Back-to-basics Vent-Enter-Isolate-Search operations
Reviewing how to initiate VEIS and step-by-step procedures for conducting this essential operation
The FireRescue1 Academy features the full-length courses “Ventilation,” “Forcible Entry” and “Search and Rescue” as well as Reality Training videos “Horizontal Ventilation,” “Vertical Ventilation” and “Primary Search,” and Fireground Flash Tip “Vent, Enter and Search.” Visit the FireRescue1 Academy to learn more and to schedule an online demo.
Vent-Enter-Search (VES), Vent-Enter-Isolate-Search (VEIS), Oriented Vent-Enter-Search. Whatever you want to call it, go ahead and call it that. I have always called it VES. The isolate component was always assumed to me. However, when I teach, I teach VEIS. I found it necessary to over-stress the isolate step, as even after providing a one-hour lecture with many videos, when it came to the hands-on portion of the training, the door was not closed at minimum of 20% of the time. So I see the reason behind the naming debate, but in general conversation, one shouldn’t lose their mind over an abbreviation.
There’s also been a lot of discussion of this topic on social media. This is mostly just a bunch of folks muddying the water with their own opinions or in an effort to attach their name or website to something. Self-professed experts share varied opinions on VEIS, ranging from it being too dangerous to instructing firefighters to search for a victim on the way to locating the interior door. Leave it up to a firefighter to complicate things.
In its most basic form, the tactic we’ll address here is simple. This tactic is safe. This tactic is faster. This tactic is effective. This tactic is proven.
Initiating VEIS operations
VEIS should be considered on every incident requiring search. Depending on your size-up and staffing, it could be initiated in a few ways.
Size-up: A quick size-up is always warranted. I used to believe VEIS was only warranted when fire wasn’t coming out of a window, making it a survivable space. My position has since changed after seeing several incidents where fire was venting from a window from which an occupant was pulled out alive. The VEIS crew knocked the fire down and one entered the room, shut the interior door and removed the occupant – alive! As such, when I see a room light up while I am performing a size-up, I still see the room as a survivable space and will commit my crew to VEIS with exterior hoseline for knock down and protection.
First-arriving engine crew: If conditions presented that only one room was not involved in fire, that pretty much simplifies things. VEIS with a handline outside for protection would be the best option. When that single room is searched, the crew can move their focus to suppression.
If the first-arriving crew is directed to a window with known occupants or you hear occupants calling for help, VEIS should be your first choice. Again, as a single engine crew on scene, you’re going to have a handline with you anyway, so utilize it for protection if necessary.
Multiple crews on location: When multiple crews are on location and staffing is available, VEIS can be assigned to multiple companies, even while an interior initiated search is in progress. Every window can have a two- or three-person company assigned to perform VEIS. Do not limit your options. Do not have crews standing around staged near a command post doing nothing. Use them to expedite the search function, especially if there are known occupants who are unaccounted for.
From a ladder: When operating from a ground ladder extended to a second or even third floor, do not vent the window until the moment you are ready to enter the window. The tip of the ladder is placed below the window seal. The search firefighter vents the window and enters. The officer is immediately behind the searching member and stops just short of entering the window. The officer can quickly sweep the room with their thermal-imaging camera (TIC) and guide the searching member to the open door. The search firefighter locates the door and isolates the room, then begins the search for the victim. The officer remains at the window on the tip of the ladder as a point of orientation for the searching firefighter, but also to maintain situational awareness inside the room. The third member, if available, moves up on the ladder just behind the officer and waits for any necessary orders.
Step-by-step VEIS: Keep it simple
Let’s now walk through the key steps to VEIS, ensuring that we keep the process simple and safe.
Vent: Vent the window/room – take the window, break the window, open the window. Whatever you want to call it, just make sure your crew understands what you want done and how you want it done.
When venting the window, keep in mind that you are creating a flow path for the fire. Depending on how well the building is sealed will determine what happens when you take the window out with your Halligan, axe or roof hook. Taking out a window in a building that has already self-vented will have less of an effect than taking out a window on a tightly sealed building. So, when venting the window, time is of the essence. The clock has started. You should be prepared to enter that room as soon as the glass shards are cleared from the bottom of the sash. This is not the time to hesitate.
After the member enters the window, remove as much glass as possible. They may return to the window rather quickly with a victim, and we do not want to be dragging our victim over the remaining shards of glass.
Enter: Enter the window, crawl in, dive in, get in there. Really, this part is self-evident. However, your choice will be based on building features, such as small windows, fire conditions or the heat exiting the window, and the fact that you just created a flow path.
As mentioned, the clock is ticking. However you enter, make it quick. This does not mean to forego checking the floor if you’re entering a second-floor window.
One member enters. The officer or firefighter standing outside the window can guide you straight to the door with the use of a TIC, making this step faster and safer. Also, the officer or firefighter standing outside the window is your orientation. They can see you on the TIC, they can hear you bumping around in the room, they are there if you run into a problem, and they are there if you need help removing the victim.
Isolate: Isolate the room from the rest of the building. This means close the door. Again, pretty self-evident. However, this is where some of our self-proclaimed experts are muddying the water. Some of these people suggest that you search for the victim while you are searching for the door. Do not listen to these people! If you mess up this part, the entire operation could go from something that should have been quick, simple and safer to a mayday situation created by poor choices and execution of this tactic.
The second your boots hit the floor after you crawl through the window, your priority is to make a beeline to the interior door. This is how you isolate yourself and your victim from the rest of the building and the fire. This is how you make your search as safe as possible. This is the step that buys you time. This step also stops the clock in regards to the flow path problem that you created when you vented that window. Again, I cannot stress this enough that your priority is the door. Focus on finding the door.
Search: Search, feel around, crawl, locate the victim – whatever you want to call it, just be thorough. A thorough search can be fast. It only requires you to get on your hands and knees and feel while you move. Remember, a TIC will not show you a victim underneath a bed comforter or a pile of clothes or whatever they could get their hands on for protection in the moment. You must get on your hands and knees and search!
Do NOT focus on the walls. You will not find a victim hanging on the wall. They will be in a bed, on the floor, in a closet. Use the walls as a bumper. Imagine the room is a pinball machine. The walls are your bumpers. The second you hit a wall, you should be going the other direction.
The average size of a residential bedroom is 120 square feet. When you add the bed and other furnishings, you can expect 95 square feet of floor space remaining. This hardly requires a two- or three-member crew on the interior.
This is a one-firefighter operation inside the window. Again, the remainder of the crew is outside to be utilized when needed. The officer is at the window with the TIC watching the search firefighter performing the search. The officer should also be watching for ceiling temperatures, the door’s integrity and an exposed victim. The officer also serves as the orientation for the member searching. The additional firefighter, if available, is there to enter if a victim is found and the search member needs assistance.
“Simplicity is saving”
This VEIS tactic is simple, safe, fast, effective and proven. It’s really pretty basic stuff, so let’s keep it that way. Do not let the self-proclaimed social media experts muddy the waters. When it comes to our actions and decisions on the fireground, remember, “Complicity is costly. Simplicity is saving.”
Editor’s Note: What tips do you have for VEIS? Share your methods in the comments below or at firstname.lastname@example.org.