2-Team System Puts Maximum Effort Into Rescue Work at Residential Fires
A large percentage of fire deaths occurs in single family dwellings. However, residential fire experience involving rescue may not occur for years in any specific community—or it may occur tomorrow.
This lack of experience is apparent when a rescue situation does occur and suddenly the operating units are faced with delivering the maximum effort for rescue and suppression. This article will help you exert that maximum effort.
The traditional ladder or truck company is not needed to accomplish residential fire rescues. Many communities simply cannot afford such apparatus. To accomplish the maximum effort for rescue, six men are needed in addition to those for an engine company. The engine will supply an attack line for interior fire fighting.
The six additional men may arrive on the scene in cars, on foot, or on other apparatus. The equipment they need includes protective clothing, breathing apparatus, 14-foot roof ladder, pumper extension ladder and hand tools. Most fire departments can deliver these items.
Areas of concern
Fire fighters should examine a private dwelling in three areas: exterior for clues to interior layout, dangerous features under fire conditions, and the people problem.
At a working residential fire, rapid size-up of the basic interior layout of the structure is necessary. This size-up will assist in identifying the location of bedrooms, where most victims are found. There are several features which, if recognized, can reveal much of a home layout.
The main entrance usually places the location of the stairs to both the second floor and basement. Windows provide an obvious clue by their sizes: picture window—living room; small windows—bathrooms, stairwell light, or possibly a kitchen; sliding glass doors—den or family room; regular double-hung window—bedrooms or dining room. The identification of bedroom windows is important to the maximum effort rescue technique.
Other features which are helpful include a kitchen wall vent. Clothes dryer vent hoods are an easy means of identifying a utility room. A soil pipe on the roof will usually identify the location of most of the bathrooms. (It also identifies some of the vertical concealed spaces through which fire can extend.)
One look at the roof should disclose the location of the furnace in the building. Sometimes a home will have both a chimney and a vent stack for the furnace, so look for both. Practice looking for these features whenever you’re in a residential area. By doing so, you’ll be able to operate efficiently at dwelling fires.
Dangers built in homes
Unfortunately, some house features become dangerous to both occupants and fire fighters during a fire. Open stairs, which are often narrow and turn, create egress problems for occupants and let heat and smoke affect the entire structure. Bedroom doors are always open so that mom and dad can hear the children at night. Without a smoke detector, they are easy prey for carbon monoxide. Few homes have a secondary egress above the ground floor. Sleeping occupants, if lucky enough to awaken, are usually trapped above the fire.
The do-it-yourselfer vogue has created as many problems as its wellintentioned ideas were to solve. Home improvements using highly flammable materials, non-fire-stopped construction, “easy wiring” and the current rage—“install your own woodburning stove”—will continue to keep the fire fighter busy.
One of my first calls as a fire fighter was to a home basement where a young husband had drilled into an electric line hidden by paneling as the “club cellar” was nearing completion. There was nothing we could do.
The attic, garage and basement may look like any other, but they might also be a bedroom for company, kids, or granddad. Watch out for window air conditioners held up by the sheerest of luck.
There is one feature of home construction which every fire fighter should be ready to use—the porch roof. One large fire department determined that 70 percent of its homes had some sort of porch roof. This included a patio cover, rear porch, or garage connected to the dwelling. The most critical information they uncovered was that over 80 percent of these one-story roofs had access to at least one bedroom window.
The emphasis placed on fire deaths and bedroom areas has been by design. Why? Information in the survey mentioned earlier showed that people were dying in bedroom areas—but not just at night! Sure, the majority of us sleep at night, but a close examination of fire casualties shows that many of these victims slept during the day—people home sick, infants and small children napping, invalids and older adults napping. Even if these people are awake, there’s a good chance that they’re in a bedroom and subject to being trapped above the fire.
The proper application of the maximum effort rescue technique begins with size-up. Do the various factors associated with the alarm indicate a problem? Upon arrival at the scene, a working fire is found with a rescue potential. For this case, assume that all window glass is intact with heavy smoke evident.
