Company Search Manual

fire company search tactics training manualSearch Tactics for Fire Companies
Search Methods


The most hazardous duty of firefighters is to rescue occupants from a burning building. This activity has always entailed calculated risks and it is a fire service tradition that risks are taken to some degree, especially in the saving of lives. This, however, does not mean foolhardy “Kamikaze” charges. Certain search and rescue procedures must be adhered to in order to safely and successfully find and remove fire victims. Once a victim has been found, it is necessary to remove the victim from the hostile environment without additional injuries. The firefighter’s knowledge of fire, his equipment, training and experience all has a direct bearing on any attempt at fire rescue.


In order to properly and safely conduct a search and rescue operation, it is important to understand certain principles. At all fires, companies should operate adhering to certain tactical priorities. These priorities, in order are: First, Rescue (life safety); second, Fire control; and third, property conservation. In all cases where the building is tenable, any structures with a fire inside is to be searched.

The search and rescue operation consists of two distinct functions: Searching and rescuing. The search is the act of locating or finding the victim(s). Rescue is the separation of the victim(s) from the hazard. Quite often, we think of rescue being the removal of the victim from the building. However, rescue can also be accomplished by removing the fire or hazard from the victim. Usually, the act of placing the first hose stream on the fire and extinguishing the fire, or at least knocking the fire down to the smoldering state, buys victims time and in effect provides rescue by hazard removal making victim removal easier and less dangerous. In the setting of a hospital or nursing home, firefighters will have much greater success removing the hazard before they can remove and substantial number of occupants.

There are three ways to start a search: You may start at the place rescuers are told a victim is located. You may start at the fire area and work outward, or you may start the search based on building layout, use and time of day

There are two basic types of searches, a primary and a secondary.

The primary search is implemented before or during fire control by first-due units. It is quick and systematic and aimed towards locations where the victims likely to be located? The order of search priority:
1st Fire area/room
2nd Adjacent areas/rooms
3rd Floor above fire
4TH Top floor (This may mean floors between 3rd and 4th priority are skipped)
5th Remaining floors: Start with second to top floor and work down.

Victims in need of rescue are removed in the following order, based on the level of threat and the greatest benefit to be gained:
1st those in the immediate fire area.
2nd victims most threatened by the fire or smoke spread.
3rd those victims in the greatest number or groups.
Last removed are those in exposed areas

Recovery versus rescue: In some cases, found victims may be clearly deceased. In these situations, it may be best to mark the location and notify the Incident Commander rather than remove the body. Removal may interfere or jeopardize the fire’s investigation. Typically, only the coroner or medical examiner can authorize the movement or the deceased unless there is an imminent hazard that requires such. Additionally, if not already completed then removal of the
deceased will prevent, or at least delay, the completion of the primary search. The discovery and rescue of potential live persons should take precedent over removal of the dead.
The secondary search is implemented after fire control has been achieved and interior conditions are relatively improved and usually involves looking for fatalities. The secondary search is very thorough and not speedy. Time or urgency is not a priority-details count. It is usually (and should be) assigned to a company other than one who performed primary search to insure is complete and thorough. All structures that have had a fire, even those in which it was unsafe or not possible to conduct a primary search, should receive a secondary search. On every secondary search, firefighters need to check every bathtub, shower, closet, under furniture as well as outdoors in bushes and shrubs and under windows and outside doors.


Don your full protective gear – All of it, including hood and SCBA. Position your hood on top of your coat or pants so you remember to don it before your coat

REMEMBER Your Air Supply
 You only have approximately 15 minutes of air.
 Know your OWN limitations. How quickly do you normally expend a bottle? What about
your partner?
 15 minutes of air means that you can only travel approximately 7 minutes into the building
and still have air to exit using your emergency supply.
 When a low air alarm sounds (or someone is in distress):
#1 – Notify the IC
#2 – Get out
 If there are 2 firefighters in then both firefighters get out
 If there are 3 firefighters in then all 3 firefighters get out
Exception: If the path between safety (usually the outside) and the crew is
unobstructed and can be fully visualized, a single member may exit the structure after notifying the team’s officer. The officer must verify the member exits safely.
 If there are 4 firefighters in then all 4 firefighters get out, or do they?
 If two firefighters leave and two stay in, how and when is this decided?
 If two leave, can one of them be the officer?
 If two leave, does both the two in and the two out have radios?
 How does the officer know the two got out OK?
 What do the two that went out do once out – stay out or go back in?
 Regardless of whether they stay out or go back in, does the officer know the plan? Is there a plan?

