Of all the fireground evol- utions we perform, I believe search is the most poorly performed. We pull the engine out on the apron and throw a lot of water, we raise ground ladders up against the station, and everyone knows that we practice our EMT skills to the point of boredom. But search drills are usually few and far between in most departments. We teach our young recruits basic search patterns in drill school. Some departments teach “team” and “large-area” search to at least some of their members, but on the whole, once you graduate from drill school, a lot of the “military courtesy” and search drills seem to fall by the side of the road.
For the most part, I don’t think we look for civilians the way we would want firefighters to look for our own loved ones. My biggest concern is that most officers don’t enter a house to search with “a plan.” Sure, they take their crew inside and have an idea that they want to hit the second floor first and the first floor last, but in between the plan and the search often fall apart. We do find victims, but I’m not convinced that we find those in most need first, as opposed to the obviously dead, because we searched first in an area where only dead people could be.
I hear too many stories of entire crews bringing out one victim and, once out, all three or four members starting patient care. No one goes back in to pick up where the search left off. Too many rooms get searched twice, whereas other rooms are never hit (or are hit too late). Too much time is spent searching for the stairs when a good officer could have found the stairs in the house even before entering. The list goes on.
In my department, we have been teaching only the oriented method of search since 1984. It is a good method of searching single-family residences. In this month’s scenario, several variations of the oriented search could be used, depending on the size of the house, fire conditions, and the expertise of the officer and crew.
I would expect that the officer would have guessed that the stairway was in the center of the house at or near the front door. He would have taken his crew to the stairway and up to the second floor. [Most houses in this area are laid out like that. How do we know? We fight fires on EMS runs! A great game to play on the typical EMS run is for the officer to have the crew guess the location of the stairs as they walk up to the house. Many houses have “indicators” that tell where the stairs may be. Landing windows (side or front) and base exterior basement doors are some of the indicators. If you can locate the stairs in a hurry, you do a lot for any victims inside.]
Once at the top of the stairs, the officer would probably have done one of two things: leave one firefighter in each bedroom and remain in the hall to monitor fire conditions and the progress of the search or, in a large house like this, split the crew into two teams of two and have one crew go to the left at the top of the stairs and the other to the right. Each crew would keep a firefighter in the hallway to, again, monitor fire conditions and the progress of the search. The other firefighter would enter the specific bedroom and conduct a one-firefighter search. No hoseline would have been pulled to use while searching because it is a single-family home.
Once the second-floor search is completed (assuming that no “permanently-affixed” stairway to the attic is found), they would go down to the first floor. Using the stairway downstairs as their point of “orientation,” they would search the first floor, probably using one of the two methods described above. Last, they would go to the basement (if there is one) and finish there.
After each level of the house is searched, the officer would give the benchmark, “All clear on Division 2, going to Division 1” (as an example) so Command would know that the second floor is clear of victims and the crew is now going to the first floor (for accountability purposes).
There are other variations of the oriented search. If the training or experience level of the crew is poor or if the house is extremely big or small, the officer may have all firefighters search together in each room and the officer maintain orientation and search awareness.
—John “Skip” Coleman, deputy chief of fire prevention, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue, is author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), a technical editor of Fire Engineering, and a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board.
Question. Your department responds to a reported structure fire in your community. The first-in officer sees smoke and fire coming from a two-story wood-frame home, approximately 50 feet 2 30 feet (see photo below). When search is assigned (by procedure or by the incident commander), exactly how would you expect your crew(s) to search this house? Be specific (i.e., the crew would split into two teams of two, and each crew would …, or the entire crew of three would find the stairs to the second floor and would search each bedroom as a team …, or they would perform vent-enter-search (VES) .U ). What would the officer be doing? How will each room/area be covered? Would you hit the first floor first, the second floor first, or divide and conquer?
Tom Brennan, chief (ret.), Waterbury (CT) Fire Department
Response: I am assuming that we are assigned to a poorly staffed truck company—one officer (first line) and three firefighters—which has become nearly universal in the United States.
The next assumption is that we want to aggressively perform at least two extinguishment support-oriented tactics simultaneously (TRUCK WORK) and not perform as a department in staging from the onset, to be assigned at the last minute by a newly arrived junior incident commander. In this case, the tactics would be entry and primary search AND alternate entry to inhabited areas from outside—enter-search-vent (a little different from vent-enter-search). It is also assumed that the responders have trained on standard operating procedures (SOPs) and have some ability to size up a structure (best guess moment to moment) and a first-due, two-story, private-dwelling concept.
Size-up. The fire appears to be in the first-floor front (keep in mind the basement or cellar as a possibility as you enter the front door). The objective is to get a primary search done in orderly fashion while additional personnel are arriving to fill in the truck functions so you can put six people to work in truck tactics and then six more to perform the one or two tactics put on hold because of the original lack of staffing and to assist with the secondary tasks (vertical ventilation if necessary).
Success in life safety at buildings like this depends on the ability of the arriving truck companies to perform simultaneous entry into all probable survivable areas of this structure—i.e., come in from inside and outside. Split the crew as follows: officer and firefighter/chauffeur and assistant.
Interior crew. LOCATE THE FIRE, LOCATE THE FIRE! And then do something with it. Close a door, use an extinguisher, inform the engine crew of the exact location—in short, know your enemy (what is burning and how fiercely), and do something to retard its unchecked spread.
Decide which areas you should try to search, such as the interior stairs to the second-floor hallway. The size-up here (a split second in someone else’s photo) indicates that there are at least two bedrooms over the venting fire and the garage door—I would assume at least four bedrooms. The fire is venting from the first-floor windows, not the second floor directly overhead, indicating that this set of similar windows is not just a high foyer; otherwise, the fire would be venting out of the highest fragile glass (unless this is a training-enhanced photo and the artist didn’t see that point).
Outside team. The outside team is assigned to properly position the aerial device to access most of the bedroom areas from outside—two out of three, three out of four, and four out of five bedrooms in private two-story dwellings. A tower ladder here is a tremendous plus.