We know from our EMT training that without oxygen, death will occur in four to six minutes. An average would be five minutes. This becomes our fiveminute limitation. If we don’t get to the victims, or they aren’t provided with a survivable atmosphere within the “five,” they’re dead.
Venting for life
Now I know you’re thinking ventilation and so am I. Consider that there are really two kinds of venting available in this situation—venting for life and venting for fire. The two are distinctly different, In venting for life, we give up a little time and building for the chance to get to the victims within our fiveminute limit.
Remember that an engine is on the scene with a charged attack line seeking out the fire. Although roof ventilation could be indicated, consider that you’re probably working on a pitched roof, that roof venting is seldom required for fire conditions in a single family dwelling and that at least two men may be tied up getting to and opening up the roof.
Instead, use these two men as part of a two-sided approach to reaching trapped occupants. The two-sided approach is based on an inside team and an outside team, each with three men. Both teams are committed to a concept called VES—vent, entry, search. Remember this is a commitment, if the first entrance is untenable, try every other approach.
THE MAXIMUM EFFORT RESCUE TECHNIQUE
Venting for life 5-minute limitation
The two-sided approach Inside team Outside team
Vent, Entry, Search
The inside team consists of an officer and two fire fighters. They’re prepared to force entry to any room, locate the fire and locate victims from the inside. They work in conjunction with the attack crew, but they have a mental commitment to try every approach to interior search and to make a second effort to get to that victim.
The outside team also consists of three men. They have the primary VES opportunity because they can easily identify bedroom windows and go for them. One man works alone from the porch roof. Hence, we can call him the porch roofman.
The reason he has this individual responsibility is due to features of a porch roof: It can be reached with a 14-foot roof ladder (a one-man ladder); it provides a stable platform for entry into a bedroom; and it provides a temporary evacuation area for victims without having to use other personnel to take them down ladders just to get them out of the building.
The following procedure is used by the porch roofman when entering a room: All glass is removed and the entire window is cleared. If you have a victim, you’ll need every bit of space. As you enter, you check the floor and then head straight for the door and close it. This protects you and doesn’t pull any fire. It allows the room to ventilate fairly well as you begin your search.
If you snag a victim, out he goes onto the roof. If you find an unusually large victim, or multiple victims, you can give a yell to the outside for help. Depending on interior hall conditions, you can yell downstairs and let the inside team know. They may be able to help or make the inside stairs usable to get them out fast.
If you make a thorough search and find nothing, carefully inspect the bedroom door and hall. If possible, open the door and head for the window and outside. Reopening the bedroom door gives the inside team and the attack crew that much more ventilation. If the room lights up when you first take out the window, try to sweep below the sill with a tool. You may find a victim this way and be able to get him out.
Other exterior efforts
As the porch roofman is engaged in VES, the other two members of the outside team begin the same operation. Part of their job is to provide some venting for the engine company advance. This is accomplished through opening one window opposite the hose crew’s advance.
Then the rescue men pick a bedroom opposite the porch roof operation. The reason we have a team is because they will be working from the pumper extension ladder. This cannot be considered as stable a platform as the porch roof. It’s critical that the team not ladder over the fire room. If the fire should break through the glass while a member is engaged in VES, he will become trapped as his means of egress is blocked by flame.
Advantages of system
The inside/outside team operation targeted to vent, entry and search procedures has several advantages: Two bedrooms are searched right away; ventilation is provided; and two teams are making the maximum effort to rescue any victims.
You would not want to order this operation for a pot of food, as it is easy to understand the damage that would occur. But, if you hit a residential rescue need, this procedure represents a truly maximum effort by a limited number of personnel.
As more men and apparatus arrive, they can supplement the VES operation and cover every bedroom until you know the building is clear. If you use this procedure, you’ll find that rescues will be accomplished that otherwise would not be made.
I like to compare the VES operation to the two-minute drill in football: “You can score if you know the plays and make the maximum effort.”