You can learn anything on YouTube these days. And there are plenty of excellent internet resources when it comes to vent-enter-isolate-search (VEIS). So how tough can the concept be? There are only four steps to complete this effective lifesaving tactic. But viewing the concept as simple because it is only four steps completely overlooks the challenges the strategy possesses and the expertise it requires to be enacted effectively.
VEIS is a highly orchestrated tactic that must be practiced within your company and with other units operating on the scene. Until recently, the tactic was commonly referred to as vent-enter-search (VES). The fire service added Isolate because members who failed to adequately study and practice the technique thought it was only a three-step process.
VEIS is one of the most physically intense operations on the fireground. It can be a great tactic and has saved many lives. It is a high-risk, high-reward tactic. One aspect of the tactic involves entering a room as a single person with no hoseline to perform a rapid search of areas of high probability. The purpose of this article is not to teach you this tactic but to give you an assessment tool to ensure you are prepared should you need to employ the tactic.
Study the technique: There are plenty of basics that must be discussed and practiced before implementing this technique, including the following:
- Air consumption: How long can a crew operate in the hot zone?
- Air management: How long will a crew's air last?
We must discuss rotating between the operating positions of a VEIS team to conserve air. Air conservation is going to equal more entries, more searches, and a greater potential to save lives. A good rule of thumb is to rotate positions once the entry firefighter has reached 50% of his air. VEIS can be performed with a two-person team, but a three- to four-person team is more ideal as it increases crew efficiency and improves firefighter safety. Crew members must know, understand, and be proficient in all positions of the VEIS team.
Study floor plans: Once inside the structure, you must quickly find the door to isolate. There are a couple of different methods on sizing up structures. During nonemergency runs, as your crew approaches the structure, size up the windows to try to determine where the bedrooms are. Once inside, if the situation allows, confirm the bedroom location and the door location respective to the entry window.
If your community is building a new subdivision, stop into the sales office, as often it has example floor plans. Take these plans back to the firehouse and scan and archive them. The various floor plans are a useful training tool for future trainings on strategy and tactics, VEIS, and rapid intervention teams (RITs). Tour a few model homes and discuss the location of the door from the entry window. While in the display home, the crew may be able to conduct some walk-throughs of the tactic, similar to the way football teams walk through plays. Have a member stand at the window. From the window, he can traverse to the door, check the hall, isolate the door, and conduct the search. It is not the best of circumstances to train under, but it is an effective way to build up some muscle memory.
When you are inside the homes of citizens and enter a bedroom to change a smoke detector battery or provide aid on an emergency medical services call, size up the room and chalk talk it when you return to quarters. Where were the windows? How about the door? What obstacles were in the room that could make search and isolation difficult or endanger firefighters? Where was the bed located? What size was the bed? Was it a bunk bed or loft bed? Discuss searching bunk and loft beds with your crews. It is not uncommon for kids to sleep in the far corner of the bed, creating an opportunity to miss our target during a search.
Discuss making entry. Often we think about VEIS on the second-floor windows, but what about the first-floor windows? Sometimes the first-floor windows are too high for entry from the ground but too low for ground ladders.
Study thermal imagers: Thermal imager skills are important. The person operating the thermal imager on the outside of the structure must be able to read and interpret what is appearing on the screen. A too rapid search can result in the thermal imager missing the victim. Victims may be insulated by bed coverings. Often we train on finding a victim in a cold room situation, which will result in the victim projecting white hot. In fire situations, the victim maybe cooler than the room, projecting in shades of gray on the imager screen, which can be mistaken as a pile of clothes.
The other function of the thermal imager operator is to serve as a guide and safety officer for the entry firefighter. Help the entry person locate the door for isolation and locate the victim. Ensure superheated gases and fire aren't starting to penetrate the door or floor. Are the conditions in the room changing? Is it possible there is a second entry way into the room that needs to be isolated? Is it possible the entry firefighter has isolated the walk-in closet or bathroom vs. the entry door? The person at the tip of the ladder must be prepared to receive any victims found by the entry person. Also, the person at the tip of the ladder must be prepared to make entry into the structure if the entry firefighter needs help removing a victim from the structure.
Study isolation: One of the most important aspects of VEIS is isolation. Crews must have isolation engrained into their minds. Failure to isolate will create a flow path for the superheated gases within the structure. This flow path is not going to assist in the survival profile of your victim and can create a rapidly involving situation for your entry firefighter. In a situation where strong winds are blowing into the structure, the failure to isolate the room can result in a wind-driven incident pushing high heat and fire on other interior crews.
Once a primary search of a room is completed, the VEIS must proceed to the next room of high probability. Crews must ensure they keep command appraised of their location and progress and they are operating within their agency's air management policy.
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
Seal Team Six did not sketch up a drawing and watched an online video on how to conduct a raid on Bin Laden's compound. They trained over and over in a replica model. We must do the same. We must take every opportunity we have to perfect the skill. We must perform perfect ladder placement, perfect window removal, perfect isolation, and perfect searches in training to overcome the obstacles in the nonperfect real world. We must take opportunities to train away from the sterile training building. Have you seen a teenager's room? It is not barren concrete floors like the drill tower; it is covered with clothing, books, and countless other items.
Crews must be proficient at quickly entering the window, isolating the door, and conducting a single-person search. Any delay can result in fire spread and injury.
Is your command staff trained on the technique? Any breakdown in the tactics can have catastrophic results. The implementation of a positive-pressure attack during a VEIS tactic will quickly change the entry port of a firefighter to an exhaust port for the positive-pressure fan. The company officer must work within the command structure and announce the implementation of VEIS.
Prepare for Success
The fire service cannot count on luck; we must practice and prepare for the mission at hand. Failure to adequately prepare can shift this lifesaving mission of citizens to a Mayday RIT operation. As with any tactic, it must be embraced by your organization and supported. We must constantly train. It is easy to be confident of skills while sitting in the easy chair, but we must be proficient when lives hang in the balance.
Remember: You will be working within an atmosphere that is immediately dangerous to life or health without the protection of a hoseline. If all members are not operating on the same page, it can result in a very dangerous situation for your crew. Stay safe, train hard, and always work within your agency's guidelines.