Applying the Principles
BY MIKE MASON
IN THE FIRE SERVICE, IT HAS BEEN IN- grained in us that almost every structure should be searched for
civilians. The decision making related
to the presence of occupants and their
rescue is one of our main fireground
responsibilities. Such a dangerous task
requires extensive training, sound size-
ups, and drawing on related search ex-
perience. Every search differs from one
residential fire to another. To ensure that
we save lives and protect our firefight-
ers, we must consider the following:
• The risk vs. benefit related to sur-
vivability for the civilian and the
• The life occupancy and the priority
areas in search size-ups including
the time of day before and during
• Search tools.
• The search team’s size and experience.
• The search techniques and their applicability for various types of searches.
• The accuracy and the speed of primary
and secondary searches.
• Applications and door control with
both oriented searches and vent-en-ter-isolate searches (VEIS).
• The search and the fire flow paths.
• The applicability for victim rescue and
Consider the above basic principles
and techniques in deciding whether to
commit firefighters to search any structure’s interior. Once they come across a
victim, they face the additional challenges of rescuing him, which may mean
moving a victim through a high-hazard
environment, risking depleting their
self-contained breathing apparatus
(SCBA) air, and becoming confused and
disoriented as they position and move
Once victims are found, their level of
mobility (i.e., conscious or unconscious)
demands using specific techniques
to extricate the victim and to ensure
firefighters can extricate themselves.
Regardless of the type of search, search
and rescue requires diligent communications among the search team members and between the search team and
outside incident command. Firefighters
must also establish an orderly and complete search, often under zero-visibility
conditions, to the best of their abilities.
Maintaining orientation during search is
Training and Experience
The initial firefighter recruit training
techniques emphasize maintaining
contact with walls and orienting your
search to the left or to the right. How-
ever, this alone is inadequate for the
residential search environment. The
seasoned firefighter will find these early
training methods are too slow and waste
valuable time. Victims need immediate
assistance, and firefighters need to move
quickly into a structure, as threatening
fire conditions are possibly deteriorating,
reducing the victim survivability profile.
Firefighters’ searches must be as quick
and as extensive as possible. Staying
stuck to a wall is not conducive to a
good search, nor is it always possible to
maintain contact with a wall because
of the room layout and furnishings in
a residence. Using appropriate search
methods increases the victim’s chances
The bedrooms and common passageways to and from them are the most likely
locations of occupants, especially during
the evening or early morning hours. In
doing a primary search of these areas,
use systematic and rapid movements.
You can do a solid primary search of most
bedrooms in about 20 to 30 seconds—one
rescuer searches while the other rescuer
monitors at the room’s entrance. The rescuer at the door verbally keeps the other
rescuer oriented during his search. The
door member also monitors fire conditions
and plans an exit strategy with or without
a victim if there is a need for rapid egress.
Sound Search Considerations
• Use reliable information to locate
( 1) The basic tools of search: flathead ax, halligan bar, two flashlights, looped webbing, rope bag for
larger residences, and a New York Hook. Use the hook only to help extend into a room to reach and
close and control doors. Do not drag pike poles and New York hooks around in residential searches.
(Photos by author.)