The outside team should access and enter one window of each bedroom in the order of the occupant’s ability to survive and the time available. In short, enter first the room in which the occupant has the least time—in this case, the glass area directly over the venting fire. If this is too untenable, the next window and breach are possibilities. The second floor indicates that one bedroom’s door to the hallway is open; the other bedroom door probably is not open. This crew should work around the structure with some sort of priority. Remember that one bedroom will need a portable ladder for access.
Steve Kreis, assistant chief, Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department
Response: I am assuming that somebody told the fire department that people are inside and, therefore, the two-in/two-out standard will not apply. If other companies will not be arriving for four or five minutes, the first-in engine company needs to knock down the main body of fire to buy some time. It must also bring its thermal imaging camera (TIC) to enhance the search efforts. Phoenix units are typically staffed with four members. The company officer and two firefighters would make entry and operate as a team. The engineer would stay outside and operate the pump.
Because of the heavy smoke from the windows and the volume of fire on the first floor, the survival profile for any people in the structure would be diminishing quickly. While one firefighter is knocking down the main body of fire, the company officer and other firefighter (using the TIC) need to quickly search the first-floor area. The search of the first floor needs to be very quick. More than likely, if any victims are found in this structure, they would be upstairs.
The primary search efforts should then be extended to the second floor, where the victims are most likely to be found. The engine company should take the attack line up the stairs and into the hallway to protect egress if things get bad inside. Because the rooms in the upstairs area are typically small, the company officer should stay with the attack line and coordinate the search efforts of the firefighters using the TIC. Each individual firefighter would be assigned specific rooms to search manually. Special attention should be paid to areas around the beds and closets.
Clearly, companies in outlying areas of our communities are faced with a set of decisions and enormous workload considerations inner-city companies typically do not encounter. An effective outcome at this scenario requires aggressive firefighting with an equally aggressive, planned, and coordinated search effort.
Ron Hiraki, assistant chief, Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One
Response: Every emergency incident must begin with a proper size-up, calling for additional resources, and communicating initial actions to other units. After ensuring the safety of the firefighters, the first team should advance a hoseline to contain, if not extinguish, the fire. This will accomplish two things: (1) The rescue process is started by removing the danger from the victims, and (2) the stairway is protected so the search and rescue team can use it.
Battalion Chief John Burgess, a veteran of our department, stated that he would expect our search and rescue team to immediately proceed to the second floor by way of the interior stairwell and perform a search using standard search methods. If the stairway is not usable, a team could raise a ladder to windows on Side C. If the windows are intact and appear clear of smoke, this is where we would most likely find a viable victim. Hence, this would be a good place to enter and start the search of floor two. Even if the stairway is usable, you should consider raising a ladder to a second-floor window to provide an alternate exit for the second-floor search and rescue team. Searching the first floor would be secondary based on the time of day and involvement.
A residential structure of this size and type is common within our community. Newer two-story homes with an open design allow the smoke and fire to spread quickly throughout the structure. Knocking down or extinguishing the fire is still the best way to increase safety and search time for the search and rescue teams.
Rick Lasky, chief, Lewisville (TX) Fire Department
Response: We would have to consider several things regarding searching the residence. Whether to start on the first or second floor often depends on the time of day and the rest of our size-up. If we’re arriving after 10 p.m., we are going for the bedrooms and sleeping areas first and then the rest of the house. During the day, we may start in the living area and then proceed to the bedrooms, considering all the while that we might have a day sleeper because of a night job. Our alarm response would have the first-arriving engine company attack the fire; the second-due engine stretching a backup line or second handline; and the third-due engine as RIT and other support functions, such as placing ladders to upper floors, utilities, and so on.
The truck company would handle the following:
- The search team consisting of the officer and his partner would initiate a primary search.
- The vent team, generally consisting of the driver and his partner, would begin venting.
- The fifth member, the outside vent man (OVM) would begin outside vent duties, which could include VES of the first- or second-floor rooms.
- The first-arriving ambulance, when done assisting the first-due engine with the water supply, would assist where needed—perhaps VES if not already done.
The truck search team would cover the primary search, and another arriving company would handle the secondary search or finish the primary if the truck search team couldn’t finish it. Any additional search teams would have a minimum of two members, most often three. At no point would we abandon our vent efforts to use the team as an additional search team. However, if the vent team accomplishes its vent task and is capable, it can at that point be assigned to search a particular section of the building or perform a secondary search.
While searching, we allow the search team leader to make the call whether both should enter each room or one should enter and search while the other stays at the door. This would depend on the size of the room and other factors. Also, the search team leader could choose to stay at the door each time or the members could alternate taking rooms to search; it would be the leader’s call.
As for VES, if the OVM does not opt to do this or isn’t assigned this task, another company could be assigned, but this could be the truck’s search team if, for instance, the company couldn’t make the second floor from the inside or get to any rooms on the first floor because of the presence of fire on one side of the house or another.
If while responding we receive reports of people being trapped, the battalion chief or first-arriving officer the majority of the time would request a second alarm in an effort to throw as many people at the fire as possible. And lastly on a good staffing day (most engines and quints have four onboard and the truck has five), we could hit both floors simultaneously with primary searches.
Michael Allora, lieutenant, Clifton (NJ) Fire Department
Response: The truck companies in our department normally ride with an officer and two firefighters. While I was assigned as the company officer of Truck 2, we proceeded at fires in private dwellings such as the one presented in the scenario in accordance with standing orders, as follows: I would team up with one firefighter and enter the building to perform a primary search while the chauffer remained outside to perform horizontal ventilation for the advancing hoseline and raise a ground ladder to the second floor for egress.
In this scenario, assuming that the first-in officer reporting smoke and fire is from an engine company, we would notify that crew that we were going above the fire to perform a primary search of the bedrooms on the second floor. The engine company would search the fire area. After more companies arrive on the scene, another crew would be assigned to assist with the primary search.
