Posted tagged ‘VEIS’

“Searching For Opportunity”


By Ryan Royal

This article is not intended as a hoorah, get in there at all costs motivational speech. This is simply taking some of my experiences and trying to pass on the good and bad. Because of my rank and our Truck Co seat assignments, primary search has just happened to be the most common fire ground function I have been apart of. It has evolved a great deal for me over the years and I have had many great fire officers that I searched with. All of this put together has really changed the way I look at a fire building and how I search it. Our Truck Co’s are privileged with our response and staffing allowing us to be dedicated to search without compromising the Engine getting the first hose line put in place. Although this is a search based article, it still revolves around the first hose line doing good work. 

“Searching For Opportunity” is a mindset that I have tried to personally adopt when it comes to assessing and performing primary searches or VES on the fire ground. I try to look at any fire building in a very optimistic way when it comes to conditions v.s. survivable space. When I say optimistic, I mean to alway assume that one of the four sides of the fire building will have survivable space for potential victims and the only thing that will change this opportunity to search is the conditions found when we actually lay eyes on it. A one room fire makes this very easy, a well involved building changes the options a little bit. The street side view of the fire conditions is merely a first impression, I am still looking for opportunity. Where are the most threatened rooms, what still has a chance, and where are the people inside most likely to be at this point? All things I try to think about at any fire.

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I don’t think it is fair to immediately rule out the chance of victims surviving in a building from the first one-sided view you get at the sidewalk. It does not tell you enough and it is the pessimistic approach to primary search. I think “searching for opportunity” is a very similar motto to “expect fire”, I am sure most of you have heard of that mentality. Expecting fire is the mental preparation and actions of always expecting a fire when we get sent out the door on a fire run. This mindset makes it much easier to tone down our pace after the on scene information and conditions confirm that we can and at the same time when it is a working fire you are not surprised, because you are the Fire Department and thats who they call for fires.

This same idealolgy applies to the search team on the fire ground. We should always be expecting victims to be inside and basing our actions off this opportunity to make a rescue. Now this is the internet, so here is where I insert the disclaimer: This is not where you assume I am saying dive through windows that are venting fire and lose all discipline. Instead I think it is a healthy mentality for us to expect that civilians are inside and search for any opportunity to effect a primary search based off of fire conditions, good size up, disciplined training and experience telling us where they most likely are. Just like expect fire, we do not change our game plan because of a screaming neighbor saying people are trapped or a police officer telling us everyone is out. That is simply fire ground information and we shouldn’t let this amp us up, or even worse deescalate our motivation for a primary search.

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One specific experience that happened to me several years ago is worth passing along and directly speaks to this mindset of expecting rescues. We were sent to a house fire with reported explosions, updates were multiple burn victims in the front yard and dispatch reported twice that everyone was out of the building. This report was confirmed by the homeowner of the house “everyone is out of the building”. There was a large body of fire venting from this house along with a fully charged attic space. Inside the home we found an infant still in her crib. This is the only victim I have ever removed from a fire that was completely ok and survived, and it just happens to be from a fire scene that the homeowner confirmed everyone was out of. He had forgotten that his buddy helping him that day left his child inside the house while they worked on a car together. The trauma of everyone being burned severely caused his mind to slip outside of normal operation, this is a typical human response to tragedy and chaos. We cannot expect civilians to give us accurate and timely information, however they should be able to expect us to keep our cool and search the building to the best of our ability.

Information from homeowners, bystanders and so forth should not be treated as golden information that we base all of our actions upon. We are the professionals and should be taking actions based off the fire conditions and the potential search opportunity. The bystander information should simply be extra credit in the size up, you can take it or leave it but you can’t rely on it and be successful.