Equipment every search and rescue team must always carry include:
 A good hand light
 A radio
You need a radio with you so that you can communicate your location.
 If victim is found
 If you run out of air.
 Report the location of the fire
 Report changing conditions in the building
 A tool
 How are you going to get out if trapped without a tool?
 Irons are made up of one striking and one prying tool, usually a Halligan bar and a sledge or flat head axe.
 Be sure to bring a good assortment of tools
However, you can only carry so much and move effectively, efficiently and not tire. Make sure the assortment in your crew can do more than one job. Pay attention to the occupancy and construction. Tools that may be helpful in addition to the irons, include pike poles in the 6-8 foot length and the sledge or maul.
 A life line for rescue (self or victim)

 What’s my job/goal?
 Primary search?
 Secondary search?
 Always operate in teams of two or more, the “Buddy system.” The OSHA respiratory protection standard further states that there must be at least two trained and equipped members outside the hazard area who are able to render assistance should the interior firefighters become trapped or disabled. This is commonly referred to the “2-in/2-out” rule.
 Know where your buddy is at all times. Maintain contact by:
 Voice or
 Visual or
 Touch
 Insure the incident commander or your division/group/sector officer knows where you are operating.
 When moving throughout the building:
 If you can’t see your feet you shouldn’t be standing up.
 Stay low and crawl
 On all fours
 Prone
 Go down stairs crawling and facing treads
 Stay calm
 Stay alert
 Know where you are at in building
 Know what the fire is doing
 Monitor building condition and status
 Check and make sure there is a floor before you step off ladder or through a door/window
 Check doors for heat before opening
 Control opening of any door used
 Don’t let it open rapidly
 Close door when possible to prevent or delay fire spread
 Remain oriented to your location and the fire’s path. Don’t get trapped behind it! Size-up should be an on-going process. Keep aware of fire conditions and report to next higher level in command structure.
 Know where you entered, know where you can exit.
 Identify all exits and entrances to the search area.
 Locate doors, windows, and other openings. Vent them if safe and appropriate.
In a high-rise residence, check out the lay out of other floors as you ascend up. Usually they are similar above the second floor.
 Know how to get out.
 Always plan a second way out.
 Have a charged hoseline available when practical.
 When searching in area of fire, attack line may be sufficient
 When searching above fire protect stairs and additional hose line available.
 Be able to identify the two sides of coupled hoses and determine the way to the outside.
 Always ask, “Should I be doing this?”


When faced with heavy, pressurized smoke inside a space that needs to be searched, ventilation should be performed as soon as possible and preferably, before firefighters enter this dangerous environment. Heavy, pressurized smoke, smoke that appears to be thick and boiling or turbulent when it exits or discharges from the structure, is prone to ignition. Remember that smoke contains carbon monoxide, which is flammable. The smoke does not need another fuel source. All if needs for ignition is oxygen, which normal air will adequately supply.

Under these smoke conditions not only is the search dangerous but it is time consuming. These environments cannot be searched as effectively and efficiently and in a reasonable period of time unless ventilation is performed. Proper and efficient ventilation of the search area will result in a reduced backdraft potential, limit fire spread and make for a safer, speedier, and more efficient search. When manpower permits, the incident commander should assign separate vent and search teams.

However, this may not be practical or there may be a delay in the arrival of another company to perform one function of the other. When face with two tasks that need to be accomplished simultaneously (in this case the need to vent and search) a tactical decision needs to be made: Which one do I perform first? In some cases the crew can remove windows then begin the search. In other cases the crew may be split with some starting the search while others vent.

Ideally, the ventilation should be accomplished BEFORE the search team enters the smoke. Vent before entry for life and safety, both yours and the victims. When this is not possible, the ventilation should then be accomplished with the search team’s entry. However, if that is not possible then the ventilation must be performed as soon as possible. In no case when there is a search of a smoke-filled area should ventilation not be performed. Ventilation of the search area is a must.

Use of ropes during search operations

Ropes used for search should be of the lifeline and not utility type. These ropes can be personal ropes of a 15-50 foot length or lifelines of a 100 to 200 foot length. Ropes used for searching a fire area should not be used for vertical rescue work as heat, chemicals or abrasion may have compromised their integrity.

Using the personal rope

The personal rope may be used to extend a search form a stabile object at a doorway or just inside a room. A persona rope may also be used to extend the search off a main rope line, such as in Team Search.
Using the 100-200 foot rope

This rope is best suited as a main search line. Main search lines should be anchored outside the search area to a stabile object, such as a post or column. A tree may also be used. Ropes should not be anchored by holding and not fastened to a vehicle that may be moved, which could have disastrous results.

Rather than pull rope out of the bag as one searches, the bag should be pushed but the lead searcher and rope allowed to pay out. By doing so, less knotting will occur, the rope will not tend to tangle on objects or pull objects over, and in a hasty retreat is necessary, the rope can be pulled taught (since it was tied off outside) and a direct path to the exit created.
Whether using a personal rope or a longer rope, there
are some disadvantages to using a rope:
 The rope will tangle around furnishings or objects
in the search area.
 In small spaces the rope may actually slow the
 Rescuers may loose tack of conditions or become
over-confident that they have a path to safety.
Situational awareness should not diminish when a
rope is used.

Know when to use a rope and when a rope may be a hindrance. Remember OATH:
1 tug = OK
2 tugs = Advance
3 tugs = Take up the slack
4 or more tugs = HELP!

Specific Search Methods

All of the following search methods can be used to conduct a Primary Search. A primary search is a search of all tenable areas of the structure for savable life. It is quick and rapid and conducted by first-arriving units. First and foremost: Make sure everyone on the search team knows the plan (pattern) and that there is a plan. Freelancing is not allowed and unsafe.