We use the oriented search method. Feedback from firefighters during training evolutions tells me that the firefighters performing the search are more confident and more comfortable searching when they know someone is monitoring the fire conditions and knows exactly where the means of egress is at all times. This level of confidence translates into faster searches and safer operations. The officer carries the TIC. During a search of the bedrooms on the second floor, the officer remains oriented while the firefighter searches the bedrooms. The windows can be vented while searching to alleviate the conditions on the floor above the fire. Should conditions begin to deteriorate above the fire, the officer is in a position to recognize the situation and withdraw the crew from the area.
The decision to leave the third firefighter on the exterior is to ensure that there is horizontal ventilation for the advancing hoseline. This coordination among crews is essential to the success of the operation. A ground ladder can also be raised to the windows on Division 2A for a second means of egress. Preferably, the firefighter assigned to the outside vent position is experienced and capable of working alone. Although this is not an ideal situation, the exterior of the building is the safer place to have a firefighter operating solo until more personnel arrive. This firefighter can maintain contact with the engine company chauffer while operating on the exterior.
With a limited staffing situation, some fireground tasks will be delayed and some will not be completed at all. Assigning a primary search of the means of egress and the bedrooms gives us the best chance of locating any victims still inside the structure. Splitting the truck crew and leaving a firefighter to operate on the exterior of the building ensures a coordinated fire attack with ventilation opposite the advancing hoseline. The truck officer is in a position to lead the operation above the fire while taking care of the crew by monitoring fire conditions. The officer on the hoseline is aware of the crew operating above the fire and has positioned the line between the fire and any victims and to protect the open stairway. These assignments complete the major tasks needed to meet our objectives while providing for firefighter safety.
Bob Oliphant, lieutenant, Kalamazoo (MI) Department of Public Safety
Response: Our personnel are trained in the standard one- and two-person search methods, as well as the oriented search technique. They are not required to use any particular method. The sector officer and crew decide how the search should be conducted. I prefer the oriented method for residential structures. I like it because someone is always looking out for the crew and can guide the members out if necessary.
The time (night) and location (first floor) of this fire indicate that an immediate search of the second floor sleeping areas is needed. If I were Command, my first assignment would be an officer and three crew members to vent-enter-search the second floor through the double windows over the garage.
There is too much fire on the first floor for a crew to use the interior stairs. I would like the search crew to split into two two-person teams—one team left and one team right. Each team would search the rooms on its designated side of the second-floor hallway. The officer would direct the overall search and act as the oriented person for one of the search teams.
I would forgo any further search assignments until I had a crew to attack the fire. Attacking the fire is essential to protect the victims and firefighters on the second floor. After an attack sector has been formed, I would assign at least two additional people to supplement the search and remove victims from the second floor and then assign a crew to search the first floor as more personnel became available.
I believe an officer and two crew members could search the first floor. The officer would oversee the search, and the two members would search using the oriented method. I would expect them to check the stairway landing and stairway before moving to other rooms.
Second-floor VES, attack the fire, and first-floor search would be my initial actions at this fire.
Josh Thompson, battalion chief, Avon (IN) Fire Department
Response: Being familiar with the residences in your area will assist in the overall outcome of this situation. This house appears to be of lightweight wood-frame construction. It also appears that there is an open or vaulted ceiling at the front door, which could indicate the location of the stairs leading to the second floor. Our initial response for this incident would be two engines, an aerial, an ambulance, a battalion chief, and an additional RIT engine and ALS ambulance. Under normal conditions, we will assume that we will have a second-due apparatus on the scene within one to two minutes and that each apparatus (except the ambulance) is staffed with four firefighters. It appears that the fire could already be extending to the second floor. The first-due engine (usually the first on-scene) should pull a 13/4-inch line to the front door while the officer is performing a 360° size-up for more information and then force entry and knock the majority of the fire down while trying to search the immediate area, including behind the front door. The second-due unit (engine, aerial, or ambulance) should be directed to search the second floor. The officer or IC should dictate which of the following actions should be taken based on experience, the size of the house, and additional information from the attack crew.
The primary search can be done through the interior stairwell if a backup line can be placed quickly. VES could be another good option if appropriate ladders can be placed quickly to perform this function. If we are fully staffed, we would have four members to perform search—three firefighters and a chauffeur. Feasibly, the three would be ready to hit the door immediately; it would take the chauffeur a few minutes to get ready. In this case, the chauffeur could get dressed and meet one of the firefighters to form two two-person teams. If two teams can search immediately, they would start in opposite directions on the second floor and cover the area quickly, assisting each other if needed. Or, if it is a three-person search team, the members should perform an oriented search of the second floor while the chauffeur places ground ladders to the second-floor windows and vents where necessary.
All other arriving units would be directed as the continuing size-up dictates—additional primary search, backup lines, ventilation, secondary search, utilities, RIT, water supply, or overhaul. It is difficult to develop a set definitive action plan before an incident occurs. You must be able to perform an adequate size-up and quickly develop and implement an appropriate action plan to effectively mitigate the incident at hand.
Thomas Dunne, deputy chief, Fire Department of New York
Response: Each of the ladder companies in my department is staffed with five firefighters and an officer. In this type of building, a first-floor fire always creates a serious life hazard on the second floor, because the open interior stairway allows smoke and heat to rise to the upstairs bedrooms.
Since the entire building rapidly becomes a life hazard, our standard procedure is to have the first ladder initiate search efforts on the first and second floors simultaneously, using separate teams for each floor. The fire in this scenario is occurring at night, so it must be assumed that all areas of the building may be occupied.
The first ladder unit is divided into an “inside” and an “outside” team, to coordinate the search. The unit officer and two firefighters will force entry to the main entrance and conduct a primary interior search of the first floor. As this is being accomplished, three preassigned firefighters will use portable ladders to perform VES of the second floor via the outside of the building.
