Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Structural Training
Back to Basics: June 2013

One of the many functions of a truck company on the fire ground is to search inside a structure for any unaccounted for occupants, and then remove any victims quickly and efficiently.

June 4, 2013
By Mark van der Feyst


One of the many functions of a truck company on the fire ground is to search inside a structure for any unaccounted for occupants, and then remove any victims quickly and efficiently. However, this task is not reserved for a truck company. It is often performed by the first-arriving unit, which could be an engine company, a squad or rescue company, or a ladder company. Regardless, if the conditions warrant a fast attack of the fire, a search should be commenced immediately so the removal of any occupants can take place.

The fire conditions will dictate whether an occupant inside a structure will be a victim rescue or a victim removal. The decision to conduct a search must be made within the first few moments of arrival, which will set the tone and pace for the operation.

Photo 1: When removing a victim down a ladder from the second storey of a structure, the firefighter on the ladder outside of the building guides the victim into the correct position.
Photo 2: The victim will end up on the ladder lying horizontally across the arms of the firefighter.  
Photo 3: The firefighter will have one arm under the victim’s armpit and his other arm between the victim’s legs.  
Photo 4: To get the victim off of the ladder, the rescuing firefighter will remove his arm from between the victim’s legs, allowing the legs to drop to the ground.

Photo 5: The firefighter will then grasp his own hands in front of the victim and drag the victim to awaiting medical personnel. Photos by Mark van der Feyst



Once a victim has been located, he or she needs to be removed. This removal should be quick, using the nearest exit point, which in most areas of a home, will be a window. The interior rescue team will be able to easily drag the victim a short distance to the window and get another team outside to move the occupant down a ladder to safety.

The window may be laddered by one firefighter or by a team of two. If two firefighters are assigned, then there will be ample help to bring down the occupant. If only one firefighter is available to ladder the window, then the interior rescue team may need to help in the descent. When there is just one available firefighter to ladder the window, that firefighter will heel the ladder at the bottom while the interior team sends one firefighter out onto the ladder to receive the occupant as the person is passed through the window.

Passing the victim through a window will be the tough part for the interior team. Lifting a person from the floor to the windowsill will be enough to fatigue the crew; it will be a challenge to muster the energy required to drag the victim there. If the lift requires both firefighters and just one firefighter is available to ladder the outside window, the occupant will have to be staged on the windowsill so that one firefighter from the interior rescue team can climb over the occupant and onto the ladder. That firefighter will then be ready to receive the occupant as the remaining interior rescue firefighter helps to push and guide the occupant out.

The easiest way to bring a victim down a ladder is to position him or her horizontally across the arms of the firefighter. This position allows the firefighter to maintain control of the victim at all times while descending down the ladder, one rung at a time. This position can be easily set up with either the victim’s head or feet being passed through the window first. The firefighter on the ladder will guide the occupant into the correct position, as seen in photo 1.

In photo 2, you can see how the occupant ends up on the ladder – lying horizontally across the arms of the firefighter. It is important that the occupant be firmly supported in two key areas: under the armpit and between the legs. The firefighter will be firmly grasping the beams of the ladder – not the rungs – allowing him to easily climb down the ladder without losing control of the victim. By placing his arms under the victim’s armpit and between the victim’s legs, the firefighter ensures that the occupant will not slide out from underneath him and fall to the ground. Unconscious victims are not able to support themselves; the rescuing firefighter will have to do all of the work.

The occupant should be positioned so that he is lying right at the centre of the firefighter’s torso. Having the victim in this position means the firefighter’s arms can be at a 90-degree angle, rather than almost straight out, as they would need to be if the occupant were high up near firefighter’s chest. Positioning the victim at the firefighter’s torso allows for better control and is less fatiguing for the firefighter.

In photo 3, you can see that the occupant is lying at an angle across the firefighter’s body and the ladder. Depending upon the size and weight of the occupant, the firefighter may have to adjust the position of the occupant so that he is balanced on the ladder and across the arms. This can be accomplished by the firefighter sliding one of his hands down the ladder beam to adjust accordingly. Once the balance point is located, the occupant will slide down the ladder much more easily.

In photos 4 and 5, you can see how the occupant is removed from the ladder and carried away to awaiting medical personnel. The firefighter will drop the bottom half of the occupant onto the ground by removing his hand from between the victim’s legs. The firefighter will then take that free hand and reach under the occupant’s other armpit and grab both of his own hands. Once the firefighter has a firm grasp, the firefighter can drag the occupant away from the ladder.

Practising this technique will help you and your crew to become proficient and comfortable executing this type of rescue.               

Mark van der Feyst is a 14-year veteran of the fire service. He works for the City of Woodstock Fire Department in Ontario. Mark instructs in Canada, the United States and India and is a local-level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of B.C. E-mail Mark at

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