High Risk/High Reward - Searching for Life on the Fireground - Part 2

This article is part of a series of articles focused on considerations for primary search.

Communication is Vital During Search Process
Search activities on the fireground need to focus on fire as well as life. It is imperative that search activities be closely coordinated with suppression and ventilation efforts on the fireground to avoid further hostile conditions being forced upon the search team. Search crews should ventilate as they progress, provided that it will not draw fire to their location or cut them off from their egress point. This action, known as venting for life, will allow heat and smoke to lift improving the search conditions as well as the tenability factor for victims. If a window is broken, for ventilation or not, the search team should make it a point to take a "quick look" out the window to orient themselves to their location on the fireground. If fire conditions are encountered, they should be isolated by closing a door or other means if possible.

Whatever actions are taken, it is important that the search crew communicates in an effective manner. This is not saying that they should waste valuable and precious time by stopping to give a "play by play" report but rather a very brief report to keep the IC updated on the conditions that they are experiencing, what actions they may be undertaking and any special needs that they may have (such as ventilation in a specific area, additional line for extension, etc.). This information can directly affect the IC's strategic plan. Letting the IC know your location can also help if the search crew needs help in an emergency regarding the placement of ladders, additional hoselines or RIT deployment.

In turn, the IC must not take it for granted that the interior search crew can see the same conditions that they may be observing on the exterior. Reading the building, assessing rescue profile, evaluating smoke and fire conditions by the IC must be continual since the fireground is dynamic and ever changing as the incident progresses. The IC must let the interior search team know what is happening on the exterior! Overlooking this important aspect of communication has contributed to numerous firefighter line of duty fatalities. Time stamp types of communications can also be very beneficial in the area of air management. Hearing that the crew has been in for a called out length of time can also prompt the officer to perform an air check with his crew. Again, this is not meant to be an ultimate solution as everyone must exhibit responsibility for their own air management while working on the fireground - it's your life, why would you place it 100 percent in someone else's hands to manage your air in a hostile environment?

The search of fire buildings can be one of the most rewarding actions taken on the fireground but can also be the most hazardous duty performed. Searches for the rescue of trapped occupants are often performed under the most adverse conditions where a matter of even seconds can mean the difference between success and failure. Continual training in the basic areas of firefighting is a mandatory requirement if success is expected. Is your crew ready to meet this challenge? 

JEFFREY PINDELSKI, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a 18-year veteran of the fire service and currently serves as a battalion chief with the Downers Grove, IL, Fire Department. Jeff is a staff instructor at the College of Du Page and has been involved with the design of several training programs dedicated to firefighter safety and survival. Jeff is the co-author of the text R.I.C.O., Rapid Intervention Company Operations and is a revising author of the 3rd edition of the Firefighter's Handbook. He participated in Training & Tactics Talk on Radio@Firehouse.com To read Jeff's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Jeff by e-mail at firelt226@aol.com.