The Outside Ventilation Firefighter

An Operational Overview at Two Story Private Dwelling Fires
By: Ray McCormack

The outside ventilation (OV) position, is one of the most dynamic positions that a firefighter can be assigned. The OV firefighter is responsible for many tasks that can affect the decisions of the ladder company officer and incident commander (IC) on the fireground. The actions that the OV performs can save lives as well make or break the fire.

The top three immediate concerns of an OV firefighter include:

1. Communicating conditions seen on the side or sides of the fire building that the ladder company officer did not see, before or after entering the fire building.

2. Ventilating the building. This is selective, timed and occurs opposite the attack hose line.

3. Locating the entry point for vent, enter and search (VES) operations, typically performed behind the fire and in selected areas above it.

Communicating Conditions

An OV firefighter must be radio-equipped. Clear, concise and accurate transmissions must flow from the OV to other members on the fireground. The OV may be the firefighter responsible for conducting a “walk-around” (SOG/SOP dependent) and reporting back to the officer.

Perhaps the officer entering the front of the building was only afforded the opportunity to observe an orange glow in the sky emanating from the rear. That officer might adjust their tactics when the OV firefighter transmits, “We have fire out two windows, second floor rear!” Now that the officer, already in the building conducting a primary search, knows the conditions and location of the fire, the inside team can move to that location, and attempt to confine the fire until an attack line reaches the area.

The OV is also responsible for communicating odd characteristics of buildings. For instance, the presence of a fire escape or separate stairway on the rear or side of the building, possibly indicating a multi-family occupancy, is information that must be transmitted so that everyone knows more about the fire building. Knowing this, the IC can make any subsequent tactical adjustments.

The OV firefighter will use the radio to inform the officer of his location and if he will be entering to search. Knowing his entry point is important. The OV should also broadcast his search progress via the radio and describe where he is in the dwelling. If conditions preclude his entry, this should be passed on to the officer so that the OV firefighter can be reassigned other tasks.

Ventilating the Building

Sometimes the OV will not enter the building and will just perform horizontal ventilation. When venting the building to assist with the progress of the engine company, time the ventilation. Premature or indiscriminate ventilation can cause more harm than good. Be especially mindful of any wind condition that would negatively impact the interior of the fire building.

Window ventilation should start at the rear of the fire area, opposite the hose line’s advance. In other words, ventilation should work its way back toward the hose line’s entrance point. Start with the fire room and supplement where needed. Do not vent behind the attack line until there is a knockdown of the fire.

If you have any doubt as to when you should vent, wait until you see and hear evidence of the engine company’s arrival at the fire room. When the window is getting hit by the stream, taking the window will remove heat and steam from the area safely. Vent windows from high to low, taking the upper portion first. Stay out of the path of an exiting hose stream by using the reach of the hook to your advantage.

Location of VES

The first thing for an OV firefighter to accomplish is to arrive at the correct operating position. At private dwelling fires, common obstacles to arriving there include locked gates, fences, shrubs, debris, pools and the occasional dog, which can cause a short delay. It is important to note that any significant delay or hazardous feature must be relayed to the ladder company officer via radio.

At most private dwelling fires, the correct operating position for the first arriving OV firefighter should be the rear or side yard. Once the OV firefighter arrives at the location, a conditions report should be transmitted over the radio.

Simultaneously, the OV firefighter should be formulating a plan of attack, prioritizing bedroom windows for VES. The primary target is the most severely exposed bedroom window where a victim is most likely to be saved. Decisions must be made and questions asked and answered very quickly. All answers will be made by the OV firefighter. Use your experience and a properly size-up the conditions present and expected as you contemplate a successful entry and exit from the area.

Questions the OV should ask himself include:
Will I be able to vent that window?
Will I have to locate the interior door and close it before fire enters the room?
What am I going to do if there is no interior door?
Where is the fire now?
Where is the fire headed?
Is there a rear porch or other building structure that will assist me in searching several rooms without moving a ladder from window to window?

All of these answers will factor into your decision to go or not.

Tool Selection

A Halligan tool and a 6-foot hook are the tools of choice for the OV at private dwelling fires. The Halligan tool can be used for prying open windows and doors, and act as a ladder stop while the 6-foot hook will allow you to vent distant windows. A 24-foot extension ladder should also be added to the inventory since the primary mission of the OV is to conduct a primary search via the exterior into the most severely exposed bedroom(s). In most cases, the most severely exposed bedrooms are the ones located on the second floor of most two-story private dwellings.

Some firefighters may choose to take a 16-foot or 20-foot straight ladder to perform operations on the second floor. While these ladders are good for predetermined climbing heights, they do not afford the flexibility of an extension ladder. The 24’ extension ladder will allow you to hit almost all second floor windows regardless of a walk-out basement, shrubs, debris, cars, trees, etc. The aforementioned obstructions may render a shorter straight ladder useless they are located directly in line with your objective. In addition, straight ladders may not allow you to place the ladder at the sill for entry or rescue as easily as extension ladders.

If VES is to be performed on the first floor, a 10-foot folding ladder or scissor-ladder may also prove helpful to provide the “boost” needed to gain access into a first floor window situated slightly higher on the building. Some OV firefighters will substitute the scissor-ladder for the 6-foot hook.

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