When firefighters answer an alarm for a residential fire, many tasks and priorities must be addressed. Among the most important, yet frequently overlooked tactics are the various and multiple potential rescue scenarios that may confront the first-arriving company. The primary decision faced by...
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While operating in the investigative mode, firefighters have already initiated the search phase of the operation. During the search, firefighters are actively looking for something, whether searching for fire, assessing interior conditions, searching for victims or all of the above.
When carrying out a primary search for victims during a working residential fire, operating firefighters must give special attention to focusing their efforts on the "high-target areas" within a residential occupancy. The high-target areas are the locations within a residential occupancy where a victim in need of rescue is most likely to be found by searching firefighters.
The high-target areas, in order of priority are:
- In direct proximity to the main/front door to the occupancy
- The bedrooms
- The bathrooms
Most victims rescued from a residential occupancy involved in fire are located within direct proximity to the main door to the occupancy. This is the door that the occupant is most likely to use. These are the occupants attempting to exit/self-rescue when they became overcome by the noxious environment. Because human beings rely on and resort to habit during moments of crisis, residential occupants will generally attempt to flee their homes by the door they use most often.
The second most likely place for victims in need of rescue to be located is in bedrooms. Most people that are aware of a fire will usually attempt to self-rescue. Occupants who are unable to self-rescue and those who are unaware of the fire would be those who are asleep, sick or invalid.
When searching a bedroom, firefighters must search, but not enter closets. Closets and their contents are potential entanglement and death traps for firefighters. Because closets become impromptu areas of refuge for frightened children, searching members should quickly sweep and probe each closet interior with one hand. Firefighters must not use tools to probe the closet space; probing blindly with tools is dangerous to victims. Using a hand to search the closet interior lets a firefighter identify objects as opposed to the time-consuming guesswork of judging and evaluating what is being encountered through the shaft of a blindly probing steel tool. Moreover, the speed at which the primary search is carried out is the essential and most crucial factor toward firefighters making a rescue. Be aware that it is not just children who hide during chaotic events; elderly people may hide when they perceive danger or are trapped by a fire.
Last, and most overlooked by firefighters during the primary search, are bathrooms. Residential occupancy bathrooms must be searched because trapped victims are drawn to them for the misguided belief that they are a safe haven. Victims wrongly believe that the tub, the shower spray or the tile will provide an element of safety for them while they await rescue. Searching members must be sure to investigate those areas within the bathroom that they cannot visualize; i.e., the interior of the tub/shower. A simple shower curtain can cause a victim to be missed during the primary search. To avoid this mistake, a firefighter needs only to place a hand into the tub/shower area during the search.
When responding to residential fire alarms or performing a residential search, firefighters must be vigilant and guard against the worst enemy of all — complacency. Following established departmental procedures and following safety guidelines will keep responders safe and efficient.
MICHAEL BRICAULT is a 16-year veteran firefighter serving with the City of Albuquerque, NM, Fire Department. He is a nationally certified fire service instructor, frequent speaker, and author of residential search and rescue tactics and procedures.