Two members of the outside team will combine and conduct a perimeter survey of the building to assist any victims who may be at second-floor windows. If none are visible, these two firefighters will place their ladder to a window that presents a likely life hazard (i.e., a bedroom heavily charged with smoke). They will perform VES of this room together.
If the aerial or tower ladder is not used, the ladder chauffeur, acting as the third member of the outside team, will place a portable ladder to another second-floor window. He will perform VES of that room once he is joined by the chauffeur of the second ladder company or another firefighter who is available to assist him.
All of the members of the outside team are trained to close the door of the second-floor bedroom they are searching. This can help relieve the smoke condition while they are operating inside the room. The door is reopened as they leave the room, to help in the overall ventilation of the building.
When the second ladder unit arrives at the scene, it is responsible for second-floor searches and concentrates on areas the first ladder company did not search. Again, they employ inside and outside teams. The second ladder officer and two firefighters use the interior stairway to gain access to the second floor. His outside team will assist the first ladder unit in portable ladder VES of the second floor.
Many departments do not have this number of ladder personnel at a fire. Regardless of the number of firefighters available, I recommend searching both floors simultaneously in a situation like this. As soon as four firefighters are available, two should be assigned to search the first floor and two the second floor. Unlike an apartment house, a wood-frame home does not provide much compartmentation of smoke or fire, and both floors must be quickly and thoroughly searched. If you use all your ladder personnel on one floor, you will neglect life concerns on the other floor.
Freddie Fernandez, battalion chief, Miami-Dade (FL) Fire-Rescue
Response: We are fortunate to be able to put five companies on this alarm rather quickly; two of the companies are EMS rescue units with an officer and two firefighters. The first-in pumper will attack this fire by making entry through the front door with a 13/4-inch jump line. We staff our engines with four personnel, so the officer and two firefighters will make the initial attack and search using a right-hand or left-hand pattern. This crew will be expected to put water on the fire and effect a search as soon as knockdown is achieved. A working fire gets a four-person unit dispatched to serve as a designated RIT. We rarely have a unit alone on-scene for very long.
The initial size-up and recon will determine how the second floor will be searched. Usually, a second line will be pulled off the first engine and staffed by the rescue team consisting of an officer and two firefighters. That line will guard the stairwell and serve as protection while they search the second floor.
One of the methods we use is an officer-directed search using thermal imaging. The officer takes a position near a doorway or hallway and directs the crews verbally while maintaining direct visual and verbal contact with the firefighter performing the search. They proceed as a team to each subsequent room. Larger areas are covered with tag lines or short pieces of webbing that keep the crews tethered if line of sight is lost. The crews will ventilate while searching as long as the seat of the fire is located and water is in place.
The truck company will use PPV at the front door as long as the fire location is known and the IC coordinates PPV use with the attack crew. The truckies provide lighting in addition to the ventilation duties. They can then search any first-floor areas not accessible to the engine crew. Placing the attack line from the unburned side to confine and extinguish the fire quickly satisfies our basic strategic goal of rescue.
After knockdown and primary searches are accomplished, a different crew completes a more thorough and systematic secondary search. The best crew for this task is the second engine company, once it completes its water supply duties.
It is imperative to get water on the seat of the fire as quickly as possible. This tactical decision will do the most to satisfy the strategic goals and rescue as many residents as possible. The fact that the fire location is apparently in the front of side A makes this attack easier to make from the front door. I would definitely not want any water applied externally whether or not we had a significant first-alarm assignment on-scene. Water applied from an external position would make it extremely difficult to carry out a rescue and would make the building untenable more rapidly than if the fire were attacked from the unburned side. Rescue is best accomplished here by removing the threat of the fire’s extending from the point or room of origin.
Mitch Brooks, lieutenant, Columbus (OH) Division of Fire
Response: A lot of unknown factors will influence the answers to these questions. First, what type of apparatus responded? How many people are on the apparatus? What support and suppression functions are taking place?
If suppression and support functions, such as portable ladders placed to windows, forcible entry gained, water source secured, and so on, are being performed on arrival, and my crew would be needed solely for search, I would have my crew (an engine company), minus the driver, enter and proceed to the second floor to search. This would be an ideal time to perform an oriented search. This ensures that the officer is accounting for the crew and also allows the officer to be available should one of the searchers need assistance with removing a victim.
While the three-firefighter crew is searching inside, the apparatus driver is making sure that secondary egress ladders have been placed, ventilation is performed if needed, or VES is undertaken if specific information concerning victim location is available.
After searching the second floor, search the first floor and basement. Keep in mind that the attack crew can do a limited search on the first floor while advancing the hoseline. (I assume from the photo that the fire is on the first floor, venting smoke from the second floor, “A” side.)
William Carey, sergeant, Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department Co. 1, Prince George’s County, Maryland
Response: In my location, this incident will receive a minimum street assignment of three engine companies, a truck company, a rescue squad company, and a battalion chief. Assuming, in the context of searching, that I’d be on the truck company and there is average staffing in quarters, the following actions would be completed.
The truck officer, the barman, and the hook/can (interior team) will typically go to the front entrance, provide entry for the engine company, and move in behind the engine company to conduct a primary search on the first floor, where it appears the main body of fire is located, searching from that point and then outward. Initial size-up appears to show one or two rooms/areas well off on the first floor with extension—no doubt—to the second floor. Judging by the size and style, it is highly unlikely that sleeping areas are on the first floor, but we never know. The interior team will then quickly make its way to the second floor.
While the interior team makes its way inside, the driver and ladder firefighters will be raising ground ladders. Our department’s general orders have the due truck company responsible for laddering all sides of single-family dwellings. The VES firefighter (a senior firefighter, radio equipped) will initially take the appropriate ground ladder, a hook, and a halligan bar and go to Side Charlie (rear) and ladder this side as well as check for trapped/jumped occupants and fire conditions. If anything urgent or unusual is showing, he will transmit his size-up to the interior team and the IC and advise of all of his actions.
