October issue of the "Firefighting" magazine continues a series of articles on primary search. This time we are discussing VEIS method. While vent-enter-isolate-search might be quite familiar to us in the United States, it is relatively new in Russia. Now, Russian firefighters are really proficient in rescuing alert civilians from the windows during the fires using ground ladders, so I am not trying to reinvent the wheel for them. What is rather new for them is the concept of entering the building via the window and limiting your search to just one room of the highest probability of a find.
Since vent-enter-isolate-search is quite well known to us in the United States, I won't go into much detail describing the basics of it here in English version, instead I will selectively list some items from the article that we often tend to overlook in practice.
The first such thing would be the number of firefighters you need to conduct VEIS. The minimum safe staffing is four. Not three, not two, it is four. You need one person backing up the ground ladder at the bottom. You need one person at the top of the ladder monitoring the conditions and receiving victims. And you need two firefighters entering the room and searching it because we can't work inside alone. This is how you get to four firefighters.
So what do you do when you don't have four people in your team but still need to search that bedroom? I will tell you what you don't do. You don't eliminate the backup person at the bottom of the ladder. I know it's tempting, but it has led to countless injuries after the ladder slid down with a bunch of firefighters on it. So, if you only have three firefighters, you keep the backup person and eliminate the top-of-the-ladder receiving position temporarily. Then you send two persons to do a search and, if unconscious victim is found and needs removal via the window, the two searchers first transition the victim to the window, then one of them exits onto the ladder and another one muscles the victim via the window and onto the ladder. Yes, it is more work, but it is much better than taking a fall when the ladder decides to slide. You can only eliminate the backup person if you can find a way to positively secure the ladder at the bottom into the ground or against the structure.
Another often forgotten thing is that you need to be in full gear and on air when you step on the first rung of the ladder and begin climbing. Going on air at the top of the ladder, or, worse yet, after entering the room is way too late. Remember, you can be easily overcome by toxic and noxious smoke while climbing the ladder and fall if you are not breathing from your SCBA cylinder.
And one more thing: when the first firefighter enters the room to search, the best thing to do is to wait for your partner at the window while he/she is still climbing the ladder instead of rushing into the unknown alone. This allows for better team coordination and continuity and ensures that your partner will be doing exactly what you planned for him/her after the entry.
And of course, never forget to sound the floor before committing into the room via the window. VEIS might be a simpler search method, but it comes with no insurance policy against falling through the floor when it burns through. And on number of occasions I have seen the buildings that had second floor windows and no second floor at all - it was removed to make a voluminous first floor layout!
If you do understand Russian, you can either download and save a copy of the article in PDF format or you can view it right here on this page.