Pick your search method based on what you see (fire and smoke conditions). In many cases, as the search team moves farther into the building or closer to the fire area the search progress from a hasty search to a visual search and finally a perimeter search.

The Traditional search

Usually involves a single team of two firefighters who stay together physically upon entering the structure and begin a Systematic, room-by-room search using a right-handed or left-handed search pattern. The traditional search is the method taught in most fire-service text books and manuals.
 Does not base starting point on risk assessment
 Does not allow for technique based on smoke or fire conditions
1. First, check door for heat then check behind it for victim(s).
2. After opening the door, decide if the team will make their initial turn to the left or right?
3. The team follows the wall and maintains contact with each other.
4. A hose or rope is usually used to maintain a secure patch to the exit.
5. When possible, exit where you entered room/area
While the team searches they:
 Locate windows & open if safe and appropriate
 May use their foot versus hand to maintain contact with the wall or each other.
 Should sweep the area in front of them and to their side using a hand and arm or leg.
 Can extend the sweep using a tool such as an axe handle (not the pick end). A pike pole butt
(not hook) allows for a nice sweep area. Don’t swing around a Halligan trying to hit a victim
 Look, listen, feel checking under and atop beds and furniture and inside closets and showers/tubs. They should pause occasionally and listen for cries or moans from victims.

The Hasty search

A rapid search conducted before hose lines are advanced into building.
1. Conducted when obvious rescue present
2. Reported location of occupant is the immediate target
3. Avoid passing the fire unless there is a known alternate exit beyond.
4. Be quick to search only “open” areas at this time, not in closets or behind furniture.
5. Size up structural features from outside for possible alternate exits.
6. Note fire conditions before and during entry
7. Close doors after searching to confine heat, smoke and fire.

The Visual Search

 The search team enters on hands and knees and stops just inside the doorway. Both visually scan the entire room from this location.
 If they cannot see behind an object in their line of sight, one firefighter stays at the egress
door, the other firefighter checks behind the object.
 Moving quickly and carefully, the firefighter moves to a point where his vision is not obstructed, while staying in contact with the wall.
 Satisfied that no occupants are present, they exit, closing the door behind them. Continue in this manner, one room at a time.
 This search technique is possible because of the light provided by the free-burning fire and no appreciable heat accumulation. Such conditions do not require a perimeter search and much valuable time can be saved
 A Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC) can be of great assistance in the visual and perimeter search when used by a trained, competent and experiences operator. TICs should not be used without specific training and practice as fire conditions or victims may be missed if the display is misinterpreted or misread.

Two-Person Perimeter Search

1. First firefighting team approaches the door from the protection side of the door:
 If door opens out, stay on hinged side
 If door opens in, stay against outside wall, on knob side
The first firefighter should feel the door by peeling his glove back a little to expose back
of wrist. When inside the building, only pull your glove back if you are in a TENABLE AREA. Use your discretion. The presence and level of heat, smoke, and fire location will dictate what is a TENABLE AREA NEVER remove the glove to feel a door. The lining may become dislodged or it may be difficult to put glove back on, especially when wet.
Place the exposed portion of the back of your wrist against the bottom of the door.
 Slowly move hand/wrist up to the top of the door
 Be sure to fully extend to top of door to determine heat level in the room/structure
2. Determine if door is unlocked or needs to be forced open
3. While still on the protection side of the door, carefully open the door one or two inches to
determine fire conditions in room.
 Use a hand tool to push door open
1. Open door SLOWLY, with CAUTION.
2. Use tool, rope, foot or hand to keep door from flying open, or slamming shut.
You don’t know the exact conditions on the other side of the door.
4. The first firefighter enters the perimeter of the room, following the wall to his/her right.
 If visible flame is not present, firefighter should make entry into room, and quickly
CLOSE door behind them.
 If Firefighter #1 brought in a hand light, he/she should leave it OFF. A second light ON
will be confusing and cumbersome to carry while crawling.
 Always keep in contact with the wall.
5. A hand tool should be used as an extension of the outside arm.
 The tool should rest flat on the floor, with the working end toward the firefighter.
 Slowly sweep the tool across the floor so as not to further injure any victims, if found.
6. The firefighter should move quickly through the room, but should conduct a thorough search of the OPEN areas.
7. Firefighter #2 enters the room, closes the door and conducts a light scan
 Place the hand light on the floor, angled so the beam shines across the floor as far as possible
 Put your face next to the light so you can see the beam.
 Starting on the doorknob side of the door, slowly move light beam across the floor until you reach the hinge side of the door.
8. After completing the light scan Firefighter #2 places the light ON, against the wall (not the door) on the knob side of the door, with the beam facing into the center of the room.
As previously stated if both firefighters bring hand lights into the room, Firefighter #1 leaves his light OFF, against the wall at the knob side of the door. Both lights will be next to each other.
9. The second firefighter now searches the left side of the room, maintaining contact with the exterior wall.
10. When the firefighter gets to the opposite side of the room, he should stop, hold his breath for a few seconds and listen for:
1) Sounds of the fire (crackle, snapping)
2) Sound of the victims (crying, moaning, coughing)
3) TV radio, other signs of occupancy
11. After listening, if no victims are heard, the firefighter move through the middle of the room toward the light beam at the entry door.
 Keep in contact with your partner by seeing him or his hand light, or “sensing” the presence of him/her (hearing movement, SCBA)
 Use tools as an extension of arm, with a sweeping motion, to completely search the entire area
 Be sure to test the floor in the floor area immediately in front of where you are about to crawl. Either the fire or an arsonist could compromise structural integrity of the floor.
12. Once back at to the entry door and light, the crew should:
 Discuss what they found.
1) Doors and doorways
2) Windows
3) Stairwells
 Determine which room/door to go to next
13. If there are multiple rooms, the team may choose to alternate who is the searcher and who stays at the door. Doing so will extend search time as both have rest period and use the same amount of air from their SCBA.

