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Back to Basics: September 2014


August 26, 2014
By Mark van der Feyst

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One of the major job functions of a truck company is to perform a search of a structure.  A search produces positive results when firefighters confirm that there is no one inside or when an occupant is safely rescued. Negative results occur when an occupant is found to have succumbed to the products of combustion.

One of the major job functions of a truck company is to perform a search of a structure.  A search produces positive results when firefighters confirm that there is no one inside or when an occupant is safely rescued. Negative results occur when an occupant is found to have succumbed to the products of combustion.

Another potentially negative aspect of a search is the impact on the members of the search team. Search-team members can become victims when they encounter hazards or become trapped, lost or disoriented.

back to basics one  
Photo 1: Firefighters can extend one leg to sound the floor while advancing a hose, as shown in this training exercise.
 
back to basics two  
Photo 2: If a search team is carrying only hand tools and not a charged hose line, the tools can be used to check for floor integrity. The Halilgan is best for this type of operation. Note that the firefighter’s hand is elevated off the floor; when the floor has given way, the firefighter’s hand will be pinched as the top part of the Halligan will have fallen flush with the surface.  
back to basics three  
 It is crucial that firefighters sound the floors to make sure there has been no compromise. Here, firefighters practice the safest ways to advance hoselines in today’s homes in which lightweight construction can quickly give way. Photos by Mark van der Feyst



 

Holes in floors or stairs are a big hazard for searching firefighters. Buildings are being constructed quickly to save costs, and new building materials such as lightweight trusses, wooden I-beams, silent floor joists, and composite lumber are less sturdy than older materials and are therefore more susceptible to heat and more inclined to fail.

It is imperative that the search team check the floor and stairs when advancing into the structure to ensure that there is no compromise. If search-team members are advancing a charged hose line, they can use the stream of water to check the floor in front of them. The sound of the water bouncing off of the floor indicates a solid surface; if there is an absence of sound, there is a good chance that there is a hole in front somewhere.

Firefighters can also use their legs to sound the floor in front of them. Extending one leg in front of the body when advancing the hose allows firefighters to check for a solid floor (see photo 1 and check Back to Basics in the November 2008 issue of Fire Fighting in Canada for more detail).

If the search team is carrying only hand tools and not a charged hose line, the tools can be used to check for floor integrity. The Halilgan is best for this type of operation. Hold the Halligan as shown in photo 2; note that the firefighter’s hand is elevated off the floor when the floor is stable, but when the floor has given way, the firefighter’s hand will be pinched because the top part of the Halligan has fallen flush with the surface. When using an axe as a search tool, bang the axe head on the floor to ensure integrity and presence. This method of sounding the floor is not very practical for the lead firefighter in the search team; the Halligan is preferred. The axe is best used for sweeping the floor area.   

Another common hazard for searching firefighters is entanglements such as wires, curtains, residential duct work (the plastic kind with wire mesh) or any type of foreign object that prevents movement. Firefighter survival training comes into play in these situations; firefighters must use a pair of wire cutters to cut their way out.

The worst thing to do is to fight against the entanglement; firefighters will become fatigued quickly and end up exhausted and frustrated. When firefighters become tangled, they need to call a mayday right way. Practise getting free of entanglements to increase confidence and emotional stability when the time comes to deal with a real situation.      

A third common hazard for searching firefighters is falling debris; this ties in with entanglements as wires and other items are usually stored above the ceiling. Falling debris will surprise the search team. When the debris is heavy and large, the search team can become trapped under it, or the falling material may injure team members so that they are incapacitated. Lighter, smaller debris will likely startle search-team members and may cause them to become disoriented.

Be aware of the common hazards during a search; train for them and practise the skills needed to navigate through them.


Mark van der Feyst is a 15-year veteran of the fire service. He works for the City of Woodstock Fire Department in Ontario. Mark teaches in Canada, the United States, FDIC and India and is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of BC. He is also the lead author of Pennwell’s Residential Fire Rescue book. Contact Mark at  Mark@FireStarTraining.com


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