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Saving lives is a firefighter’s primary objective. Every second matters, and people trapped inside a burning structure can’t wait until the blaze has been extinguished. This is why fire search and rescue is a critical component of firefighting operations.

“Search and rescue” refers to the practice of conducting a quick and complete search for anyone who may need help. Because this step is performed before or during the suppression of a fire, it is typically done in some of the most adverse conditions imaginable. Smoke may be heavy inside, reducing visibility to almost nothing. Floors can be weakened by flames, putting them at risk of collapse. Debris and walls of flame can transform simple floor plans into deadly mazes.

For these reasons, fire department search and rescue operations must be tightly coordinated, and firefighters must be properly equipped. Emergency responders receive extensive training on how to use the safety equipment to get people out of these intensely dangerous situations. Read on to learn more about some of the most common search and rescue techniques used by firefighters.

Initial Assessment

Every firefighting operation begins with a swift appraisal of the property. This typically involves a firefighter walking around the perimeter to gain basic details such as the building type and size, location of doors and windows, and whether there appear to be any occupants. For the sake of consistency, crews refer to the street-facing or addressable side of the building as “side A,” with the other sides named B, C and D in a clockwise order. This ensures that these responders always know which way they’re oriented.

Establishing Priorities

Time is short when searching a burning home or other structure, which means teams must determine where to concentrate their efforts. Typically, the most immediate concern is the floor where the fire broke out, followed by the one directly above it. This is because fire and smoke rise. Once these areas are searched, crews move on to highest floor and work downward because of the risk posed by rising smoke. After these searches are completed, the efforts focus on the floors below the fire.

Primary Search Techniques

When conducting a primary check for survivors, firefighters must work in teams of two. They work while in contact with a wall, in a consistent direction to avoid becoming lost. Touching the wall at all times enables a firefighter to locate doors, windows and obstacles. In some cases, responders perform what is known as an oriented person search. This technique involves one team member remaining in one location and directing his or her teammates around the room.

Another valuable strategy in these scenarios is the vent-enter-isolate-search protocol. With this technique, firefighters open a window from outside the building, then enter to look for anyone who may be sheltering inside the room. This is typically employed for quick searches of upper-floor bedrooms and other high-risk areas where there is a significant probability of finding people. Some of the most important search and rescue tools for these types of procedures include thermal imaging cameras for enhanced visibility and powerful flashlights to cut through thick smoke and darkness.

Rescue Techniques

In the event that a survivor is located during a sweep, emergency crews have a number of options to get him or her out safely. The rescue methods depend on the severity of the blaze and the victim’s condition. Firefighters may tell an occupant to shelter in place if there is a safe area, or they might assist ambulatory victims out of the building or carry an unconscious or incapacitated person to safety.

BlowHard Provides Proper Ventilation

In order to keep everyone safe during a fire, it is critical to create the safest possible environment. By removing smoke and toxins from the air once the fire is extinguished or contained, BlowHard’s powerful PPV fans assist firefighting crews when making a final check of the structure. To learn more about our equipment and how it can help, click here.