Vent-Enter-Search: a Life-Saving Maneuver in Nevada

On December 9, 2014, at approximately 1730 hours, Clark County (NV) Fire Department (CCFD) Engine (E) 21, E24, E66, E11, Truck (T) 11, Rescue (R) 22, and Battalion 6 were dispatched to a building fire. En route, dispatch notified the responding companies of a 67-year-old female resident of limited mobility (she was recently released from the hospital for back surgery) trapped in an upstairs bedroom.

On Arrival

At 1735 hours, E21 arrived first on scene and initially considered a rapid knockdown and aggressive search and rescue. Heavy fire was blowing from three downstairs windows on the A and D sides of the two-story single-family home. Fire extended to the open upstairs window-where the victim was previously seen-and into the eaves above her head. A neighbor reported to E21 that a woman was in the open master bedroom window screaming for help.

The woman disappeared from sight just before E21 arrived. Because of the volume and location of the fire and the report from the witness, E21’s captain quickly changed tactics and initiated a coordinated attack and search using vent-enter-search (VES). Two E21 firefighters were ordered to place the 24-foot extension ladder in the window one room over.

E24 arrived next and established a water supply. E21’s engineer was assigned fire attack and rescue, so he pulled 2½-inch and 1¾-inch attack lines off E21 and placed them near the downstairs windows. Realizing the house was only 50 feet from his engine, the engineer disconnected the last 50-foot section of 2½-inch hose and hooked it to a discharge from his engine, allowing for quick deployment of his hoseline. In addition, he directed a floodlight from E21 into the window the firefighters had entered. The firefighters later reported that the light allowed them to quickly locate the window during their egress from the smoke-filled room.

When an E21 firefighter ascended the ladder and vented the window, he was greeted by heavy smoke. He entered the room and conducted a primary search in zero visibility, which turned up negative. Another E21 firefighter followed him. Together, they left the bedroom and moved into the hallway, heading toward the master bedroom, the victim’s last known location.

Finding the Victim

Conditions in the hall were hostile, with zero visibility and high heat. The two E21 firefighters located and quickly searched a hall bathroom. Leaving the bathroom, they continued down the hallway to the bedroom door. As they opened the master bedroom door, they reverted to their training in the academy and swept behind the door before they pushed it open. They found the victim lying right behind the door.

In a coordinated effort, the firefighters grabbed the victim and reentered the hallway. While making their way back to the bedroom to the ladder, one firefighter reported an immediate and sudden decrease of temperature in the hallway, making it more tenable for the firefighters and the victim. It was later discovered the temperature drop was because of the E24 firefighters applying water with a 2½-inch fog nozzle through the downstairs window. This tactic extinguished the bulk of the fire in seconds, immediately making the interior of the house more tenable.

During this time, E21’s captain ascended the ladder and cleared the remainder of the glass from the window pane, entered the room, and made his way to the hallway, where he met his firefighters and the victim. Together, they pulled the victim into the room and positioned her at the window. At 1743 hours, E24’s captain, who placed himself at the tip of the ladder, descended the ladder with the unconscious, unresponsive woman. He handed her to the crew of R22, who immediately began providing emergency medical services. The victim, accompanied by two firefighter/paramedics from CCFD, was transferred into an American Medical Response ambulance, where she received two IVs and intubation and was treated for cyanide poisoning with CCFD’s Cyanokit® while en route to University Medical Center.

Post-Rescue Assignments

T11 was assigned vertical ventilation and to check the attic for any fire extension because of flames potentially impinging on the eaves of the house. They ascended to the roof using the aerial platform, cut one hole approximately four × eight feet and louvered twice over the rafters, and punched through the ceiling and vented the smoke; they reported no fire extension in the attic.

E66 arrived and was assigned as the rapid intervention team. They gathered all the necessary equipment and staged on the A side. E11 had arrived and was assigned to protect the exposure on the C side. Heavy Rescue 44 was released by command.

After rescuing the victim, E21 completed the primary search of Division 2, then went to Division 1 and completed a primary search there, finding one deceased dog in the kitchen. Another dog escaped the house when neighbors had opened the door to try and rescue the victim before the fire department arrived. E24 began a secondary search but had to exit the structure because of low air. E21 completed a secondary on Division 1. There were no other victims found in the home.

The entire operation, from E21’s arrival to the victim being removed from her home, took eight minutes. The two E21 firefighters who conducted the unsupervised vent-enter-isolate-search (VEIS) had less than five years of combined fire department experience.

Lessons Learned

  • Ladder placement. When E21’s crew threw the ladder to the window, they put it up adjacent to the window, and they entered. When you know the window will be used for rescue, place the ladder under the window in the rescue position; this simplifies victim removal. For this incident, the E21 captain repositioned the ladder to the rescue position before he went up and cleared the window.
  • Clear the area under the window inside the room. When entering a room while performing VES/VEIS, remove all obstructions from around the window you intend to use for rescue. For this incident, E21’s crew entered, isolated, and searched the room. They then went down the hallway to the room where the victim was last seen. When they brought the victim back to the entrance room, they struggled getting the victim out of the window because of a table under the window. Remember, clear the area on entering or before you remove a victim; this will save time.
  • The medical group must be ready and waiting for the victim near the point of exit. R22 was administering oxygen to one of the dogs on scene when the victim was brought down through the window. The engineer on E21 and a firefighter from T11 administered medical aid after the victim reached the ground even though it took seconds for R22 to get to the victim. Once the R22 crew took over patient care, they administered medical aid. The victim survived. Remember, when performing a confirmed rescue at an incident, the medical crew must stand by and be ready for the rescued victim. They must not be distracted by anything on scene.

E21’s captain credits the success of this operation to the progressive, forward-thinking training divisions of the CCFD. Under the direction of the battalion chief, the CCFD has fully embraced the new firefighting tactics discovered by recent Underwriters Laboratories studies. CCFD firefighters have received more than 3,000 hours of VEIS and flow path training in the past year. At the CCFD recruit academy, instructors spend much time teaching and drilling on-among other topics-building searches. The E21 firefighters who conducted the VEIS at this incident reported that this training enabled them to complete this operation successfully. Company training is essential. Crews that train together improve communications and increase efficiency.

CLARK LAMPING is an 18-year veteran of and a captain for the Clark County (NV) Fire Department, assigned to Fire Station 11. Lamping has a master’s degree in crisis and emergency management from the University of Las Vegas-Nevada.

MIKAL TOMPKINS is a 27-year fire service veteran and a captain/emergency medical technician with the Clark County (NV) Fire Department, assigned to Fire Station 21. Tompkins has been an instructor at the Engineer Academy and was an advanced driver’s technique instructor for six years. He has worked at various fire stations on or near the Las Vegas, Nevada, strip for 19 years.

VEIS , a Tactic for Today’s Fires
Firefighting Tactics: VEIS : The Engine Company’s Perspective
Firefighter Training Bulletin: VES

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