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From the Fireground
by Jason Hoevelmann

How 4 firefighters can do search and suppression

Even with limited resources on the fireground, four well-trained firefighters can find victims and knock down the fire

By Jason Hoevelmann

I was recently teaching at a conference on fire ground awareness that was mostly about preparation and fundamental, tactical decision-making. These classes always bring great questions and discussion because the students come from different backgrounds and departments.

Some come from all-rural departments with very little resources, while others are from larger, urban areas — others yet fall everywhere in between. I get a great deal of perspective on what is going on in the fire service from these diverse firefighters.

One question touched on how to search with the hose line. They talked about the difficulty in moving the line with two firefighters and keeping two outside to follow the two-in, two-out rule. 

They were conflicted about what they should do. Should they move the line and search on the way? Or, should they move straight to fire and put it out?

Competing needs
The dilemma is whether to sacrifice suppression for searching or vice versa. You have to consider a few things when deploying the initial attack line, especially when you have limited staffing.

First, you have to follow two in and two out, no matter what you think of it. The value of that rule is a topic for another day.

Second, you have to know your capabilities with that hand line based on your crew's training and the building and conditions. Third, you need to know what is coming in behind you to complete additional tasks.

Let's face it, if we are putting two people on the stoop while that attack team is pushing the line, they aren't doing other tasks away from the front door that may need to be done.

Weighing options
You have to weigh the options of what you have. If the fire is located in a remote corner of the home and you have unconfirmed reports of victims, your decision is based on what you can do the quickest.

Can you get to the fire quickest to remove the problem from the victim? Or, can you search with the line faster to remove the victim from the fire?

What you cannot allow is the fire to grow unchecked, deteriorating conditions faster and faster. It will overrun you and any victims will be lost for sure. With limited resources and firefighters on scene, you have move the line and move it fast.

Here as an option for the department with limited resource. Move the line to the seat of the fire and put it out.

Hitting the fire
With few exceptions, two well-trained firefighters and can move that line quickly and efficiently in most residential structures. The two firefighters at the door can help manipulate the initial attack line and move just inside the door to move the line faster while searching that area immediately inside the door.

I know we are on the edge of that two-in, two-out rule. But, I'm not talking about the third firefighter completely leaving the fourth firefighter's sight.

If the two attack members move the line come across a victim, they remove him. If they don't find a victim, they get to the fire and put it out. 

Once that fire is under control, the officer or back up position can watch conditions with a thermal imaging camera and begin to search from that point back. Ventilation can be done at this time to improve interior conditions as well.

Train on this tactic
This allows for a much quicker search while not dragging the line. Doing this allows for limited staffing departments to get both done at the same time, fire suppression and search without adding undue, increased risk. 

Are some going to poke holes in this? Sure, but the bottom line is you have to do something, and not all fires can be attacked from the exterior. It's an option that has been used and it works.

You cannot just read this and put into practice. You have to develop an SOG or SOP, train on it and adapt it to make it work for your department. This is just one option for those limited staffed departments struggling to get things done safely.

Please train and keep thinking for yourself, and I'll see you next month on the fireground.

About the author

Jason Hoevelmann is a deputy chief and fire marshal with the Sullivan (Mo.) Fire Protection District, a combination department, and a career captain and training officer with the Florissant Valley (Mo.) Fire Protection District in North St. Louis County. His experience spans more than 20 years and he has been an instructor for more than 15 years. He is an adjunct instructor for the St. Louis County Fire Academy and is a State Certified Fire Officer II. Jason holds an associate’s degree in paramedic science from East Central College and a bachelor's degree in fire service administration from Eastern Oregon University. He is currently a state advocate for the Everyone Goes Home initiative, a Board Member for the International Society of Fire Service Instructors and on the technical committee for Professional Fire Officer Qualifications for NFPA. He is also co-owner of Engine House Training, LLC.

Chief Hoevelmann can be contacted via e-mail at Jason.Hoevelmann@firerescue1.com.



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