For a while now there have been blogs, articles, and talk detailing the reasons we should search. These articles specifically focus on the argument on wethere to enter or not enter “vacant” properties. These articles are thrown at you every time someone is saved from a “vacant” property. You can take a look for yourself here: http://backstepfirefighter.com/why-we-search/
Now I admit my opinion on search in these or any type of occupancy for that matter has changed over the years. I do think we have an obligation to search, however we must be smart when doing so. Furthermore when we deal with “vacant” properties we can not and should not treat them the same as occupied homes when it comes to any operation. Simply put they are different. They are boarded up (sometimes even more heavily secured), and they can be in various states of distress that will be magnified by fire. So in my opinion if the building conditions, or fire conditions are keeping us out then we do not search. If you have read this blog any amount of time you will know that I have said this story before but it warrants mentioning here as an example. One of the vacant fires I have responded to in my time on the job was in and old abandaonded baloon frame home. When we arrived the home was boarded up and fire was coming from the attic. When we went to open the house up we found that there was no floor on either of the floors. At this point we made the determination to not search this building, due to the building being in distress. If someone had just rushed in we would have been dealing with a sever firefighter injury and possibly a LODD (the basement was full of water from rain via the holes in the roof).
While I think all of the information out there being shared is good you can not always search, and you can not always stay out. However the opposite ends of the argument only give you the absolutes (always search, or never search). They always give you the why but they in my opinion have failed to give you the how.
How do we search these buildings? How do we make these decisions?
Well here is my attempt at giving you a peice of the how.
Occupancy: The occupancy should dictate the search just as much as the fire conditions. The building must be able to withstand the threat of fire long enough for us to complete interior search operations. This can be affected by the buildings contents, general well being, and size. Our most succesful searches are in the single and multi family arena. Large area searches typically yeild poor results and are very man power intensive. When dealing with residential buildings consider the time of day and the lay out of the home and focus on common areas (bed rooms, living rooms, dens, basements) take visual cues from your size up (window AC units, and fire conditions) on where to focus your efforts. In commercial occupancies focus your intial searches on the occupancy exit and entrance points, then in practical go deeper into the occupancy.
Staffing: Simply put searching takes alot of people. Your people will dictate the type of search that will be most effective for you. If you come from a small department then an “Engine Company Search” (search with the hoseline to the fire area and once making a hit on the fire branch off the hose line) may be all that you can do. If you come from a larger department you may be able to assign multiple companies to search and can increase the surface area you can cover, and apply mulitple search techniques.
Fire: Fire conditions dictate where, when, and even if we are going to search. If the fire is to great for us to survive with our fully encapsulated ensamble then an unprotected victim will not be able to survive. I know some people out there will say there is always a chance, and in some cases we do get lucky, however smoke kills victims long before they are ever challanged by fire, humans can not survive in an oxygen deficient enviroment. Humans can also not survive in high temperatures as the airway will burn with surprisingly low temperatures. We must focus our search efforts on portions of the structure were viable victims can be located.
Response times: This plays a factor as well. With todays materials that burn with higher heat release rates coupled with lightweight building construction if you can not arrive in a timely fashion then you ability or window to make an impact will be greatly diminished.
You must take all of these factors and make a self assesment of YOUR department. When you plug in all the numbers what your department and my department can do will probably be different. Once you make that determination you have to come up with a plan to search your buildings, and then practice that plan. For example when I was assigned to a truck company VES was our default search, due to the type of buildings we had and the types of fires we responded most to. So we practiced VES until we were sick of it, and then we practiced it some more. Go out look at your buildings and then get on the drill ground to figure out what is going to work for you.
Take a look at the video below, your the first arriving special service company (truck, squad, rescue, whatever you got that does search) you arrive just as the engine is stretching the line. What is you plan to search this building? Are you going to search at all? Why or Why not? Where are you going to focus your search?
Bottom line is in order to get people to search you can not just tell them Why, you have to tell and show them HOW! Only when people have a full understanding of what it actually takes to search, the process, procedures, etc. will they search succesfully.
I leave you with this, I have searched alot of buildings and have had the oppourtunity to assist/find 7 people in fire buildings. All were dead, none lived, none of them were burned or even close to the fire. They were all in remote rooms away from the fire. In all of these fires aggressive interior searches were made with multiple companies. Whats the point? Sometimes luck plays a bigger factor than we think in the succesful outcome of victims surviving vs dying. The important thing for you to do is to make sure your trained enough to when training, luck, and oppourtunity all meet in the same place your ready to act.
Be sure to keep following along on twitter @averagejakeff
As usual thanks for reading, spread the word, and STAY SAFE!