Searching a Second Room

1. One hand light available:
a) If you only had ONE hand light when you started in the first room, leave it ON, at the original entry point and point it towards the doorway of the second room you are about to enter.
b) You will not be able to do a light scan
c) After searching the entire room, both firefighters return to the light at the second doorway.
 Do NOT return to first light at this time.
d) Repeat same procedure for next room.
2. Two or more hand lights available:
a) Leave the first light on, at the original point of entry
b) If multiple rooms are to be searched, the second hand light travels to ALL ROOMS.
c) Light scan is done in each room
e) After searching the entire room, both firefighters return to the light at the second doorway.
 Do NOT return to first light at this time.
d) Repeat same procedure for next room, taking the second light with you to ALL other rooms.

Three Person Search

1. The team approaches the door and checks it for heat as described previously.
2. Once it has been determine that entry can be made, the three-person team makes entry quickly and closes the door.
1) The first firefighter starts a perimeter search to the right, staying in contact with the wall.
2) The second firefighter starts a perimeter search to the left, staying in contact with the wall.
3) The third person stays at the door with the hand light and performs a light scan of the room, as described previously.
 Continue to scan the floor with the light until the other two fire fighters return to the door/light.
 The continuous light scan makes it easier for the other two firefighters to see the light and return to their point of entry.
3. Firefighters should move quickly through the room, but should conduct a thorough search of the OPEN areas.
4. If searching several rooms:
 First hand light stays ON at original entry point.
 Second hand light goes room-to-room with the team.

Tactics by building layout


There are three basic layouts for house, whether they are attached or detached: The single-story or “ranch,” the two or more story, and the split-level. For each layout, where do the occupants usually eat, relax, and sleep? Except for the single-story house, sleeping is usually upstairs bedrooms. In most homes, the bedrooms are grouped together. Eating is usually next to the kitchen, which is located to the rear of many houses and on the side of any attached garage.
Stairs to upper floors are usually near the main doorway with stairs to lower levels either adjacent to or underneath the staircase that leads to the upper floors. Windows can tell us about where stairs, bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms, or bedrooms are possibly located. Look at the below pictures and try and identify which rooms are behind the windows. For these four houses what do the windows, doors and garages tell us about the layout or floor plan of each house?
This layout information is useful in planning the search. Where will you start? Your answer should be the most threatened with the highest probability of savable life. During the overnight hours, this area in most hoses included the bedrooms. From a firefighter safety and survival perspective, most rooms in a house, with the exception of closets or bathrooms, have an exterior wall and this exterior wall usually has a door or window that a firefighter can use for egress. By each company having forcible exit tools, using this wall or its openings for egress should not be a problem.

Ranch house layout

Two-story house layout

Split-Level house layout

Apartment or condo building

Multiple mailboxes, gas or electric meters or garages may be a clue that the dwelling has multiple occupancies. In an apartment complex of multiple structures, it is not common for each building to have its own floor plan. Usually, the floor plan is repeated on each floor of each building. In areas where frequent EMS activity allows access to these spaces, the firefighter can begin to preplan or visualize how his search may need to progress prior to entry at a fire. Searches in these structures can be made more efficient by using multiple teams under a single leader. Keep in mind however that as you travel farther in and farther up your safety decreases due to the lack of doors or windows that can be used for immediate egress.

Hotels and office buildings

Hotels and office buildings present a search challenge in that a large number of persons occupy a large number of space, predominately numerous, small spaces. One good feature of these numerous but small spaces is that their floor plan is repeated over and over. On each floor, the location of stairwells and utilities is fairly standardized. Once above the main level and any mezzanine level, the floor layout for exits can be determined on a floor below the floor to be
searched. Where the stairs are on floor 3 is usually the same as floor seven. While this practice is not exact, it is useful in many cases. It may be helpful to check the layout of two separate, not threatened floors before ascending to the search floor.

