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Is Large Area Search Really The Answer?

Keeping with our search theme from the last post this video highlights “Large Area Search” training. This is a tactic that is supposed to be used with large commercial occupanices in order to locate victims in the structure.

Honestly speaking this tactic in my opinion is a shot in the dark at best that will typically only succeed with a lot of luck on your side. The video speaks for itself, sure its training but that highlights my point even further. The technique is slow, and time-consuming under training conditions, these things will only be magnified under hostile conditions of high heat, noise, and additional building features.

These guys had a relatively easy evolution, aprox. 50 feet in a wide open concrete pad, with no ancillary noise (minus the victims pass device), and no random debris (pillars, machines, rack storage, etc.) and it still took them a very long time to reach their victims, they did not complete the rescue, and they ran low on air. Imagine if they had been further in a building, and their tag line (main search rope) was compromised (tangled, wrapped, cut, etc.) you’re looking at the makings of a multiple LODD.

There is just to many factors in this type of operation to go wrong in order for it to be a viable fireground option. I consider it only in Mayday situations. Not to say I will not use a tag line if I am going into a large occupancy but I use it for orientation to an exit not to perform a search, this also poses some of the same dangers and difficulties mentioned above.

Here is an additional video that illustrates some of the difficulties from FDIC 2010 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_p3A4gqZGc&NR=1

Bottom line is searching in a large commercial occupancy is a needle in a haystack adventure, success frequency is measured like Haley’s comet and not the new year (meaning it doesn’t happen often). We simply can not reach unprotected victims fast enough, due to the construction, our SCBA air, the hostile environment, the slow speed of the technique, and the hazards of using the rope. The only reason I would even consider this technique for a firefighter rescue is that they have additional protection from the hostile environment so we have a little more (not much more) time to effective a rescue with a positive outcome. Additionally we have tools to replace one of the things they are lacking (RIT bottle, and RIT Mask). However the same factors still exist, and same difficulties remain. Keep in mind Chief McNamee from Worchester kept men from going to rescue 6 men trapped in the cold storage warehouse once he felt it was a lost cause due to the length of time they were missing, fire, and building conditions. Have to guts to be like Chief McNamee and keep the firefighters that are still alive out if the situation has no benefit.

So if this is not the answer then what is? I know me personally my search on these buildings is focused on the standard egress points. I would have a special service company aggressively search the pedestrian door areas, and possibly extend a few feet in into the common travel ways. Reason being is that typically people are going to try to evacuate in an emergency and they are going to head to normal routes of travel as we are creatures of habit, they however might get overcome and fall short of the exit point.

What do you think? What ideas or operations can you come up with? Leave some feedback in the comments section. Stay safe and thanks for reading!

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