I have had fatal fires that we recieved zero information from people standing in the front yard, and then we found victims during primary search or hose line advancement. The following example is almost worse for the firefighter and his discipline. The number one most common face to face intel I have received from next door neighbors is them reporting  people are trapped inside. Every single time I have had reported trapped parties on scene from neighbors, it has turned out to be untrue. This is just how the majority of society works, when fires happen they lose much of their rational thought and assume the worst. They are pessimistic about anything relating to the current situation and begin to verbally spill it out. “People are trapped”, “It is going to blow up”, “It’s going to spread to my house” “What took you guys so long”. You have all heard it and know what I am talking about, it is truly just words falling out of their mouths because the current situation is too much for them to take in and process.

Allowing bystander information to elevate the pace of our fire ground and change the way we look at searches is a time bomb waiting to go off. When this bomb is dropped by the anxious neighbor or the drunk roommate it will instantly cause anxiousness and tunnel vision in the responding firefighter if they were not expecting rescues. For the mentally prepared and disciplined firefighter it should be nothing more than a small amount of information that allows you to be that much more effective and accurate with the location of our search.


We should be the victims optimist until proven otherwise!  If we stay well trained and disciplined it allows us to take decisive action and truly make a difference when the minutes really count. When we assess the full picture and decide that a search cannot be made before some type of water application, we’ll at least know that we have done our best to ensure anyone inside had their best chance of us finding them. If we search for opportunity at every fire and only let fire conditions be what rules out survivable space, then we avoid the pitfalls of bad information or making bad judgments from a one sided view. Let us be the ones that make the expert decision on when to search ahead of the line, when to search coordinated with the attack or when we simply have to wait until after the attack has commenced. That is our job and it is why we need thinking firefighters that thrive on making decisions in that environment. Expect victims and search for opportunity.

VES-Vent Enter Search – Apartment Fire Video



Here is a video that I filmed about a year ago on a 3 alarm apartment fire, it was a long process but I was finally able to get approval to release it publicly.  This is footage from the perspective of the first due Truck Co’s outside team. It was made into a training video that was used for a department wide training and discussion video to talk about the good and the bad from my actions. By no means do I think this is a perfect performance, but I do think it is valuable and provides good footage of a fire that was almost a textbook example of when VES can be utilized. Take a look and see what you think. It is filmed in HD, so if you watch it on YouTube you can make it full screen.

The fire was very close to our firehouse, less than a 2 minute response.  We had no signs of a header on the way to the complex and besides the multiple caller updates from dispatch, we had nothing indicating that this fire was so far ahead of us. Dispatch updated us that we had reports of a party trapped on the first floor.(Verbally told on scene that people were in the 2nd floor) Engine 8 and Truck 8 arrived together. Engine 8 made the decsion to bypass the plug on the way in because of the density of this driveway and complex, along with the fact that is was across the street and would have shutdown all incoming units. This was due to walking this complex numerous times and having a plan ahead of time, Engine 7 also arrives very quickly into this area and only delays a good water supply for a short amount of time. The red 3″ you see being pulled off of E8 is a from a static bed and is what we use for apartment lays, they attached a 2 1/2 shoulder load to the end of this 3″ supply. Truck 8 backed into the complex to give us better access with the aerial if needed, there’s a large amount of overhead lines in this area of the complex.

Truck 8 is a crew of 4 and splits into two person teams, and Irons team and a Ladders teams. Irons handled the front side utilizing conventional searches through the front door of the most threatened units. 6 units were involved on the front side and had completely burned away the stairs on the front. After taking a look at the front side while my driver packed up, we determined Vent Enter Search from the backside would get us inside searching the quickest. The T8 ladders team is who went to the backside to perform this. A few reasons I think VES applies to a fire like this.

– We had numerous reports over the radio and verbally on scene that people were trapped in the fire units

-This fire was at 7pm, for a fire to grow this rapidly during a very busy time around this complex and be that far ahead of us when we are only two minutes away indicated to me that this fire spread very rapidly and cut off the main egress for 6 units.

-Fire attack will be slightly delayed. Searches in the fire units could not be done without a good knockdown, the engine had to perform an apartment lay and put a 2 1/2 into operation. Searches from the front would have been extremely delayed.

-Fire involvement and damage to the stairs. Most of the stairs had been burnt out which also would have delayed searches from the front.

