Large area tagline search
Just wanted to share the results of our RIT training where we conducted tag line searches of a large commercial structure. The following is the RIT officer's (Lt. W) debrief critique letter to all of us...
Training Location: In cooperation with the PFD we utilized the old Ames building to conduct our large area search training. While we have a number of similar structures in town, utilization of this abandoned structure eliminated any concerns about our training damaging the building.
Skills Sessions: The team was divided into groups of three to practice two search methods – the straight line search method and the leap frog search method.
The straight line search method was accomplished by having one firefighter (designated “the anchor”) with tools remain on the outside wall with a piece of rope in hand (designated the “search rope”). Another firefighter with tools (designated “the sweeper”) extended from the wall toward the center of the structure with the other end of the search rope in hand until the rope was tight. The third firefighter followed the anchor on the wall carrying the supplemental air and the tag line which was anchored outside the structure. The anchor and the sweeper moved parallel to each other in either a left hand or right hand search method keeping the rope tight. The amount of rope between the anchor and the sweeper can be adjusted as circumstances dictate however for purposes of our skills sessions we utilized approximately 30 feet. Keeping the rope tight and right at floor level the anchor and the sweeper made their way through the structure until the rope caught on something, at which point the sweeper moved down the rope to identify the obstacle. It is important to note, the anchor never left the wall so as to maintain bearings in the structure.
The leap frog method was practiced by once again having the anchor with tools and the sweeper with tools separated by a piece of rope approximately 30 feet long. Again the third firefighter followed the anchor on the wall with the supplemental air and the tag line which was anchored outside the structure. Unlike the straight line method, the leap frog method had the sweeper extend out on the rope until it was tight and then swept in an arch (keeping the rope tight) until the sweeper came back to the wall on which both the anchor and the third firefighter were located. At this point the sweeper became the anchor and the former anchor became the sweeper and would sweep out on an arch the length of the rope. In this fashion the sweeper and anchor would “leap frog” along the wall with the rope at floor level. If the rope hung up on an obstacle the sweeper would investigate while the anchor and third firefighter would remain on the wall. As the sweeper and anchor moved up the wall the third firefighter would move up the wall as well.
1. While both search methods were effective, the leap frog method was too time consuming – especially for RIT operations.
2. It was difficult for the sweeper to detect when the rope hung up on an obstacle, especially utilizing the leap frog method. Utilizing the straight line method the anchor definitely felt the rope hanging up on an obstacle.
3. The longer the rope the more difficult communications became between the anchor and the sweeper.
4. Because we were relying on the rope to perform the “search” of the area between the anchor and the sweeper it is imperative to remember ropes can pass over weakened floors, holes or other hazardous obstacles without anyone knowing. Therefore, if the rope fetches up on something the sweeper must aggressively sound the floor when moving along the search rope toward the obstacle.
5. While we should all be periodically checking our air supply as operations progress in any type of structure, it essential we perform these checks in large buildings such as strip malls, schools, industrial buildings etc . . . It is very easy to get so far into the building that we could run out of air if we wait for our low air alarm to sound before beginning our exit.
6. Searching large area structures is DIFFICULT! Additionally, the building construction of many of these structures contains numerous hazards (truss roofs spanning large distances, increased roof loads with HVAC units, electrical systems in the floors, high fire loads, etc. . . ). As a RIT we need to be prepared for rescues in these buildings, but as firefighters and officers in a non-RIT role we should strongly weigh the risks versus gains of committing firefighters to such structures during normal fire ground operations - understanding that if a firefighter gets in trouble inside one of these structures it may be difficult to perform a successful rescue.
1. Firefighter sounds a mayday disoriented and low on air somewhere on the Charlie side of the structure (this is what happened to Phoenix, Arizona firefighter Bret Tarver). RIT team of three was activated for the rescue. Utilizing a search rope of approximately 25 feet the team entered the structure with tools and supplemental air to perform a straight line search in zero visibility. The sweeper extended out on the rope until it was tight and then the team began moving parallel on to the Delta side wall until they hit the Charlie side wall. At this point the anchor and the third firefighter worked their way up the Charlie side wall until they reached the sweeper and then the sweeper extended out toward the center until the line was tight. The team then made their way down the Charlie side wall heading for the Bravo side wall. As obstacles were encountered the sweeper would investigate while the anchor and third firefighter investigated obstacles within their reach on the wall. The downed firefighter was located when the search rope hung up on him and the sweeper moved to investigate. Since this evolution focused on search techniques only we did not extricate the downed firefighter. Once the downed firefighter was located the team exited the building by following the tag line out.
1. As noted above, it is essential to thoroughly sound the floor while searching both in the straight line fashion and while moving down the search line toward an obstacle.
