Primary search does not exist in isolation from the rest of firefighting activities, it both relies upon them and caters to them. While it is quite obvious what role the primary search plays on the fireground, not all firefighters understand how it relates to other firefighting disciplines and how primary search skills are interconnected with other skill sets. This article will explain just that.
Look at the ladder shown on the picture to the right. It is a ladder of skills for anyone who want to be involved in searching the burning building.
At the first step of this ladder you will see a fireground survival. This is the first step you should climb if you are serious about primary search. The reason for this requirement is simple. Remember the first item on the list of the fireground priorities? That's right, your own safety! If you can't take care of yourself, you are not only useless on the fireground, you are dangerous to others who will have to risk their lives trying to save you. This is why you should become a master of fireground survival well before you attempt your first primary search. You should know what kind of dangers await for you during the fire, how to avoid them and how to get out of them alive if, despite all your efforts, avoidance didn't work.
Fireground survival, like no other firefighting discipline, must be drilled by the firefighters until it becomes a muscle memory. And then it needs to be refreshed often, very often, so that it stays a muscle memory. This is because you will need these skills in the most stressful situation you will ever face in your career – firefighter emergency. Under abnormal combat stress your body will reduce itself to most basic mode of operation – instinctive survival – and you want your survival skills be part of that basic instinctive package, so that they kick in even if your brain is completely overwhelmed.
On the second step of the ladder you can see the primary search itself. It is there because once you know the craft of taking care of yourself (survival), you can now start learning how to navigate in zero visibility and unknown layout under time constraints and get civilians out of the building.
One step above the primary search is rapid intervention. There is a good reason for this. In rapid intervention our goal is to find and retrieve to safety firefighters in distress. You will not retrieve anybody to safety unless you find them, and fast! All you packaging and moving skills will be useless if you can't find a firefighter who needs to be packaged and moved. Search, therefore, forms a core skill of rapid intervention, in fact you can think of rapid intervention as a super primary search. Essentially the only difference between primary search an rapid intervention is that in rapid intervention we save firefighters, not civilians and that rapid intervention is done in worse conditions than regular primary search. Because of all these reasons you can't become a successful RIT/FAST member before you become a master of primary search. Becoming RIT/FAST member is all about taking your primary search skills to the next logical level.
And so, mastering primary search should not be done out of context – you should first learn fireground survival to the level of muscle memory and then strive to learn the art of RIT/FAST. We will discuss relevant portions of these two disciplines in the technical articles section from time to time.