Given the entire size-up, the VES and ladders firefighters radio the truck officer and attempt VES into the second floor, where we know we will find sleeping areas and presumably the occupants. The driver will be monitoring his radio, should a member of the company need assistance, as well as begin to run lights and the fan (once the fire is extinguished and extension has been checked).
Search is “routinely” done by procedure. Each company knows where its assigned duties will take them. The truck officer will also be the Interior Sector/Group, in the incident management system on this incident. He will be monitoring not only his crew but the entire interior operations as well. Assuming that the due rescue squad company is given the RIC (rapid intervention crew) assignment, the interior team will move to the second floor and meet up with the VES and ladders firefighters, each checking on their primary searches. Should there be a need for horizontal ventilation, the exterior team (driver, VES, ladders) would take that assignment.
Judging by the photo, we may encounter a large open foyer and possibly vaulted ceilings. We will need to be continually checking above us for signs of rollover, especially on the second floor. My answer doesn’t take into account that units may be understaffed and that the assignment might be altered.
Christopher K. Switala, lieutenant,Mt. Lebanon (PA) Fire Department
Response: We are a single-station combination department with minimal full-time staffing, so on-scene personnel can be very limited until recalled firefighters begin to arrive. Realistically, it would take four personnel to begin an immediate search without taking away from fire attack and ventilation. Variability in this number, arising from our response system’s heavy reliance on off-duty firefighters, makes it difficult to formalize a standard procedure for conducting a primary search. Much is left to the discretion of the incident commander and company officers with regard to how the task should best be accomplished, based on the incident size-up and available resources. Because of the flexibility required by this approach, departmental training includes instruction in several different search techniques.
An initial size-up of the given scenario—nighttime with no waiting occupants—indicates that primary search is paramount, with bedroom areas a priority. The home’s modern appearance suggests that a first-floor master bedroom suite may be on the first floor with the remaining bedrooms on the second floor. Door and window locations give clues to the probable presence of bedrooms above the garage and a stairwell along the side B wall just inside the main doorway.
Assuming four personnel are available to search, two crews of two would be formed. Splitting crew assignments allows for multiple areas to be searched simultaneously, ultimately resulting in a more expeditious search. A company officer typically will head each crew. However, because of staffing restrictions, the company officer’s role goes beyond supervision and includes active hands-on participation in task completion. Crew 1 would be assigned VES of the second floor; the crew would go directly to our bedroom targets. The crew should begin at the side A window above the garage and work its way around to sides D and C. Crew 2 would perform an oriented search, where the crew leader, located at a doorway or other landmark position, scans a room with a TIC and directs another firefighter in physically searching an area. The crew should follow the first-floor attack line to the fire and then search back to the point of entry. By doing this, the most threatened victims will be found first, and the potential first-floor bedroom target indicated by our size-up will be covered.
After returning to the point of entry, Crew 2 would then search the stairwell and second-floor hallway. This will address the primary means of occupant egress. Crew 2 should finish by searching the remaining areas on the second floor. Communication with the VES crew is critical to coordinate team efforts and reduce the possibility of redundant searches. The attack line crew has responsibility for searching the fire area.
An aggressive search is expected. Search teams should not take hoselines into private dwelling fires because it will slow them down too much, and time is of the essence. A separate attack team, deployed in conjunction with the search effort, can protect stairwells and means of egress.
My experience with the oriented search technique indicates that it is faster and safer than standard searches. A standard search tends to create a “train” of personnel following each other, which limits team effectiveness. Additionally, two firefighters searching a smaller furnished room can often hinder each other’s movements. The oriented search technique avoids these pitfalls, and allowing the team leader to better monitor fire conditions and stay oriented to the way out enhances safety.
Gerald George, battalion chief,Pike Township (IN) Fire Department
Response: In our department, the first-due engine would be assigned fire attack with a three-member team, with the engineer on the pump panel. Our truck crew would be split into two search teams. The first team would probably do VES using ladders to the second-story bedroom windows while the attack crews were trying to get to the seat of the fire and knock it down. Using the VES method gets up above the fire, where the highest probability for finding the occupants exists at this time of day. This also gives the search crews a means of egress if the fire intensifies.
Crews would enter the second-floor windows and search that room and, if possible, search other rooms, closing the doors behind them to reduce the spread of fire and hot toxic gases from getting to the bedrooms. If conditions do not allow for a room-to-room search through one window, the crews would search the room, move the ladder to another window, and do the same thing until all upstairs rooms have been searched.
The second two-person team would take care of utilities first and then assist with the search of the upper floors. If the attack crew confines the fire, it or the backup crew would search the first floor. We would then rotate crews for secondary searches.
Jim Mason, lieutenant, Chicago (IL) Fire Department
Response: The first-due truck company would have the primary search duty. Two firefighters and the officer would perform the search. From this truck, there would also be a two-firefighter team venting the roof. A size-up must ensure that the search team would be reasonably safe. We suspect that the building is platform frame; we confirm this by pulling ceiling at the door and finding dimensional wood-floor joists. By knowing our still district, we also know that this is a standard, single-family house occupancy with a typical floor plan for our response area and that no additional floor space that may contain lightweight frame support components has been added to the house.
Because the fire seems to be rolling across the ceiling in a living room that has no doors that could be closed to contain the fire, the crew must follow the engine in so that it can protect the entire search team as it goes up the stairs to the second floor. Because of the time of night and the lack of a sounding smoke alarm inside, we can expect to find the victims in the bedrooms. While the truck firefighters force entry, the truck officer would check to see what the engine officer’s plan is.
While the fire is being knocked down on the first floor so the search team could pass to the stairs, the officer would direct the two firefighters to areas immediately next to the fire room on the main floor. A very quick search would be done for as long as it takes to get the fire to be passable. It would include areas adjacent to the fire room, like living rooms with couches and the main path of egress, but it would not be a search of the entire first floor. Victims in this area would be in great danger from the adjoining fire room. This targeted primary search is now covering the fire area and the fire floor; next is the floor above exposed by the open stairway. During this time the truck officer would be watching conditions so the firefighters could expect to work safely.
