Blue Flower

As usual, the series of articles on primary search continued in the "Firefighting" magazine in May. After finishing sub-series on large area search a month before, this time we are looking at how your team can deal with the hybrid areas where you can encounter a combination of small and large compartments.

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

  1. Hybrid areas are those layouts where you can encounter both small and large compartments. As a reminder, a small compartment is a room that can be searched by the team without separating from the wall, while a large area requires all of your team members to leave the wall in order to attain complete coverage. In modern firefighting we encounter hybrid areas more and more often, here are just few examples: educational and sports facilities, stores, office buildings, and, recently, open-plan residences. You should suspect hybrid areas in any building that you don't know the layout of.

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  2. The problem with the hybrid areas is that the search methods that we have studied so far do not work well in these cases: neither small area methods nor large area methods will be a god fit. Specifically, small area search methods will leave significant portions of the layout unsearched, while an attempt to use one of the large area search method will lead to a lot of confusion when you encounter a series of small compartments between searching the large ones.
  3. So how should we approach this problem? The safest and the simplest solution is the same I gave you for large areas: when in doubt, start by using small area search techniques. You will not attain full coverage, but your team will have a higher chance of staying safe and yet you will cover the maximum area in minimum time because you will be advancing rapidly and systematically. More specifically, you should only use "Door" + "Follow" method, and not "Door" + "Split" when you are dealing with or suspect that you are dealing with the hybrid areas. "Door" + "Follow" is the fastest and the safest way around in any unknown layout. Needless to say, all searches should be done with passive deployment of the search rope, no exceptions. Just because you follow the wall does not mean that you have a guaranteed way out in complex layouts. Mistakes happen in zero visibility, doors are getting missed and skipped, and walls are getting jumped. So, set your pride aside and always use a rope. By the way, if you need a refresher on small area search, please watch this, this and this training videos. Here is an example of using a small area "Door" + "Follow" method on an unknown hybrid area:

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  4.  If you want to improve your efficiency on hybrid area searches while still remaining safe, you should still start your searches using small area methods (preferably implementing a two-pronged attack too) and have your initial teams mark the large compartments as they are getting found by tying a bight and a not on the search ropes that they are deploying. By the way, the way you can identify a large compartment in zero visibility is simple: while crawling on your fours, if you make the number of steps that is more than 5 times your team size along two consecutive walls in the same compartment (assuming partners follow on the side and not defaulting to ineffective "choo-choo train", you can be sure this compartment is too large for your team to search completely without separating from the wall. So, if you have a team of two, then it is 5 x 2 = 10 or more steps on your knees alongside one wall and then 10 or more steps along the next wall that will tell you that this compartment is a large one. If you have a team of three (which I never recommend while using small areas search methods), then the magic number is 15 steps. When the knot has been tied off on the rope, the initial team should communicate this fact to the IC and then continue their search along the wall as usual. IC should send an additional search team to the knot so that they use a large area search technique from the knot and into the compartment. By the way, no knots should be ever made on a search rope for any other reason (yes, no distance knots). Here is how this search would look like:

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  5. Finally, you want to have a thoughtful and thorough IC who is knolegeable in primary search methods for hybrid area searches. Without one you will never be able to mount an effective multi-pronged attack and coordinate the deployment of follow-up search units. Such IC needs to establish a well-identified command post and a map of the building needs to be either obtained from the pre-planning documentation. In the absence of such documentation try to get an exit plan posted in the building. In the absence of even that, start drawing the map on the whiteboard by collecting information from the exiting search teams. Either way, you need to have a visual representation of your combat theater that includes the direction and approximate locaiton of all your search units.

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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 conduct large area searches. 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