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Engine Company Search: Split Level House

Engine Company Search: Split Level House

Life Safety is the fire services number one priority, typically accomplished by searching for victims of fire inside fire buildings. This is a high risk, high man power, and high intensity tactic that must be planned and coordinated. However, fire departments all over the country often are faced with the choice of either searching or fire suppression due to the lack of the aforementioned man power. Even in departments where man power is not an issue things happen, units get delayed and the first arriving engine is again faced with should they put the fire out or search for victims. This is a fools choice as both need to be accomplished in order to be successful. The best thing an engine company can do to save lives is to stretch a line and extinguish the fire, however this alone does not locate and remove victims. The following is a plan to accomplish BOTH of these important tasks with limited man power, and providing relative safety to the fire attack crews in a common residential structure the “Split Level” House. This is NOT an ideal situation, as separate crews (one fire attack, one search and rescue) will always be faster, and more efficient. This is for those departments, or circumstances an engine company finds itself operating without support apparatus and needs to accomplish fire suppression and search.

The “Split Level” house is identified from the exterior by a door in the very center of the house usually with a set of stairs leading up to that door, and exterior windows above and below the door level. When you enter through the front door you are immediately met with a stair well landing with stairs that either lead you up or down. These stairs are usually the primary travel and exit points, and need to be controlled, protected and searched. Often times victims trying to self-evacuate will be found on or near these stairs. These stairs are also main points of travel for crews operating on the interior.

(upper floor interior attack)

(split level lower floor interior attack)

Split Level Interior Attack:
While responding the first in officer should relay the water supply plan to the other responding companies.

Upon arrival the officer gives an initial on scene size up.

The nozzle firefighter deploys attack hand line.

The officer performs a 360-degree size up. This is vital to ensure the location of the fire, assess flashover potential, locate the best entry point, locate possible exit points, assess any hazards present, and locate victims that may have self-evacuated to the other sides of the building.

The nozzle firefighter, and officer then advance a charged hand-line to the seat of the fire.
Once water is being flowed on the fire the officer then begins to search off of the hose line from the fire room back, starting with the rooms directly adjacent to the fire room, then the next most impacted areas usually the egress points (stairs) and the floors above. The Nozzle firefighter maintains their position in the fire room protecting the searching officer.

If a victim is located the officer makes contact with the nozzle firefighter, if fire is still active the officer attempts removal, or isolation. If fire not active nozzle firefighter moves hand-line to the officer to maintain protection, and assist in removal.

Interior crews must always be cognizant of structural stability when operating in any multi floor occupancy. Fire can weaken structural members and additional weight of firefighters and water can increase the threat of collapse. This is essentially crucial in any interior attack on a below grade or lower level interior attack when operating on the fire floor or floors above. Additionally, interior attacks down stairs through a flow path of heat, smoke, and fire can be difficult to say the least. Stairs are for moving not hanging out and must be ascended, and descended rapidly.

The “Split Level” can also provide alternative entry points via rear and side doors. Making entry via these points may make sense but the same rules still apply, stretching the hose line to the seat of the fire and in a position to protect the interior stair, and forthcoming search is critical no matter the entry point. These entry points are identified on the initial 360 by the company officer.

(The multiple lines, indicate the same line with several options for transitional attack)
Split Level Transitional Attack:

While responding the first in officer should relay the water supply plan to the other responding companies.

Upon arrival the officer gives and initial on scene size up.

The nozzle firefighter deploys attack hand line.

The officer performs a 360-degree size up. This is vital to ensure the location of the fire, assess flashover potential, locate the best entry point, locate possible exit points, assess any hazards present, and locate victims that may have self-evacuated to the other sides of the building

While the officer is performing the 360 (this can be afterward if the officer identifies the room on the 360), the nozzle firefighter begins to flow water into the fire room.

Once the 360 is complete the officer and nozzle firefighter transition to the interior, and advance to the fire room, where water is flowed to fully extinguish the fire.

Once the hand line is flowing water into the fire room, the officer begins to search off the hose line from the fire room back, starting with the rooms directly adjacent to the fire room. The Nozzle firefighter maintains their position in the fire room protecting the searching officer.

If a victim is located the officer makes contact with the nozzle firefighter, if fire is still active the officer attempts removal, or isolation. If fire not active nozzle firefighter moves hand-line to the officer to maintain protection, and assist in removal.

It is important to note that once transitioned to the interior the same rules apply as interior fire attack. Structural stability must be assessed, and the stairs a primary route of travel and critical piece of interior real estate must be controlled and protected.

Again, this is not an ideal situation, but a plan to accomplish two critical fire ground tasks with minimal man power, and maximizing safety. No matter if your attack starts interior or exterior eventually the building must be searched. Having a well-coordinated plan, and training on the plan is the key to proper execution on the fire ground.

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