I want to start by challenging a really dangerous status quo which can be described in this phrase: “Ah, primary search is no big deal, I have done it quite a few times!”. This attitude can happen both in busy and quiet firehouses, paid and volunteer. Let me show you a few examples.
When you open a 1200 page Firefighter I book and find out that only three, yes, three pages discuss how you are supposed to conduct the most dangerous activity on the fireground – primary search that is – you should become concerned.
When you go through your basic training and get yourself a certificate after only searching once or twice, you should be upset.
When you end up in your firehouse and maybe train in searching once in few months (and sometimes once a year), you now should become enraged.
And in all this chain of training often you are taught inefficient, unsafe methods that many people might believe in, but never bothered to validate.
The bottom line is this: unless your team trains as often as a world-class hockey team does, you are setting yourself up to become a victim the first time you will end up in a serious search scenario.
Another phrase I hear a lot is “C’mon, why bother, most of the time when I search, I see at least something, so I can just walk around the building, so it’s simple”. Keep saying this to yourself and sooner or later you will end up in a condition that NIOSH line-of-duty-death reports call “suddenly visibility came to zero and the team became disoriented”. Really? Suddenly? Nobody had many years in their career to prepare for this moment? Or were these years spent walking around proud and claiming that "we have done quite a few searches" instead of training every day? I am not saying this to disrespect you, I am saying this because I want you to survive.
So yes, primary search is a big deal and we simply don’t prepare for it well enough and often enough in fire service. It might seem simple in 99.99% of all your searches, but then comes that 0.01% when visibility was zero and layout was unknown and you are done. It only takes one firefighter emergency to get yourself killed.