-Occupants will go opposite of the fire. If people were in these units then our best chance would be to find them hanging out of windows on the backside, or unconscious in the back rooms where they were trying to shelter themselves from the fire.

-Heavy attic involvement. We had a large amount of fire extending through the attic. VES gave us short quick searches and kept us close to egress points if something was to change.

We made the move to the backside and determined the upper floor end three units were the most threatened. We started our searches there, the first window had the door closed and was only smoky. This room was cleared fairly quickly. We then broke the window on the first floor below and we could see the room was clear of occupants underneath the smoke. The next window on the second floor was charged heavily with smoke and had the door open. My driver was able to make it in and close the door, then continue his search. This was a children’s room that had a bunk bed and signs of maybe up to three kids living in this room. The third room also had the door open, it was smoky and hot, the door was open and had some rollover extending from the living room. Door was controlled and the room was searched, this was the adults bedroom of the same unit. This room had a playschool car inside that was being used as a childs crib for a infant. No occupants were found in this fire.

The Good points:

– We were able to give the citizens their best chance by utilizing VES on the side of the building with the most survivable space.

– The engine made a great knockdown by choosing the appropriate line. This protected the VES crew, prevented us from burning the attic off, and prevented the second building from becoming completely involved.

– Aggressive forcible entry and search allowed the Irons team to search 8 apartments in a very short amount of time

-Vertical ventilation by Truck 1 was done ahead of the fire units and was well placed to prevent extension through the common attic.

-Using the 24′ extension ladder when doing multiple windows helps you adjust to the changing grade of the backside.

The Bad Points

– When the first window was broken I should have been ready to immediately make entry. My thought process was to evaluate if we could even make entry due to the amount of fire involvement and attic involvement. I still should have been ready and I could have been faster.

– We broke the next window and searched it visually. This was to save time and move to the next most threatened upper floor unit. We should have taken the extra 20 seconds to jump into that window and control the door to prevent the fire from continuing that way underneath us.

-Blinds should always be torn down before you make entry, in the last window the blinds were melted and soft. They got tangled on my neck and roof hook which delayed me almost a minute inside the zero visibility. This could have been totally prevented.

Overall the video turned out pretty good and I think the first due companies made pretty aggressive good work of this fire. I don’t mind putting myself out there and releasing videos like this because I think they hold a great amount of value to be able to sit down and talk about different things to consider, especially when utilizing a tactic like VES which I truly believe is valuable. VES, Vent Enter Search, VEIS (which is what we are calling it now), whatever your department calls it does not matter. What matters is that you have trained on it realistically, trained on when and where it applies, and have made it an option in your departments tactics. It is highly effective at giving the citizens their best chance for survival.  I am always open for discussion and if you have any questions just comment below or email us.

Do you use it? It saves lives.


I have a feeling with the growing awareness of this tactic, we will find it more and more effective as the years go on. This should never be a tactic you decide to try for the first time on the fire ground. Train, study and know it perfectly before you use it. If you already use it, share it with others. A tried and true fire service tactic.


Survivable Space Exists!!!!


This is an incredible video out of Corinth MS from a few days ago. Units pull up to a well involved house, with rapidly advancing fire throughout the building. A 9 month old child was dropped out of the window to bystanders and survived. Lt. Chris Duncan is told from the bystanders that the Father is still inside of that room. Conditions are becoming pre flashover very quickly, the Lt. makes a quick VES in the window and removes the adult male to the window just before flashover occurs. Other firefighters outside the window drag the victim away as the Lt. makes a dive out into the yard. The victim is in critical condition but still alive. I extend my gratitude to  Lt. Chris Duncan who made a decision to put the Citizens life above his own and made a move that was rewarded with a second chance on life for this citizen. Job well done, Citizens of Corinth you should be proud of your fire department.

This is a great demonstration of survivable space that can be found in a very well involved home. You can find teachings out there that would tell you the front of this building had no potential for viable victims, and intern to not take the risk for victims. VES and quick recognition of the survivable space saved lives.

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