Hotels and office buildings need to have their search tailored to the smoke and fire conditions. When possible, the hasty or visual search should be used. When smoke forces firefighters to stay low and crawl on their belly, the Team Search technique should usually be employed. For hotels or similar building with
numerous, single rooms off a common hallway, an effective technique is to use the two-person search method as follows:
 Have one firefighter search each side of the hallway with the officer staying in the hall to maintain accountability of both searchers and fire conditions. The officer in the hallway also can identify any occupants or other companies trying to exit or enter the search area.
 Have one firefighter search while the other stays in the hall and maintains accountability of the searcher and monitors fire conditions. With this technique the firefighters can alternate being the searcher and hall monitor and thereby extend their search time by using less air. If this technique is used, the crew should determine ahead of time if they will search down one side of the hall then the other or switch back and forth from side to side as they progress down the hall.

When searching on the fire floor, search teams need the protection of a hose line. To be efficient, the hose line need to be staffed by a separate crew. Most importantly, these search operations usually require more than one search team and need to be managed by a competent officer.

Commercial/Industrial Structures

Grocery stores, factories, “big box” stores such as Wal-Mart, Target or Home Depot all present unique challenges. Almost universally, when these building require a search, the Team Search method will be needed. The hasty or visual search is often not needed because the occupant of these buildings can usually self-exit when smoke and heat are not an issue (the conditions under which the hasty or visual search is usually performed. The perimeter search technique will only search a fraction of the floor space. Safety is the number one issue and firefighters need to manage their air. If they wait until their low air alarm sounds they will not be able to get to the outside with only 1000 PSI of air.


Schools have three main areas that may require a search: The classrooms, the gymnasium and the cafeteria. Some schools may also have an auditorium. The search of closets and rest rooms is the same as in an office or business. It is the three main areas that challenge fire fighters.

For the classrooms, a hasty, visual or perimeter search may work depending on smoke and fire conditions. Unlike the residential search, the school search requires at least a three-person crew: An officer to manage the search, maintain accountability and monitor the fire, smoke and any fleeing occupants and at least two firefighters to perform the search. It is imperative that the search team officer stay at the classroom door, monitor the hallway for fire, smoke or fleeing occupants and provide accountability and orientation for the search team.

In the gymnasium or multi-purpose room, firefighters need to assess large pieces of athletic equipment that can impede a rope. Firefighters should also anticipate an elevated stage area that will require a search. Any gym that cannot receive a hasty or visual search will most likely require a Team Search.

Cafeterias present the challenge of the classroom magnified into the size of the gymnasium. IN many schools, the gym doubles as the cafeteria during the lunch period. Again, base the search on smoke and fire conditions. Use the hasty or visual search unless smoke makes it impractical or unsafe. In these cases, use the Team Search.

Supporting the Primary Search Off the First Hand Line at the Average Single Family Home Fire

When the first company arrives at a fire it is usually an Engine Company. If presented with a situation requiring rescue and no other crew immediately at hand, fire suppression via the application of water usually takes a backseat. However the skilled officer must make a splitsecond decision. How important is stretching the first hose and putting water on the fire, even if there is a suspected or know victim? A single victim from an upper floor window may be rescued quickly without significant fire development but can multiple victims be rescued with the same speed and minimal fire development? When personnel are adequate both rescue and coordinated fire attack should occur simultaneously. When personnel are inadequate is rescue by hazard removal a better option than rescue by victim removal?
Also consider that a potential victim may be located in the path the advancing hose team takes. The route you choose to find the fire is like the route a fleeing victim tried to take. Be prepared to find the victim along your way and then remove him or her.

Search considerations:
 Day or nighttime?
 Weather
 Witness info
 Cars in the driveway?
 Where is the fire?
 Where is the smoke
 Companies on the scene
 Companies still responding
 Companies available to respond
 What do shoes by the front or side door tell you? How about a lot of different size and style shoes? Do you know the ethnicity of your population?
 Signs of children
 Signs of elderly
 If the building is known to be vacant how hard do we search? How much do we risk? What is the chance of there being a victim?

On arrival and order (from either IC or SOP) to search:
 Confirm this with crew
 Select proper tools
 If more than a ranch house, bring and throw a ladder as a second means of egress.
 Get info from occupant if victims are know:
 Where is the victim/Where should the victim be?
 Rough age (will tell victim’s size/weight)

Inside the building:
 Pick your search method based on what you see (fire and smoke conditions)
 Start your search at the most threatened area unless you are going for a know victim. Unless a victim is reported, the area to be searched first is the area most threatened, which is usually the same place the nozzle is located.
 Never let the fire get between you and your exit
 Never turn your back to the fire
 It is the officer’s primary job to monitor the fire conditions and provide for the safety of the crew, even if that means ordering the search to be abandoned. We do not trade lives. You want to return to quarters with all your firefighters.
 Control all doors you open especially the one you force. Use a rope or strap, particularly on inward opening doors. Stay to the side of the door, particularly the latch or open side, not the hinge side. Doing so will reduce exposure to heat venting from the door opening as well as reduce the chance of being struck by a door that opens violently from pressure.
 Don’t mule kick a door use a tool. Don’t risk breaking an ankle. What about the head of the victim (especially a child) who may be down just on the other side?
Remember where most victims are found.
 Once you open a door, search immediately around it on
the other side.
 If the hall is narrow and the fire is knocked down the nozzleman should shut down, step over the nozzle and pass it to the second firefighter on the line that will become the nozzleman, and then begin a search (visual or perimeter).
While searching:
Be careful forcing this door to avoid striking the victim’s head

