Blue Flower

January issue of the "Firefighting" magazine came out with my interview instead of another article. While sitting down with the editor of the magazine for a conversation was fun (we did this during one of the seminars that I taught in November 2017), I didn't think I should post a copy of that on my web-site: I aim to promote the knowledge about primary search, not myself. So this is why I skip January and jump right into February issue. As I originally intended, I continued presenting the topic of large area search in systematic way, and in part 2 of this installment we are discussing how you should route your search.

As the article is in Russian, I will translate its most important points for my English-speaking readers.

  1. You will need a good search line for this type of search. A search line is not optional, unlike in small area search (although even there I advocate always deploying a line passively behind your team). The reason for search line being mandatory in large area search is that you will have to separate from the guiding walls and you will use the line to routinely return back to safety every time you enter. So, if for small area search the line is nice (and smart) to have because it acts as your "backup parachute", in large areas the search line is your "primary parachute". Don't even try to jump out of the plane without one!
  2. Your team members will need to be physically connected to each other using some form of leashes. The reason for this is that in large area search we are not surrounded by lots of walls and so the team can separate very quickly in zero visibility even after few seconds of not having a contact. You see, in small area search there are plenty of walls around us and they will naturally slow down any inadvertent attempt my one of your team members to "run away", meaning that after you lose tactile contact with him or her, there will be typically at least 30 seconds of audio contact (or an opportunity to re-establish such) before your partner manages to leave the room on his/her own. In large area search it is quite different. In 30 seconds a "runaway" partner, not being impeded by the walls, can travel a significant distance and you won't be able to hear him/her any more. So, use the leashes. A standard 25" hasty harness webbing loop makes an excellent improvised leash: a full length of the loop connects 3-person team at arm's length, while a folded loop connects a two-person team at the same distance.
  3. There are multiple methods of primary search being taught by various instructors, and the truth is that some of these methods are more efficient than others. No, it is not "they all are just another tool in your tool box". While some methods are better for some situations than others, there are also methods that are being taught with lots of confidence and conviction, and yet, if you bothered to objectively compare them to the other methods, you would discover that they are much slower and less reliable. You need to know which methods should never be used based on the objective analysis, not the personal opinion and belief of a given instructor.
  4. If you want to understand and compare various large area search methods, you also need to give up the notion of "there is countless number of them" that quite often persists in the fire service. No, they are countable, and if you bother to approach the problem systematically and to break down the problem into individual components, you will discover that the actual number of methods is quite manageable to study. Here is how we break down the problem into components:
    1. On a higher level, we study what kind of routes your team can pursue while searching the large areas. This determines the strategy of the team: how do we want to traverse the terrain globally and how to do this in most fitting and expedient manner. This is exactly the topic of this article.
    2. On a lower level, we study how the team members search the surroundings of the search line in each point of the route. This determines the tactics of the team: what kind of search patterns the team members will use locally to find the victims. This will be the topic for the March and April articles.
  5. So, speaking of the routes, there are several to choose from:
    1. A "pendulum" route that is borrowed from the rescue diving. It is great for large open areas where you know there won't be any obstacles, like a school gym. It is good for covering all the territory close to the exit first, which often happens to be part of the means of egress for the victims. However, it's efficiency gets reduced as you approach the corners of a typical rectangular layout because the route is inherently circular in nature and does not align with the extents of most of the search spaces. It also quickly becomes unusable if you encounter obstacles because your "pendulum" starts swinging around the last obstacle instead of the entry point. So, use it only for spaces with guaranteed lack of obstacles. Here is how it looks:

      pic01

    2. A "zigzag" route addresses the problem of the obstacles by prescribing a systematic zigzag pattern and affixing the search line to the building or its substantial contents on every turn your team makes. This route fits very well into your typical rectangular layout and, when obstacle is encountered, your team can go around the obstacle and continue with the same systematic pattern without your entire route being affected. It happens because intermediate attachment points on every turn limit the distortions to the overall route caused by the local obstacles. The drawback of this method is that it takes a lot of training and skills to maintain correct bearing in zero visibility while crossing the search space. Often it results with team deviating left or right without even suspecting. Here is how a successful zigzag route looks:

      pic02

    3.  Finally, there is a modified version of the "zigzag" that we call "a ruler method". It is designed to address the problem of almost inevitable left/right deviations from the correct direction in zero visibility that we discussed above. In this variant of the original "zigzag", we begin our search by following the outside wall until we reach the corner, Once in the corner, we tie-off, shift along the new wall a certain distance (exact distance will be discussed in the next article), then tie-off again and continue our zigzag, but with one of the partners holding on to the search line that we have just laid while following the wall. The search line acts as a "ruler" (hence the name of the method, and this ensures that we will follow a straight path on each pass of the zigzag. For this method to work, it will take a very special arrangement of the team members that we will discuss in the next article, for now you just need to understand the strategy of this route. Here is how it looks:

      pic05

  6. You need to be proficient with finding any tie-off opportunities in zero visibility and actually tying your line off. It gets easier the more you practice. Do not settle for a "if you can't tie a not, tie a lot", instead practice simple, yet reliable tie-off methods. Remember, you don't need a life-safety knot here, but you do want something that won't untie after the line will be pulled back and forth. A simple overhand knot on the bight is usually not reliable enough for these purposes, but you can use an "overhand on the side of the bight" or a carabineer hitch (you don't need a rescue carabineer for this application). I find these two methods most useful in zero visibility. Here is how they look.

    pic03 pic04

This concludes a brief overview of the article. It is only an overview and does not include all the details you need to know about how to lay the routes in large area searches. I am planning to make a training video on that, but making good videos is quite a time-consuming effort. If you are curious, your department can contact me for details.

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.

Download a copy of the article in PDF format