By P.J. Norwood and Sean Gray
Vent-enter-search (VES) or vent-enter-isolate-search (VEIS): We’re not here to argue if the “I” should be included or not. Regardless of what you call it, this has been a long-standing tactic that has been an accepted practice in many places but is also still needed in others. Many truck companies will even assign one of the senior firefighters to the outside vent position. This position is often a senior firefighter because he often works alone, only attached to the truck officer by a portable radio. This position’s goal is to get to the outside of the fire area and vent ahead of the line as well as VEIS. VEIS is a high-risk, high-reward tactic that is absolutely still viable on today’s fireground.
Close Before You Doze
Much of the contents we see in today’s homes contribute to higher heat release rates and faster moving fires. These fires quickly grow from the incipient to fully involved phases. In addition to these fires growing rapidly, the national “Close Before You Doze” message is providing for more survivable space (www.closeyourdoor.org). On arrival, it may visually appear, and even radio traffic may indicate, that the private dwelling is “fully involved.” However, you may find if you look there are areas that are not involved in fire, and there may be areas where there is viable space behind a closed door. We predict there will be more successful rescues of trapped occupants across the United States because of the “Close Before You Doze” campaigns.
Because of the rapidly progressing fires and occupants taking refuge behind closed doors, we must be proficient at the VEIS search tactic. VEIS is a tactic that must be executed rapidly, and it is not a tactic that you can take lightly.
For many years there were two acceptable means to vent the window before entering: (1) using the ground ladder, and (2) climbing the ladder and using a hand tool. With our increased understanding of flow paths and ventilation-induced fire behavior, it is imperative that we climb the ladder and take the window with a hand tool.
Once you take the window, it should be easy to determine if the door (if there is one) to the room is open or closed. By looking at the volume and velocity of the smoke, you should be able to recognize if the door is open or closed. Slow, nonpressurized smoke indicates the door is most likely closed. Fast-moving smoke under pressure will indicate an open door to the room you are entering. Before entering, sweep and then sound the floor below the window, checking for any trapped occupants. Now that the window is clear, you must rapidly enter, ensure the door is closed, and then search for victims.
Now it’s time to get in the window. There are two acceptable methods to use when entering the room. There are pros and cons to each, and it’s up to you to determine the best method for you. You can either straddle the sill or go in on your stomach. Once in the room, you need to rapidly ensure the door is closed. Reading the smoke is just the start; you still need to make sure the door is closed. This is the one of the only times you should abandon the right- or left-handed search technique. Make a beeline for the door. If you cannot see the door, use the “corner trick.” Start your search in the direction of moving away from the outside corner of the home. Most of the time, the corner trick will bring you to the door quickest.
One of the most difficult parts of VEIS is if you find a victim before closing the door; you should bypass the victim to close the door. This will increase his chance of survival. Once you reach the door, do not simply slam it shut. Make sure you look out into the hallway for any victims who may have succumbed to the smoke and heat in the hallway.
Once the hallway is checked and the door is closed, start your primary search of the room. Firefighter #2 should be at the top of the ladder by this point (if staffing allows) using a thermal imaging camera to scan the room and guide you. If a victim is found, bring the victim out the window, not through the residence where you will expose the victim to further smoke and heat.
Once the room is searched, you should exit the area the same way you entered. There are many departments that do not have the luxury of having multiple search teams. Therefore, after the first room is searched, you may need to move out of that room to continue your search. If that decision is made, the incident commander must be updated and your partner who was at the top of ladder guiding you must now enter and search with you. When you and your partner open the door and enter the hallway, make sure you close the door behind you unless the water is already flowing.
Practice and Train
VEIS is a very viable fireground tactic. However, you must practice and train, as it is a high-risk tactic. During training, it is imperative you practice both ground-level entries as well as over-the-ladder entries.
P.J. Norwood is a deputy chief training officer for the East Haven (CT) Fire Department and has served four years with the CT Army National Guard. He is an FDIC classroom, workshop, and H.O.T. Instructor; Fire Engineering advisory board member; and Fire Engineering book and video author and served on the ULFSRI technical panel for the Study of Residential Attic Fire Mitigation Tactics and Exterior Fire Spread Hazards on Fire Fighter Safety. Norwood is certified to the instructor II, officer III, fire marshal, and paramedic level. He has lectured across the United States as well and overseas.
Sean Gray is a 24-year veteran of the fire service and is a lieutenant with Cobb County (GA) Fire and Emergency Services. He has been a member of multiple technical panels involving firefighter safety research and is an appointed member of the UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute Advisory Board. Gray is an NFPA committee member for fire hose and fire service training facilities. He recently coauthored a Fire Engineering DVD and book, The Evolving Fireground. Gray has also been published in multiple fire service magazines, is an FDIC H.O.T. lead instructor, runs the Web site stopbelievingstartknowing.com, and delivers evidence-based tactics training courses across the United States. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire safety engineering and is working toward furthering his education.