 Listen for cries, muffled sounds, moans, and adults, children or infants coughing or calling out. Every so often just stop, hold your breath and listen. You and your crew need to do this at the same time.
 Locate other ways out. Where are doors and windows? Can you vent them or not?
 Identify cribs, beds, bathrooms, etc. What features distinguish them?
 Make sure to follow bed posts up to see if they are bunk beds. If so, check the top bunk.
 Search:
 Under beds and windows
 Between beds and walls
 In closets, boxes, toy chests, dressers, tubs Where is the child Hiding because they are scared
 When entering a room, particularly a bedroom, note its condition. Does a messy room or room with an unmade bed tell us the same thing as the room with the perfectly made bed, especially at 3:00 A.M.?
Which room is likely to be currently occupied?
Follow the feet or posts up to check for the crib and
any child who may be inside.

Hose line tactics
Once the attack line has reached the fire area and water is applied and the fire is being knocked down, who should do what? Assuming a three-member hose team consisting of an officer and two fire fighters, some general actions should be assumed by the team members:
Team member      During advance          During attack                             Upon search
Officer                  Monitors fire and
crew, directs
Monitors fire and
crew, directs
Monitors fire and
crew, holds nozzle
Nozzleman          Follows officer and       Applies water                   Passes nozzle to
officer and begins
Backup             man Feeds hose to nozzle
Pushes in another 10-
15 feet of hose then
advances to nozzle
Performs as directed
by officer
Why should the officer take the nozzle and not search? Because his job is the safety of the company. This is best accomplished by placing him in a somewhat stationary location where he can remain oriented, monitor fire behavior, know where all crew members are and direct actions.
All of this is much more difficult, and in some cases impossible, when the officer is performing a task.

The behavior of children in a fire:
Excerpted from a presentation Aggressive Primary Search-Focusing on
Commands, Behavioral Considerations and Techniques for Rescuing Trapped
Children by Dan Noonan, FDNY retired, at the 1999 FDIC
 Adults often tell children to get out while they fight the fire
 Adults often tell children to get out while they stay and call 9-1-1
 In the winter an adult will tell the child to bundle up not realizing how fast the fire can spread
 Children become confused and trapped from smoke quicker than adults
 Adults may leave very young children in the care of a sibling who is not much older
 Children look up to there older siblings in time of emergency even if the sibling may be wrong because they do not know better

Completing searches

When the primary search is completed and any located victims are removed, the search team leader should transmit over the radio to the incident commander an “ALL CLEAR.” All Clear is the standard benchmark that the search is complete. The term All Clear and not All Done, Completed, No One Found, etc. is used to insure standardization.
An All Clear should be given after both the primary and secondary search. During the primary search, an all clear may be given for a section of the building. At a residential fire in a house the search team may give an all clear after completing the search of the second floor and moving to the first floor: “Command from Squad 9, second floor ALL CLEAR.” In an apartment building or
hotel a similar approach may be used.

Individual rooms that have been searched can be marked as complete in a variety of ways. One common method is to turn over the mattress or lay a chair across the doorway, although this prohibits the search team from closing the door to prevent smoke and fire spread. Another method involves using a piece of chalk, a lumber crayon or a marker and writing on the room’s door or
adjacent wall. This method is detailed elsewhere in this manual. Finally, some departments use door hangers/tags. These can be used for marking the search as well as preventing a door from shutting behind the search team.

Incomplete searches

A search may not be completed for a number of reasons. Fire may have forced the crew’s retreat, in which case the search may not resume until the fire is controlled and the area is relatively safe. It the search team runs low air they will have to terminate the search. Finally, if a victim(s) is found and removed by search team the search cannot be assumed complete until all areas are checked as other victim(s) could remain inside.

Action to be taken by search team
If using rope, tie it off so the next team can locate the point your search was terminate. Make a verbal report, either face-to-face or over the radio of which area were completed and which area remain unsearched.

Victim Removal

 If there are 2 firefighters on the search team then both work to remove the victim. Usually, this works best if one leads and pulls the victim while the other pushes. If there are 3 firefighters on the search team then one should simply lead the team and maintain situational awareness while the other two works to remove the victim.
 If there are 4 firefighters on the search team then the following positions should be observed:
 One firefighter leads the team to the exit.
 Two firefighters work to remove the victim.
 The officer or crew leader should be last in line and maintain situational awareness and accountability of the three firefighters. This position best allows the officer the carry out his number one responsibility.

If a search rope is present and anchored outside the hazard area, the search team leader should pull it taught and create a direct path to the exit. While following this path it is important to detect holes in the floor and prevent the crew from falling thought them.
When dragging a victim attention should be paid to preventing or reducing injury to the head. Head trauma can be serious. We would like victims to survive their rescue. Bruises and even cuts or broken bones that do not fully heal are far less debilitating that trauma to the brain.
If the search team plans on taking the victim out a window the incident commander needs to be notified so a ladder can be positioned where it is needed.