When we pass to the second floor, since this is a standard floor plan that we have studied and drilled on as a company, we know that this recently built house has the bedrooms arranged in a circle of doors that all lead out to a common hallway, which leads down the stairs to the first floor. The officer would scan a bedroom with a TIC and find the blind spots to the camera. A firefighter would then be given the room to search after viewing the camera to see where the blind spot is and what the contents of the rooms are for orientation. After the two firefighters are involved in a room search, the officer would monitor conditions from the hallway and listen to the radio and for sounds of down victims in the other areas of the floor. He could search an additional bedroom if conditions allow him to leave his position of protection. If the officer were to leave his monitoring position for any reason, he should leave a large flashlight pointed toward the searching firefighters so they will know the way out of the bedrooms.
The firefighter would go directly to any victims seen by the camera and as directed by the officer from the doorway. If not seen, they would do a perimeter search: By placing a foot on the wall or a piece of furniture for orientation, they would extend to cover the middle of the room. Venting would be done when the firefighter reaches a window wall. This building’s floor plan may also have another room located on the first floor that could be used as a den or another bedroom. Depending on the fire’s location on arrival, this might be a fire floor area to search if it is adjacent to the fire room. This would especially be true if you found the door to this room open while waiting the few seconds for the engine company to knock down the fire. Firefighters would drag victims found singly or doubled up depending on the size of the victim, the length and orientation concerns of the drag to safety, or if the victim was found in the last bedroom to be searched.
Jay Riley, lieutenant, Green (OH) Division of Fire
Response: Operating a three-firefighter search team does not afford the officer the redundancy needed to split the crew. The entire company would be involved in the search operation as a complete unit. VES offers a rapid means for reaching the second-floor bedrooms. The company officer can use a TIC and direct the search by employing an oriented search of each room. The second floor would be the first floor searched, assuming the fire occurred during the night. At least the initial deployed rescue task company can use this tactic to quickly perform the primary search; it affords them a primary and secondary means of egress through the placement of ground ladders and the interior stairs. The fire suppression companies could initially search the first floor during their containment of the fire. Subsequent searchers could complete the first floor and basement through deployment by way of the first floor exterior doors.
Kai W. Rieger, firefighter/paramedic, Jackson Township Fire Department,Canton, Ohio
Response: The showing of fire out the front first-floor living room and the heavy and black smoke from the second-floor window above the front door and likely the stairwell indicate the stairwell conditions leading to the second floor. The second-floor bedroom windows above the garage are showing heavy smoke, although it is lighter than that above the stairwell. We would assume the bedroom door leading to the hallway is open. All this information is digested from side A (1); the other three sides would be sized up. The areas of sleep would be our biggest search priority in an occupied private-dwelling night fire, unless we had more specific additional information.
Taking our size-up into consideration, we have a very hostile environment on the second-floor hallway. We want the first attack hoseline to go through the front door on side A (1) between the fire and the stairwell. The attack team probably could get a good bit of the fire from this position and then move in. That would allow the search team to get to the second floor using the interior stairs. Without the attack hoseline in place and operating, the interior stairs likely would be untenable. I would attempt the stairs without an operating hoseline only in extreme situations (cries heard from nearby), such as if the stairwell looked as if it would “light up” soon. Victims on the stairwell or an unprotected landing are likely recoveries, not rescues.
We could initially assign search to a company of three or four. If it is three, we would make the second floor by the interior stairs and do an oriented search (firefighter remains in the hallway monitoring conditions and orienting the search team; the other two firefighters search the bedrooms and bathrooms alone—one on one side of the hall and the other on the opposite side). They would shut the doors as they enter the rooms and vent windows for life as they encounter them.
A four-person search company might split up into two teams of two. One team would take the fire floor, the other would search the floor above. In private dwellings of this size and age, the master bedroom is generally on the first floor, on side B (2) or D (4). This house appears to have a setback on side B (2) that very well could be the master bedroom.
If teams are on the floor above, we would call for the second line to come to the second floor landing for protection.
VES is a great option for the bedroom above the garage, but all teams must be well versed in its use. If we had only limited resources in the first minutes of this fire and had to choose between VES and the interior stairs, we would use our resources to control and access the interior stairs. After we complete the primary search of the high-priority areas, we would search the remaining areas of the building.
Lance C. Peeples, instructor, St. Louis County (MO) Fire Academy
Response: On arriving at a nighttime fire on the first floor of a two-story, single-family, wood-frame house, the engine and ladder companies must make a concerted effort to rescue trapped occupants. The first-due engine should enter through the front door and place a 13/4-inch line (flowing at least 150 gpm) in service to protect the interior stairwell. This single action will protect the occupants (who most likely are asleep in their upstairs bedrooms) from fire extending by way of the stairs and allow ladder company members time to undertake a primary search.
The ladder company must cover the following essential positions:
—Officer. Equipped with portable radio, a TIC (or a hand lantern) worn on a quick release sling, and an A-tool.
—Can. Equipped with a portable radio, a personal light, a six-foot hook, and a pressurized water extinguisher.
—Irons. Equipped with a portable radio (optional but strongly recommended equipment), a hand lantern worn on a quick-release sling, a halligan, and a flathead ax.
—Driver. Equipped with a portable radio, a personal light, and a flathead ax.
—Outside vent firefighter. Equipped with a portable radio, a hand lantern worn on a quick-release sling, a halligan tool, and a six-foot hook.
—Roof firefighter. Equipped with a portable radio, a hand lantern worn on a quick-release sling, a halligan tool, and a six-foot hook.
