VES: Ventilate, Enter & Search

You probably read and hear lots of fire service instructors talk about “VES” all the time. VES – ventilate, enter and search – is a major function of any fire department that conducts interior structural firefighting. Sounds pretty simple too, doesn’t it? Quite honestly, it is not. Let’s take a look at VES and see just what it is and how it’s done.

Ventilate, enter and search. Why are these otherwise unrelated tactics grouped together? We all know what ventilation is, don’t we? Lots of firefighters are involved in ventilation at a building fire. Many interior structural firefighters also enter the building to perform various tactics and search is a mainstay of just about every interior structural fire operation. VES is tactic that is performed by firefighters together, in rapid succession and from the outside of the building.

What we are really talking about is a team of firefighters gaining entry into a burning building via a window, most often from a ladder, and conducting a rapid search of the room they entered. When the search is complete, they generally exit via the same route and quickly enter another room via another window.

Using the proper tactics

Now that we know what it is, what tactics are required for effective VES?

Ladder work – The proper-size portable ladder must be selected and transported to a position below the window. Proper size is critical to proper positioning. The proper position is with the tip of the ladder at the window sill, but I prefer under the window sill so it is easy to get back out onto the ladder and to remove an unconscious victim onto the ladder.

Ventilate – Once firefighters reach the top of the ladder, they must “take,” or break, the window so they can enter and get to work. Based on the tools that are carried, one of which must be a halligan tool, the entire window opening must be cleared out. No glass, metal, wood or any other elements of the window can be left in place. This is the only way to properly and safely get in through the window and get out, with or without a victim.

Enter – There are several situations that you may encounter at this point that must be handled. First, you should reach in with a tool and gently sweep the floor area under the window in case an unconscious victim is lying there. “Gently” is so you don’t cause injury to a person who has already been incapacitated by the smoke.

If the area is clear, you should reach down forcibly with the tool and make sure that there is a good solid floor for you to climb down onto. If there is a piece of furniture below the window, if it is a couch, bed or other large piece, climb in and onto it, then reach down with the tool and feel for the floor again. If the furniture is small, light and movable, move it. We generally don’t like to move furniture during a search, but we don’t want to climb in onto something that we may fall off of.

So now you are in. What next? Immediately penetrate into the room, locate the entrance door and close it. Depending on the smoke conditions and visibility, you may be able to see across the room or you may have to rapidly follow the wall until you find the door. Whatever you do, don’t delay this critical step. The door must be closed – and it must be done first. We do this because when we vented the window, we sent a message to the fire and smoke that there was now another way for them to move. Yes, the fire now knows that you vented a window; if the door to this room is also open, it completes the circuit and the fire will begin moving. Close the door!

Search – Search is a complex and difficult tactic, but it will be slightly easier for you at this operation. Here’s why: Because you are performing VES, your challenge is simple – search this room, get back to the window and get out. No hallways or doorways to slow you down.

Your search routine here should include all of the standard search skills such as keeping contact and/or awareness of the wall, locating and venting additional windows, locating, identifying and remembering each piece of furniture for the purpose of staying oriented, and sweeping under, around and on top of couches, beds and chairs. When your search is complete, get back to that door and open it before you exit. This action will assist in the ventilation of the building through this room once you have exited the window.

Vent, enter and search. Now it all makes sense.