BY BOBBY HALTON
The Internet is a wonderland of widespread opinion among a vastly diverse group of firefighters. Many times there are very well thought out and constructive arguments on a variety of topics. Then, there are those that just make you want to scratch your head. One of the weakest arguments recently online was regarding the vent-enter-isolate-search (VEIS) technique. Interestingly enough, it was on a fairly sophisticated blog site. The initial post shows an old video of a firefighter entering a second-floor bedroom window at a working structure fire with the report of a possible victim in the bedroom. The firefighter exits the ladder and returns to the ladder rather quickly when fire conditions appear to change dramatically.
When viewing this video, you need to take several things into account prior to commenting on the procedure. First, there was a reported victim by a family member on-site. Second, the angle of the camera makes the volume of fire appear much more significant than it was. Third, there was no interior quick access to this location, and the rescuer in this instance was an extremely capable and experienced officer. These elements create a strong case for the use of the VEIS technique. The decision at this fire was made rapidly—and correctly.
What was so interesting was that the argument online against using the VEIS technique was based completely on this one instance. The initial poster stated that because, in this particular case, the firefighter narrowly escaped significant burns by bailing out of the window, in his opinion, the technique should be “illegal.” Making this tactic illegal would mean that no firefighter would ever be allowed to attempt a VEIS maneuver again without the repercussions of legal action being taken against him regardless of the outcome.
Subsequent posters in this stream continued with the line of logic that because there was an unsuccessful or a potentially harmful outcome in this one instance, this tactic was invalid and useless. Nothing could be further from the truth, although the tactic requires training and a thorough assessment of conditions to do it successfully. It has been used in innumerable rescues with no harm to the rescuers. The opponents of this tactic fell into two traps: the fallacy of the antecedent and reducing the argument to absurdity.
The fallacy of the antecedent would have us believe that because the firefighter narrowly escaped injury in this particular case, every case from now on will have the same outcome. Although there was no injury to the captain who performed the VEIS in the video and it turned out that there was no victim, basing one’s opinion on one event that could have had a negative outcome is overreacting. If we stopped every tactic that had potentially negative outcomes, we would be fighting all of our fires from two blocks away. There is an inherent risk in almost every tactic on the fireground. Well-trained and well-disciplined firefighters are extremely adept at being able to assess these risks and make good judgments about them.
Interior proactive firefighting is how we do our jobs best. There are times when we need to do defensive firefighting—for example, when there is obviously no possible way to enter the structure because of the level of fire involvement or the threat of a potential collapse. But barring untenable conditions and unstable structures, firefighting in today’s modern environment is best done from the interior position by firefighters who are well managed and well trained. We fully acknowledge the occasional advantages of transitional attacks as well. If we follow the logic of our friends who wanted to make VEIS illegal, we begin to fall into absurdity. Making any tactic illegal is dangerous and unwarranted; there are times when virtually every tactic has its time and place.
The VEIS tactic works extremely well when heavy fire involvement is blocking access to the floors above the fire or the fire floor. Conducting the VEIS tactic requires training in rapid search and recognition of potential victim locations and victim-removal techniques. To conduct this tactic properly, firefighters also need to be able to assess conditions in the compartment about to be searched for potential hostile fire and potential of collapse. The tactic is also extremely effective when we have limited personnel and easily accessible compartment windows.
There is a great amount of scientific data now available to us from the ventilation studies being done by Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) that validate the VEIS tactic. Tests at UL show that the compartment immediately adjacent to the fire compartment, if the door is closed, could be a completely tenable environment for potential victims. This means that the VEIS tactic conducted into that adjoining compartment could save a trapped victim’s life.
The other interesting piece of data that we are learning from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and UL ventilation studies is that heat flow paths move tremendous amounts of heat and energy throughout the structure and that by simply isolating a compartment, you can better control the flow path and achieve more effective ventilation. This also adds to the credibility of the VEIS tactic because by closing the door, you effectively stop the flow path into that compartment. Controlling compartment doors assists in coordinating the ventilation toward the opening the attack team selected as most appropriate, thereby improving firefighter safety and facilitating fire attack. VEIS is a credible tactic and will remain a useful tool for years to come, and we will continue to see a wide variety of opinions about it being shared on the Internet.