2. While PASS devices are easily heard, the vastness of these types of structures causes the alarm to echo making locating the device difficult and hampering communications within the team.
3. Once the firefighter is located trying to recoil the search line and stow it in zero visibility is extremely difficult. Leaving the search line out while crawling back toward the exit potentially exposes one or more of the team to entanglement hazards. Additionally, it becomes easy to confuse the search line for the tag line increasing the potential for disorientation. If the search line cannot be easily retrieved and stowed in a timely fashion it is recommended that it be left out of the way of the team so as not to impede extrication along the tag line.
4. When the team moves from one wall to another the tag line will straighten out into the center of the space. The further one travels down another wall different from that which was used on entry the greater the tag line will straighten such that in this case the tag line was easily 20 feet off the wall when the team followed it out of the structure. The team was moving along the tag line over ground previously searched by the search rope only, which exposed the team to potential hidden hazards (weak or missing floors, electrical hazards, etc…). For this reason it is important that upon exit the lead firefighter on the tag line aggressively sound floors and probe for obstacles on the way out. Alternatively, the team should pull the tag line toward the wall and use both the wall and the tag line as a guide toward the exit (although this may be more time consuming).
2. Firefighter sounds a mayday disoriented, low on air and boxes collapsed onto him somewhere on the Charlie side of the structure. RIT team of three was activated for the rescue. Utilizing a search rope of approximately 25 feet the team entered the structure with tools and supplemental air to perform a search in zero visibility. One member of the team was not clear on which search method was being utilized making a complete search of the area difficult. As obstacles were encountered the team searched around them and then removed the obstacles to an area already searched. By periodically checking their air the team was able to exit the area before becoming low on air. While the victim was not located, the team survived and some good lessons were learned.
1. Whether it is a RIT assignment or any other assignment on the fireground, all team members must know the plan. While it is the team leader’s responsibility to communicate the plan, it is the responsibility of each team member to ensure they know the plan. If you don’t know the plan or need clarification demand it from the team leader or one of your teammates.
2. While moving objects after searching around them and placing them in an area already searched can make the search go faster, it may make exit more difficult as “landmarks” are no longer where they were upon entry and the objects could be inadvertently placed on the tag line.
3. Periodic monitoring of air supplies in large structures in imperative.
Thanks to 304 for coordinating this valuable training. As we discovered there is a lot to conducting large area searches. We are by no means experts at this and there are certainly many other skills we will need to learn (how to communicate when longer pieces of rope are used, how to search large areas with aisles, etc . . .). While we don’t have many fires in our area involving large structures the potential certainly exists. Because of the potential and the relative lack of experience in fighting fires in these types of structures there is certainly an increased likelihood that the team could be activated for a rescue in such a structure. Accordingly, we will continue to practice and expand our skills in this area.
re: "Rapid Intervention Isn't Rapid"
And I've tried to read as much as I could get my hands on about this incident.
Originally posted by ullrichk
Phoenix did quite a bit of RIT training/research after losing Firefighter Tarver. They concluded that search lines are not a good idea. Nick Brunacini wrote about it in Fire Rescue Magazine this summer.
One thing I don't understand... their RIC did an amazing job locating FF Tarver in 8 minutes or so. To me, that IS rapid and that shows that it does work ("Rapid Intervention Isn't Rapid"). If their RIC was able to locate him and give him air, I think that is very successful in a structure that size -- especially if they didn't have the benefit of using TIC's.
So, locating him the first time didn't seem to be the problem. The problems seemed to begin AFTER he was located, such as being uncooperative/disoriented due to CO poisoning, becoming separated from the RIC, difficult removal once re-located due to obstacles, etc.
Removal in these circumstances is obviously going to be very difficult, and not as rapid as we'd like it to be. But I think the initial RIC did one heck of a job given the circumstances.
Given how Phoenix is considered by many to be on the cutting edge of the fire service, it surprises me when I read something like this:
"It is the author's opinion, that these intercom devices [in scba masks] will make a more significant enhancement toward safer and more effective firefighting operations than thermal imaging cameras)." I'd take TIC's over the voice amplifiers any day, if push came to shove.
If the RIC/RIT can get in and stabilize the FF's air supply and provide a defensive stronghold in the building, that's solving most of the problem (barring an immediately life threatening injury). The problem was in the capture and removal of FF Tarver. That's how I understood it, at least. The time-stamped benchmarks seem to support this as well.
Also in the article, there were conclusions drawn about not having enough air in standard SCBA's to perform a RIT evolution in a commercial building. A TIC would buy a SIGNIFICANT amount of this time back by eliminating wasted movement, which translates into less exertion and ultimately a conservation of air.