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Back to Basics: The rescue sequence, part 1

June 13, 2024 
By Mark van der Feyst

Photo 1 This sequence note was used for a hands-on class in Nairobi, Kenya, and shows the four phases of rescue. Photos: Mark van der Feyst

In our last edition, we looked at occupant drags with respect to removing the occupant from the residential structure once located by the search team. In our continued look at this topic, we are going to work backwards, in essence, with detailing the rescue sequence leading up to the removal of the occupant.

In Photo 1, we have an outline showing what the rescue sequence looks like. This posted note was used for a hands-on class that was being taught in Nairobi, Kenya. The rescue sequence has four distinct phases or segments that are conducted either simultaneously or consecutively: Entry, Search, Locate & Rescue or Remove. In part one of our miniseries, we are going to look at the Entry and Search portion of the sequence.

Entry into the residential structure can be accomplished in multiple ways and by multiple means. The traditional method is through the main or front door of the residence and heading in either a right- or left-hand direction using the building as the orientation to safety. This will involve no hose line going in with the crew.

If a hose line is being taken in as part of the operation or is required by SOG or SOP, then the crew will enter the main door or front door and head directly towards the fire location, if known. Sometimes the fire location will be visible to the interior crews and sometimes it will not be visible. In a vent limited fire, this will be the case and the advancing crew will need to rely upon locating the fire by reading air currents with their flashlight, the convection currents with the thermal imager (TI) or by listening to the sound of the fire.


The fast attack tactic is a combination of both fire suppression and searching being completed at one time with the initial crew on arrival. The fire conditions are such that allow for an interior attack and there are survivable spaces that may contain viable occupants for rescue.

Besides the traditional method, entry can also be accomplished by using another doorway that may be closer to occupant locations based upon the time of day the fire is occurring at or reports of where the occupants may be known to have been at last.

Using a ground ladder to gain access through a window is also possible for second or third storey structures. This method allows for quicker access to certain parts of the structure by going direct to the area. An aerial ladder can also be used for taller buildings that are out of reach from a ground ladder.

Using a window, generally, is also available for ground floor applications as well. We normally associate this with a tactic called vent, enter, search (VES), where entry is made directly at the known location of the occupant – either on the ground floor or an elevated floor with a ladder. For more information on VES, refer to our four-part series on VES from 2022.

Regardless of the entry method used, the one factor to be aware of is the creation of a new vented opening. This will require closing a door either at the front door, the main door, the patio door, or the bedroom door. Closing the door will cut off the new vented opening and will increase the time available to complete the search and removal of the occupant. This will require having a firefighter posted at the main door of entry to control the door or with the VES tactic, getting to the bedroom door first to close it.

Photo 2
A thermal imager can be useful in both the entry and search phases.

Once the entry has been made, the search begins. If there is no hose line being taken in, the search will be quicker and easier for both crew members. One of the team members will always keep in contact with the building while they search the immediate area within their reach, with the second firefighter searching off the first firefighter also searching their immediate area within their reach. This will be a very quick search operation and especially so if the two firefighters are not “tied” to each other by holding a part of the other firefighter’s body or SCBA.

If searching with a hose line, the search portion of the advance must be conducted off the hose line. The advancing hose line cannot be taken into every room to search as this will slow down the crew immensely as well as not be possible to do so. The one firefighter needs to leave the hose line to search the areas passed by the hose line advancing in. The one firefighter on the nozzle will be able to protect the search operation by controlling the fire until the search is complete or by putting out the fire completely. The two firefighters will be able to stay in contact with each other by vocal means – the hose line will be the orientation line out to safety once back on it.

Another method for searching is to use the oriented search tactic where one firefighter will stay at the doorway of the room, let the other firefighter go in and search the room while the oriented firefighter at the door maintains contact with the building and the search firefighter.

The search can be enhanced by using a TI to visually scan the room to locate the occupant(s) as well as to account for and observe the search firefighter in the room. The TI can also be used to visibly observe the fire conditions around the area to keep an eye on advancing fire conditions or even locate the fire.

If the fire location is discovered by the search team, this information must be relayed to both Incident Command and the advancing hose line so that they know exactly where to go to suppress it.

Does the search team need to have tools with them to conduct the search? Without going into a long debate over this, the short answer is yes and no. There is a place or need for hand tools to be used or present for a search and there is also a time or place where there will be no tools present, but the search and removal still occurs. If advancing a hose line, having hand tools may not be present or possible to bring in along with a hose line because both hands are needed to move hose into and around the building – they may be left at the front door after forcing it open.

Next month we will look at the Locate and Rescue/Remove portions of the rescue sequence.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is currently a firefighter with the FGFD. Contact him at

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