Fire Fighting in Canada

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Back to Basics: Maintaining building orientation

November 18, 2021
By Mark van der Feyst

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During a search where the hose is used to assist with orientation, one firefighter stays in a central position near a wall or by the doorway of a room while the other firefighter leaves the hose line and searches the immediate area. ALL PHOTOS: Mark van der Feyst

Last month we looked at the importance of focusing on the floor when conducting the primary search. The reason behind this is the fact that the majority of our occupants who require rescue will be on the floor. This month I want to dive deeper into the primary search by focusing on the importance of maintaining building orientation.

Building orientation is when a person or a team are using the building’s features, such as the wall, to keep them orientated to their current position and use that same feature to get them in and out of the structure. Maintaining building orientation is required because it is the only way for us to get in/out when we need to – and fast!  

When initiating a primary search, there are two options: with a hose line or without a hose line. Both of these options provide orientation to the building for access in and access out in different manners. There are stark differences between the two in terms of benefits and negatives. Either way, no matter what option is chosen, the common denominator is that team; each person needs to maintain building orientation.

Search with a hose
Searching with a hose line is a common practice for most Canadian fire departments. This is where the initial hose line pulled off will be used to provide fire suppression/control efforts while at the same time allowing for a primary search to be conducted. We associate this with the “fast attack” tactic. 

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One benefit of using a hose line with the search is it provides the path, or lifeline, out of the building. When the team enters the structure, they will be advancing a hose line with them heading towards the fire location. This may involve following a wall if the conditions warrant it. If there is slight visibility, then the team will be using their sight to get to that location. Meanwhile, dragging behind them is their lifeline — the hose — which will provide them with the direct path to get back out. 

In Photo 1, you will see a firefighter staged with the nozzle in their hands while the other team member is in front of them. This is where/how the search is conducted having a hose line. The lead firefighter stays in a central position near a wall or by the doorway of a room, while the other firefighter leaves the hose line and searches the immediate area. The search firefighter is maintaining building orientation in two ways: by keeping themselves on the wall when they leave the hose line and also by verbal or line of sight with the lead firefighter on the hose line.

Once the search has been completed, they can rejoin the hose line to keep advancing or for fire suppression efforts. Should a rescue be required after locating an occupant, the search firefighter can drag the occupant back to the nozzle firefighter for assistance in leading the way out or to the nearest exit point such as a window or a door. The hose line can stay right where it is – do not bring the hose line back with the rescue, it will slow down the rescue greatly. 

Another benefit of using a hose line with the search is that it provides protection for the team while they conduct the search. The lead firefighter’s main job is to maintain building orientation and also provide water protection for the team member that is searching. This is going to be fire control and not fire suppression – suppressing the fire right away may solve the issue and allow for the rescue but it can also add to the environment becoming untenable for the occupant with steam conversion and the products of combustion dropping down to the floor. 

The one negative of using a hose line with the search is time. According to Firefighter Rescue Survey, only 11 per cent of recues were made with a team having a hose line with them and 89 per cent of the time the rescue was made without a hose line present. 

This lead firefighter’s job is to provide building orientation and water protection for the team.

Search without a hose
Searching without a hose line is not a common practice in Canada, although some departments will have SOGs allowing the officer to make the decision to go with a hose line or not to based upon the conditions, crew training and confidence level and imminent rescue required.

The one benefit to searching without a hose line is it provides for a search team to quickly get in, search the structure, locate the occupant and conduct the rescue. With this option, the search team must rely and maintain contact with the building at all times!

This is where the saying “body to the building” comes into play. This saying comes from Lt. Mike Ciampo from FDNY in reference to using ground ladders, but it can also be applied for the search team. The body of the lead firefighter must be in contact with the building at all times. The wall is the way in and it will also be the way out. If the lead firefighter is doing their job right, they will be mapping out a blueprint in their head of what features they have come across like windows or other doors.  This will allow the lead firefighter to lead the team in, but more importantly, lead them out quickly using the nearest exit or the main exit that they came in by. 

In Photo 2, you will see a firefighter using their hand to keep in contact with the building. The hand is part of the body, it is not just the side of the body that must stay in contact with the building, body parts also count, like the hand. 

Using a body part will allow the lead firefighter to stretch out from the wall if they need to assist with the search firefighter or they need to verify something with both hands or need to use both hands for something, as long as one part of the body is in contact with the wall or building at all times.

Regardless of what option is used, familiarity with doing both is required and that comes with training and training, and training! 


Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is currently a firefighter with the FGFD. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, FDIC and India. Contact him at Mark@FireStarTraining.com.


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