Search Line Survival Training - Part I

The use of search lines on the fireground is not by any means a new concept. Some departments have been training their firefighters to use various types of search lines for better than 20 years.


The use of search lines (or lifelines) on the fireground is not by any means a new concept. Some departments have been training their firefighters to use various types of search lines for better than 20 years. Unfortunately, few to my knowledge have addressed the complexity of search line survival training. Search techniques, search patterns and deployment methods are all necessary, but user confidence and the ability to identify and navigate potential hazards during search line operations is of extreme importance for the safety and survival of our members.

Photo Courtesy Timothy E. Sendelbach

As we look at search line operations, the complexity of the search techniques and search line deployment only begin to touch the surface of what is necessary to conduct a search line operation. Issues of incident management, fireground accountability/tracking (personnel accountability reports), communications (progress reporting, "emergency traffic" procedures), proper use of PASS alarms, confidence in SCBA operations (partial and full-escape procedures), hand tool usage for navigation and probing all become an intrigue part of search line survival training.

This program has been designed as a multi-faceted training program that incorporates some of the most common fireground hazards into a realistic training scenario beneficial to all ranks. This program will not only provide participants with the necessary survival skills for safe and effective search line operations, it will also enhance some of the most basic skills of effective fireground management.


In August of 2000, Anthony Avillo and Mike Nasta, wrote an article for Fire Engineering Magazine titled "Lessons Learned From Mask Confidence Training." This article features a mask confidence course that requires the participants to overcome some of the most common hazards found on the fireground today, hazards such as; holes in floors, open floor joist assemblies, entanglements, restricted openings were all addressed. As I read this article, I decided to take advantage of the ideas and concepts presented, while at the same time add some additional aspects that would enlist the skills necessary for search line survival training. The following information is a brief overview of what was developed.


The purpose of a search line operation is two-fold, first, search line operations are oftentimes deployed during large area operations including; supermarkets, warehouses, theaters, etc. and when a large area must be searched with a minimal number of on scene personnel. The use of search lines and/or tag lines allows a group of as few as six (6) members to cover a large area safely and effectively in a short period of time.

Secondly, search lines are deployed as a means of orientation for entering and exiting firefighters. Traditionally, firefighters are trained to orientate themselves by maintaining direct contact with walls; search lines provide a secondary means of orientation while providing firefighters additional flexibility and mobility in their search efforts.

The use of search lines during Safety Engine/RIT search operations is also becoming more common. Search lines are quickly deployed and provide a method of tracking the area searched while at the same time providing an immediate means of orientating members for rapid egress. In the case of Safety Engine/RIT search operations, search lines provide a more direct path of escape than the traditional wall orientation. This direct path also provides a quick point of directional reference for incoming rescue crews to expedite the rescue efforts.


Floodlight or Spotlight - A large floodlight or spotlight should be placed just inside the entrance to serve as a point of reference for rapid egress incase of disorientation. Members conducting search line operations should be trained to go towards light if they should become lost or disoriented.

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