteriorate rapidly and you must exit the room, getting out the window will be easier; you won’t get caught on any of the materials and, hopefully, any fire vents over your head as you escape.

As you’re preparing to enter the window, let the smoke blow for a few seconds and see if it becomes worse or if the superheated gases ignite now that you have created a ventilation opening. Realizing the window frame is not really high off the porch roof, you’re able to swing one leg up and over the sill and slide your butt back toward the frame’s edge to give yourself a lower profile in the window (the lower you are, the less heat you are exposed to).

Next, sweep the floor with your boot for any victims, and sound it for stability; before you transition inside, grab your tool off the roof and bring it with you. Sometimes that’s much easier than dropping the tool on the floor in blinding smoke and landing on the sharp side of it when you enter the room.

As you lie or kneel on the floor, stretch forward with the tool and attempt to close the room’s door (usually it’s across from the window, providing natural ventilation). If you’re using a six-foot hook, slide it up along the walls to help you find the door. Don’t try to slide it on the ground, as it will surely get stuck under some furniture. Remember, you want to ensure that you’ve cut off the possibility of the fire extending into your area by closing the room’s door. This should be your first concern unless the victim is right at the window and easy to pick up and remove to the outside. Closing the door will isolate you and any victims from the fire while you search the room.

With the door closed, some of the smoke has vented and lifted a few inches off the floor, giving you some visibility-that’s if you’re down low and not walking around the room getting ready to trip over an object. Now you can complete your search with peace of mind that you have some protection with the door closed.

Let’s review some of the “I”s in this tactic.

  • I should know how to remove the ladders off my rig quickly and efficiently and know the portable ladder’s capabilities and characteristics. I should know how to properly operate with them, even when short-staffed.
  • I should understand anytime I vent a window that I could draw superheated gases, smoke, and fire to my location and vent from the window.
  • I should know that my safety is of paramount concern. I should make sure the door to the room I’m “VES”ing is closed to isolate the fire from me and the victims, buying me precious time to search, locate, and remove them from the hostile environment.
  • I should know that if I had a thermal imaging camera (TIC) I could use it once I vented the window to locate a victim, read the temperature level, or possibly locate the door’s position in the room. A partner could either remain outside the window and guide me using the TIC or come inside to help remove a victim.
  • I should always be aware of my exit point in case of an emergency while performing VES.

Wow, there sure are a lot of “I”s in VES; hopefully, you are trained and capable to perform it.

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 30-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on

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