The initial actions of the interior team will be to force entry through the front door. Members will enter and search the first floor, beginning as close to the fire as they can safely get and then retreating back toward the front door while conducting the search. After the engine has its line in operation on the fire, “irons” will remain at the base of the stairs, maintaining contact with the hoseline and monitoring fire conditions. After informing the engine officer that they are going upstairs (a tap on the shoulder and a finger pointed upward establishes an absolute contract … the engine crew will not abandon its position until the ladder company is back on the first floor), the ladder officer and the “can” take the interior stairs to the second floor, where they will conduct a right-hand search pattern. Since the “can” is usually assigned to a junior member, the officer should stay in close proximity to this firefighter. The officer should stay in the doorway of any bedroom encountered while the can continues the right-hand search of the bedroom. If the can becomes disoriented, it is a simple matter for the officer to call out and reorient him to the location of the door.
While the interior team is conducting these operations, the exterior/outside team, consisting of the driver, outside vent (OV), and roof firefighters, will conduct VES operations from the exterior. If it is possible to use the aerial ladder, it should be placed to the front bedroom windows. If the aerial will not reach or is blocked out, they should use a portable ladder. The OV should ascend and conduct VES. The roof firefighter should use a portable 24-foot extension ladder to VES the side opposite that which the OV enters. The firefighter conducting VES at the rear of the building should notify the IC of conditions at the rear.
When conducting VES, use any porches encountered as a work platform.
Use the halligan to clear the window and take out the cross piece to “make a door” out of the window. Notify your officer by portable radio that you are entering the second floor for VES. Prior to entering, check the stability of the floor by sounding it with your tool and then carefully applying weight while straddling the sill.
After entering, leave your hook projecting into the room from the windowsill. It will then be easy to reorient yourself to the window when you run into the hook after completing your search. Close the door to the bedroom to isolate yourself from the fire, and then conduct your search. Once you have completed your search, reopen the door. Sweep the hallway as far as you can reach from the room, and then exit by the window. If working off a porch, retreat toward your ladder. If you encounter another bedroom window during your retreat, repeat the VES operation. After you have completed your VES assignment, notify your officer by portable radio.
Some may criticize my suggested operations after noting that the roof firefighter is operating alone. I would suggest that he is not. The roof firefighter is in a preassigned position, operating within 20 feet of the OV firefighter. His officer is aware of his location and should be monitoring his progress. If he gets into trouble, it would be a simple matter to call out for assistance or activate his PASS device. In addition, he should be within mere feet of the window he entered at all times—it’s a bedroom in a private home, not a warehouse! I don’t know where the idea arose that we need to hold hands while we conduct a primary search in a small private dwelling, but it is patently false. What is required is that firefighters be well trained, operate according to standard operating procedures, and exercise good judgment. Officers must know where their firefighters are operating at all times. If the atmosphere is immediately dangerous to life or health, then the members must be in physical or verbal (not just radio but verbal) contact. The second-due ladder should be used to reinforce the search operation.
Be sure to conduct a thorough secondary search using a company that did not participate in the primary search. This secondary search should be conducted after the fire has been knocked down and the building has been thoroughly vented. Search every conceivable place in which a small child may hide. Far too often, this important function is neglected or carelessly performed.
Craig H. Shelley, fire protection advisor, Saudi Aramco, Ras Tanura Division
Response: I will assume that the fire is occurring at night, my crews are four-person engines and four-person ladder companies, and I am responding with an initial assignment of one engine company and one ladder company.
Based on preplanned initial assignments for the engine and ladder companies, my first-arriving engine will begin the fire attack. Remember, more lives are saved by a properly positioned hoseline than any other means. My ladder will make a two-pronged search (interior and exterior). The time of day indicates a strong possibility of a life hazard in the upper-floor bedrooms. My exterior team (two firefighters) will position a ground ladder at the upper-floor bedroom windows and begin VES of the upper-floor bedrooms.
The interior team, consisting of the ladder company officer and one firefighter, will commence the interior search, carrying with them a set of irons as well as the six-foot hook and a 21/2-gallon extinguisher (can). The can will be used to knock down or contain limited fire if needed.
Fire appears on the first floor, so the search will be made immediately on entering the front door. When possible, and when control of the interior stairs has been obtained, this crew will attempt to move upstairs to the bedroom areas. If the crew moves upstairs, the next-arriving unit assigned to search will have to continue searching the first floor. Until it arrives, members of the initial attack engine can search as they advance the hoseline. The size of the bedrooms will allow one member to remain in the hallway while the second member quickly searches the room. The larger rooms, such as the living room/dining room combo, will require both members to search thoroughly. It is important that the search and extinguishment functions are performed simultaneously. Without fire control, the fire will spread rapidly because of the construction and open interior stairs, and the search will not be as complete as it needs to be to be most effective.
Communications between the fire attack team and both search crews must be maintained so that all operations are coordinated. Remember, we are allowed to forgo the RIT assignment based on the suspected life hazard, but it is still a necessity! As soon as practical, this position must be established to protect our personnel.
Tom Sitz, lieutenant, Painesville Township (OH) Fire Department
Response: Our goal would be search from three different routes covering the fire area, means of egress, and the floor above. As the first-alarm assignment showed up, firefighters would be plugged into the system. Based on the scenario given, you do not have confirmed reports of people trapped; more importantly, you do not have confirmation that everyone is out, so search and extinguishment must be given equal priority. Our primary goals for the search are fire area, means of egress, and bedrooms.
- Team 1 would be the attack team. It will search from the front door to the fire area while stretching and the general fire area after knockdown (means of egress and fire area).
- Team 2, a two-member team, would fall in behind the attack team with the goal of searching from the front door, up the stairs down the hall and into the bedrooms (means and egress and bedrooms).
- Team 3, a two-member team, would perform VES operations, placing the members directly in the bedrooms.
The officer most likely would go with the attack team for extinguishment, but there is enough flexibility in that position so that he could plug himself anywhere into the system where he is needed because of a shortage of personnel or based on his size-up.