Vent, Enter & Search (V-E-S)
“Vent, Enter and Search is highly useful for getting to possible victims located above the fire”
(John Norman, Fire Officer’s Handbook of Tactics-Second Edition).
 Developed by FDNY
 Used when probability of rescue is high
 Should be the exception rather than the rule
 Persons performing must know the risks and have been trained in this technique
 Window selection is important to safety and success of the operation
 Can be used on any floor. A ground ladder must support use on upper floor.
 Porches and lower roofs can be used as work platforms to increase safety
 Persons performing this skill must carry powerful flashlight and hand tool
 Can use visual or perimeter techniques once in room.
Besides applying other search skills, specific V-E-S skills include:
 Checking for presence of floor and victim under window
 Make sure the window is not in a stairwell or other floorless space
 Victims are often found near doors and windows
 Getting in and low quickly
 Shutting or otherwise controlling the room door
 Knowing areas to look / search
 Not leaving the room entered for another room
 When possible, keeping another firefighter at the window on the outside to aid in
 Maintaining accountability/contact with inside firefighter
 Assist with victim removal

Vent-Enter -Search
Bed or
1. Enter &
go directly
to door
2. Check
hall then
close door
3. Work back to window
using visual search for open
areas and hand search beds,
closet, etc.
Outside firefighter
 Shine hand light in
 Maintain voice contact with inside
firefighter (don’t shout over victim’s

Team Search

There are times when conditions will dictate a need for a team search. Unlike most searching operations where the rescuer has an idea where he is or is somewhat familiar with the surroundings, the team search is used for areas that are complicated and/or quite extensive or maze-like. With Team Search, the firefighters need to drop the residential mind set. Team search is especially
helpful in commercial/industrial settings, “big box” stores, and offices with cubicles or open floor plans.

The object of a Team Search is to cover a complicated area in the quickest time with maximum control and safety of the searchers. Foremost is the need for accountability of firefighters searching and awareness of available air.
Unlike residences, the search area during team search usually lacks accessible doors or windows and may not have any exterior walls that can be readily breached. The standard 1000 PSI remaining in the SCBA when the low air alarm sounds will be insufficient to exit the search area if forward progress has been made for the 15 minutes prior to the alarm sounding.

As with any fire fighting-emergency operation, full fire-fighting equipment is necessary, e.g., helmet, turnout coat, boots, self-contained breathing devices

With the Team search, there are other pieces of equipment the team members will need. Here is a suggested list of that equipment, which can be adjusted to the department’s needs and equipment available.

A GUIDE LINE. This is a must. This line, if possible, should be on a reel and ideally
it should be spring-loaded to keep tension on the line as it is played out. The reel
should have a flat surface to prevent it from rolling away from its point of operation. It should also have a handle for carrying and another to rewind the line. If a reel is impractical, then a small bag may be used to carry the line. The recommended line size is 200 feet long. A unit should have 2 such lines.

FLASHLIGHTS: every member of the search team should have a good working light.

TOOLS: each 2-man team should carry a set of forcible entry tools. This would
enable them to force any doors they encounter. The exception to this is the team

RADIOS: If possible, each man should have a radio. If this is not feasible, a radio
must be carried by the officer in charge (team leader) and the control man positioned at the entrance to the search area. The frequency should be different from the other fire ground radios.

PORTABLE LIGHTS: battery powered or strobe lights; a minimum of two (2), one at the entrance of the search area, and the other with the reel.

PERSONAL ROPES: If used, they should be at least 10-12 feet long with snap
hooks on one end, and eye splice on the other. These lines will allow the searcher to move further from the main guide line and still be connected. These should only be used with members well-trained in team searches, since personal lines can easily be hung up on object.

PERSONAL DISTRESS SERVICES: Each member should have some sort of device
that becomes audible while the member is motionless for a period of time.

AIR SUPPLY: An extra supply of air cylinders and extra masks should be kept at the entrance to the search area. An extra mask may have to be used for the victim.

The search team should consist of a minimum of seven (7) men:
Team leader (officer)
Two-man “”search” team.
Control man (someone other than a member of the team search)
Two-man “rescue” team
Rescue team leader

For most fire departments, two or three companies will need to be combined in order to accomplish a single team search.

Note: If the manpower is available, additional two-man teams, with leader, may be added.

Each member should be told of the objective and given specific assignments. They may also be given team numbers (for identification in search area.)

A portable light or strobe light should be set up at the entrance to the search area.

The beginning of the guide line should be secured to a substantial object between knee and waist high.

The team leader and the two-man search team should check their equipment before entering the search area.

The team leader should carry the reel or bag with the guide line and proceed into the search area with his two-man search team. At a point where the team leader wants his team to begin searching, the team leader will make an overhand loop-knot in the search-guide rope. The team members will each “snap” onto this loop and begin their search sweeps. As soon as the men start their sweeps, the team leader moves up approximately 20-25 feet, and maintains tension on the
line. This will be the next search point for the team.

