We spend a lot of time training on search and rescue, and if you are like a lot of departments you have the same rotation of search and rescue drills that you follow. The drills with the blacked out mask where you crawl through the fire station looking for that rescue dummy or baby. If you are lucky you might have an old building in town that you get to work in so you can practice in an unfamiliar building.
We do these drills on a regular basis so we stay proficient in our skills. Repetition in our training helps us to develop a process that keep us consistent in how we perform. We need to remember some basic concepts when we do search and rescue work.
One of the biggest problems firefighters face with search and rescue is staying oriented inside a building. Whether the building is large or small once we get inside we can really get messed up.
Before you charge into a building take a couple seconds to look check out the outside of the building to get a quick read on what is going to be inside. There is a lot you can learn in a few seconds looking for things like plumbing stacks and bathroom windows will give you a landmark to help navigate the building. Most houses are consistent with interior layout, if you can remember other houses in the neighborhood there is a good chance you will find the same set-up during your search.
Look at the outside before you go inside, and always stay oriented inside the building.
The golden rule of search and rescue is to always stay with your partner.
Sometimes staying with your partner will mean staying close enough to always be able to reach out and touch them, and other times it will mean you need to stay close enough to be able to hear each others voice. The more serious the conditions in the building the closer you need to be. It might be alright to stay at a doorway while you partner searches a bedroom in a normal size house, but in some larger houses that bedroom might have two or more rooms adjacent and connecting, you might even have connecting rooms that will start looking like a maze. If you do get lost or in trouble you can always find your way out by finding a window which will lead you outside.
Don’t always assume you need to go out the same way you came in if conditions get bad.
You should never go in for a search without carrying a useful tool. Everyone has their favorite search tool, don’t make your favorite tool be the easiest to carry, make it the tool you can do the most with. If you find yourself in trouble and you need to make an opening in a wall you won’t be so happy you choose that small easy to carry axe.
Keeping these few things in mind will help you be safer and more efficient when doing a search. Sometimes we don’t need more information, we just need to remember the things were taught early on in our career. Some of the most important things are the most basic.