David C. Comstock Jr., chief, Western Reserve Joint Fire District,Poland, Ohio
Response: Because of the volunteer nature of our fire district, the number of firefighters available for a structural fire response is always an unknown. However, the initial anticipated response for a report of a fire in a residence during the evening hours would be three engines, a ladder, and a squad. The first-due engine would stretch a 13/4-inch handline with a solid bore nozzle through the front door and would attempt to suppress the fire in the front room. The first-in line would also protect the stair area. The second engine company would stretch a second line through the front door to the second floor. The third-due engine company would stretch a backup line.
At night, the truck company would typically carry six firefighters. The company would be divided into two groups—the inside and the outside teams. The inside team would consist of the officer, irons, and can man. This team would be responsible for forcible entry and would conduct a search of the first floor, beginning closest to the fire. Exit ways would be checked and, if possible, the interior team would then work its way to the second floor to search bedroom areas. The truck company officer would stay in the hallway area while firefighters searched the rooms individually. The officer would maintain the TIC and serve as the orienting person for the bedroom search.
Meanwhile, the outside team, consisting of the chauffeur, outside vent man, and roof man, would ladder the building from the front for VES. Typically, the second-floor front windows would be entered first, as this is the area directly above the fire. However, because of the heavy fire involvement on the first floor and the likelihood of ventilation from that area, the ladder may be compromised as a means of egress. Therefore, VES techniques may be initiated from the windows above the garage, which is also likely to be farthest from the stairway area.
As the squad company arrives (typically two to four firefighters), a team would be sent to the rear to assist in second-floor VES efforts. Two additional firefighters would be assigned to the first floor to see if assistance is needed for rescue. If not, the crew would assist in pulling ceilings. I note that the outside team is also responsible for horizontal ventilation (it is likely that the engine companies would also vent as they advance the lines). An extra engine, ladder company, and RIT team would be called for this fire. Included within the RIT’s responsibilities would be to ensure that adequate ladders have been placed against the building for quick egress of firefighters and occupants.
In this scenario, a number of tasks must be completed, including forcible entry, stretching lines, ventilation, and search and rescue. A sufficient number of firefighters must be assigned so each task can be safely completed. One major task, search, must be initiated in several different areas simultaneously.
Danny Kistner, battalion chief, Garland (TX) Fire Department
Response: Given this scenario, the first-in officer would request a second alarm and broadcast that we are operating in the rescue mode. Presumptions will have to be made based on what that officer sees. For instance, I am assuming from the photo that the fire is occurring at night. Also, what indicators does the IC observe that would lead him to believe that the structure was presently occupied? Time of day and presumption of victims will play a strategic role in determining the tactics to use for search and rescue.
Let’s assume that there is a high probability of the structure’s being occupied and that the time of day is normal slumber hours. Following the additional alarm broadcast, assignments will be made. Rescue, fire attack, and ventilation will be high priorities and assigned according to the plan of action the IC is formulating in his mind. For instance, the IC may feel that an aggressive attack on the seat of the fire will give occupants the best chance of survival and assist the search team to the greatest extent possible.
Multiple assignments will probably be carried out simultaneously. The textbook scenario for search will be around the fire first, since victims found here would be in the greatest danger. Then, we would search above the fire.
Attack teams will be charged with searching around the fire; this is clearly within their scope. They are in the area and can observe through direct line of sight if conditions permit, hand sweep as they advance, or use thermal imaging devices. At this time of night, however, the probability of finding a victim in the immediate vicinity of this fire is low.
The IC would then assign primary search duties to an arriving company at his discretion. It would be the responsibility of the officer in charge of search to determine tactics unless the IC has a specific plan in mind based on intelligence gathered in the interim. The crew would stay together, not separate, and search the area above the fire using an oriented search approach and beginning in the area most affected by smoke.
Search crews would use the most expeditious route to their objective and conduct VES tactics by ladder or, depending on conditions, reach their objective by interior stairs and vent as they search. The primary search team would be equipped with various hand tools and a TIC. The search group officer would be conscious of changing conditions and be in radio communication with command and the attack group officer. A handline would not necessarily be deployed with the primary search group, but a backup team with a 13/4-inch handline would be assigned as soon as possible.
Ventilation would be ordered to augment both working groups, but priority would be given to the search group. The assigned officer would determine tactics. Consideration would be given to natural ventilation instead of mechanical, using outside vent procedures or vertical ventilation. Coordination with the primary search group members is imperative to avoid adversely affecting them or their efforts.
Once the primary search is completed and all groups have been accounted for, ventilation would probably be augmented with PPV.
How these fires are prepared for and approached have a dramatic effect on the outcome. Though they are bread-and-butter fires, the wise fire officer routinely drills on basic tactics. Fire officers must know the capabilities of those assigned, and firefighters must be able to trust the judgment of their officer.
Bobby Halton, deputy chief, Albuquerque (NM) Fire Department
Response: The first due in Albuquerque is generally our engine companies; our engine company staffing level is four—one officer, a driver, and two firefighters. Our deployment is excellent, and we should have three engines, a truck, a squad, two medic units, and two chiefs on-scene within four to six minutes.
I am assuming we have good information of possible trapped victims and that the information is good enough to warrant a two-in/two-out exception. Given all that and based on the photo supplied, we would put the first engine on the fire. We have preconnected 21/2-inch lines, and I would not be surprised to see one pulled first in for this fire. Locating and extinguishing this fire are critical to everyone’s survival, given the volume of smoke issuing from the second-floor windows, where the heat and products of combustion are being drawn. Unfortunately, the family members are probably in their bedrooms.
In our system, the second-due engine usually beats our truck companies and would perform the primary search of the second floor. The second-in engine company members would team up with one of our medic companies and take a 13/4-inch hose and a TIC with them to the second floor. The line would protect the crews as they make the hallway; the officer would stay on the line while teams of two would clear each second-floor room. The first floor would get help searching from the truck company. The third engine would be doing RIT and placing ladders to the second floor.
The most important key here is to remain oriented and control that first-floor fire before it becomes a first- and second-floor fire.