Note: Loops are left in the rope for reference points for the rescue team if they must come in.
The control man should keep track of the time members spend in the search area. He must maintain radio contact with the Team leader at all times. He must also be keeping track of the search team’s air supply. He should also be able to control and explain the operation’s needs to Chief Officers, etc. If air was needed to reach the search area or control point, reserves air supplies may be needed for crews who have finished searching so they can exit to the exterior safely.

The two-man “Rescue” team, and rescue team leader should be similarly equipped to the search team. They should maintain a standby position to assist the members in the search area if such assistance is required. In prolonged operations, they would also be the relief team.

The Team leader should move into the search area a prescribed distance, eg., 10, 20 or 30 feet and stop. The search team repeats the search process again, until:
 The victim is found
 Time runs out and they must change cylinders
 The team has searched the maximum in that direction and another approach is necessary
 Conditions dictate the search be cancelled

In areas where personal ropes would impede the searches, or where they are not available, then voice contact is all you have. In those cases, the search team can either join hands and make a sweep or maintain a hold on the guide line and make their sweeps. Naturally the area searched will be smaller and it will take more time.

Under no circumstances should the search team break off from the guide line and go off on their own; they may become victims.


The search team must maintain communications keeping the team leader advised at all times.

The search team must stop frequently to listen for sounds of victims and signs of the conditions around them. They must not be caught suddenly in an untenable position; they should frequently raise a hand over their head to feel the heat condition. (Remember to take note of the ceiling height before entering the search area – a high ceiling will bid up heat and hot gases before you can feel it.)

The Team leader must be obeyed immediately, especially if he is the only one with a radio. He might be advised of a problem and it may necessitate an immediate withdrawal.

The team leader must be obeyed immediately, especially if he is the only one with a radio. He might be advised of a problem and it may necessitate an immediate withdrawal.

The area around the searchers must be probed before moving.

Always wear good, flexible gloves so you can “feel” the area you are searching. If conditions permit, occasionally remove a glove to feel the area around you.

Control your emotions: don’t start screaming or get excited…it will not do you or the team any good. If you get lost, STAY CALM and STAY PUT. Talk to the team leader – you can only be a few feet from help.

When the air supply runs low ALL MEN leave the area together. The team leader secures the guide line to a substantial object with the light attached. This will allow the relief team to return to the last area searched and give them a starting position.

If the victim(s) are found and conditions dictate immediate removal in a smoky atmosphere, have the “rescue” team bring in the additional mask(s) for the victim(s) and asset in the removal.

If there is no danger, stay with the victim until conditions allow for removal. Continue to monitor conditions at all times.

For a faster search in large area, two two-man teams make the search. They start about ten feet apart and return to main guide line, notifying the team leader. Then the team leader advances after both teams reach his position. After reaching the team leader, Team #2 stays with him and Team #1 advances another 10 feet further. After sweeps the Team leader moves up, and so forth. In this manner, the men are close if help is needed in a hurry.


Team searches are difficult to do. They require discipline and training. The equipment must be maintained in top condition since men will be risking their lives on it.

Control is the key to a successful Team search. Training will develop techniques that will insure success.

This guide gives a unit something to start with. Units should develop their own method and techniques.

Review Questions
1. The first tactical priority at any fire is what?

2. Strategically, rescue can be accomplished by one of two principles. These are:

3. During the size-up phase, how will each of the following observations or information impact rescue?
 Type of occupancy
 Type of building (house, store, motel, etc.)
 Building construction
 Time of day
 Area of the fire
 Stage of fire
 Hose line availability
 Crew size

4. Prioritize the rescue and removal of the following persons:
 Largest group of savable persons
 Exposures
 Most threatened
 Those in the immediate fire area

5. In order list the first three floors of a building on fire that are to be searched.

6. What exactly is a primary search?

7. How is a primary search conducted, and by who?

8. How many companies are dedicated to the primary search effort?

9. A search may begin in one of three locations, which are:

10. The ideal order of where to search is
The first place to search is:

11. What is a secondary search?

12. When is a secondary search usually conducted?

13. How is a secondary search conducted, and by who?

14. What tools and equipment should a search team carry/use?

15. When following a wall, all turns should be made in the _________________ direction.

16. Firefighters searching as a team need to maintain contact at all times. List and explain three acceptable methods of doing this:

17. While searching a structure during a fire, you become disoriented and grab onto a fire hose to make your retreat. You come upon the below coupling set where two hoses are joined. Draw an arrow pointing in the direction you would go to get out of the structure.


18. What do the letters in O.A.T.H. stand for?
O =
A =
T =
H =

19. The signal to command that a search is completed use the phrase:

20. While searching against a wall the fire fighter should be identifying/locating what, in case of emergency?

21. List at least two methods of indicating a room has been searched:

22. How far can a member search or travel into a smoke-filled area before he must turn back to avoid running out of air in his SCBA?

23. When should ventilation be performed to support the search? Under what specific smoke conditions?

24. For each house, where are bedrooms generally located?
One-story house
Two-story house
Split-level house

25. If a victim needs to be removed by dragging, how is this best accomplished by:
2-FF crew?
3-FF crew?
4-FF crew