MORE ON SEARCH
Let’s return to the topic we began last month —search of occupied fire buildings. We all know that search must be immediate and systematic — just two of the qualities necessary for success. The first, immediate part, known as primary search, must be as thorough as possible. The second part, known as secondary search, is the absolutely thorough part.
You are assigned the search function. You are part of the forcible entry team anti are the first at the door. You force through it and are inside the fire occupancy. You have been in this type of building hundreds of times. It is the “simple,” three-bedroom, single-story, ranch-style, private dwelling. The question is. Do you start your primary search immediately inside the door you just forced and continue to search as much of the fire building, room by room, as your equipment, the fire conditions, and other influences allow? Or do you quickly move within the structure on the fire floor until you locate the seat of the fire and then begin a methodical primary search back to the point of entry?
This is an age-old question that only experience and individual success with the operation can answer. I can begin to answer the question by stating that each technique is valuable, and the one you should use depends on what floor you are on in relation to fire location within the building.
Where will the people you may be looking for have the least amount of time for you to find them? The answer is, in the fire or, less romantically, in the fire room. You should try’ to get there as quickly as possible for a number of reasons. The first is that anyone there is in the greatest danger and has the least amount of time. The second is that from this position you can size up your enemy —the fire condition. You can begin your “experience mental time clock,” depending on what is on fire. You know there is a big difference between a hot, smoky mattress fire, beginning to smolder due to a lack of oxygen, and a roomand-contents fire, fully involved, with fire extending across the ceiling and beginning to come out the doorway to the hall with “edges” on the flame. The third reason is that you can “do something” with the fire condition to gain additional time. You can isolate the fire—get something between it and you! If you believe in the 2½gallon pressure water extinguisher, you know how’ effective it is. You may be able to control the fire with it, to beat some flames back into the room for a calmer, quick search of the fire room.
You also can close the door. Closing a door to the room that is on fire and untenable gains you a tremendous amount of time. Similarly, it can calm you down so you can continue your primary search in the direction of the exit —in most cases, the door you just forced to get in in the first place. Isolating the fire area also can be accomplished through communication with the engine company stretching into the structure.
How much faster can you move w ith your handline if a familiar voice coming over the portable radio on your chest shouts that the fire is directly down the hallway about 20 feet and is in the last room on the right? The search team now can gain the greatest protection —a rapidly stretched and operating handline in position between the team and the rest of the fire floor.
With the fire isolated, you can proceed to the areas in which you may locate people, this time moving farther from the seat of the fire, looking for victims who have more and more time for you to find them.
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Finally, you can search your way off the fire floor. This part is more orderly—the extinguishment team is not in your way. You can report completion of primary search and prepare to take on another task.
The other tactic I mentioned — beginning to search as soon as you enter the occupancy—is a great procedure to follow on the floor above the fire in structures of more than one story. In such a case, begin immediately and search in a methodical and complete manner in the direction of a second means of egress.
What’s that? What second means of egress? If you are in a two-story private dwelling, you should have two exits. The first always is the window you just passed. If you get in trouble, you are only 1 1 to 13 feet above the ground. Breaking the window and hanging on the sill would put a sixfoot-tall firefighter in the extremely dangerous position of dropping three to four feet into a bush.
The second way out of this occupancy in an emergency is placed there by the fire team. Its placement is what separates a great department from the mediocre. You must communicate to the outside team(s) as well as to the command function that you are searching the floor above the fire. A well-trained team should know exactly where you will need a portable ladder placed for a second means of exit.
If the floor above the fire is in a multiple dwelling, you should search in the direction of the legal second means of egress —i.e., second-apartment exit or, more commonly, the fire escape that serves the apartment you are in.
Just what does a search team do? What makes it a team? How does it operate? Some departments believe two or more firefighters literally should hold hands or bind to each other by rope so as to do everything together. This is a foolish concept. What if one firefighter (the one at the wall) lets go of the one in the center of the room, who is left knowing nothing? What if one of the two “tied” to each other falls through a hole or down a staircase? If the team is searching a room with one firefighter on the wall, what does it do when it encounters an obstacle, such as an overstuffed chair, a bed, or some other object? Do both members of the team go between the wall and the object? Or do the two leave the wall to go around the object together? Or do they split up, leaving only one member knowing his location on the wall and the other out in “space,” lost until he meets up with the partner again?
What about the hallways of private dwellings? What about small —too small —bedrooms? What about the floor above an open staircase when you don’t believe the engine will be able to “hold the fire”? More next time.*