Grocery Store Search

Greetings to all,

This post is not about a normal subjects I write about here on Green Maltese and hope you don’t mind?  I am off the Green Building subject just a little, but I  am also working on helping Capt. Jim Silvernail with a potential search chapter for his Suburban Fire Tactics book and I just taught a search class last week so I  have search on the brain. LOL


Grocery Store Search


Have you ever thought about how you would search your local grocery store? Or better yet have you ever trained on how you would search it?


Almost every small town or suburb has at least one or two grocery stores simply because we all must EAT! Out of the first two questions just asked , I would say most have  thought about it but very few have trained on it because it not a everyday occasion that we have a grocery store fire.


Grocery Store Layout:


If you are ever are faced with searching a grocery store you need to divide the store into two areas and that is based on where is the probability of the most life? The two highest life hazard areas would be the front cash register area and the back
stockroom areas. Since the front of the store is usually further than 150 feet from the back stockroom most likely you are going to have another crew be assigned to search that area based on air management point of no return.

Now that we have divided this search operations into two areas let’s focus on the first search crews responsibly. The 1st search crew is going to enter the front of the store at the front door. Search should began immediately since that was the entrance 90 percent of the occupants entered and  that will be the one they will go for in the event of a fire. In most of small town America the staffing available will not likely allow you another team to begin fire attack simultaneously so your search could possibly be done with a hoseline that will greatly slow you down, and should be trained on as well.

After the first crew has search the front door lobby area they need to proceed to the cash resister aisles and have the searcher search in between the registers and have the officer or nozzleperson depending on staffing. Be in front of the registers and be oriented to conditions of the fire and their location and the safety and of the searches. Once this area is cleared the search team has two options.


  1. Standard Search (right/left hand wall search)
  2. Aisle Search


Most people would pick number one option because it is all they have ever done and never trained on aisle search. However we as firefighters need to cover as much area as fast as we can, because we only have about a 20 min work time due to SCBA. Option 1 would not allow us to cover more area in the short amount of work time.

My pick would be aisle search because my crew is the only chance someone has of living therefore I want to cover the most area I can.


Aisle Search:


This is accomplished by starting at the end of the aisle by having one searcher start at the beginning of the aisle on the right side searching (sweeping) as they maintain contact to the right side and search till the end of the aisle then move across the aisle to the left side and follow it up searching till they reach the front where the officer or nozzleperson will be. While searcher 1 is on one aisle you can have searcher 2 do the same thing on the aisle next to it. This way your small crew is searching two aisles for the time it would take for one aisle under option #1, and the officer is at the front of aisle oriented to conditions and safety.


If the first crew is able to have enough air to search the aisle area of the store then they should exist after they have notified command of all clear or primary search of store area complete. Because they will not have enough air to began searching the
rear stockroom areas.

2nd due or 2nd search crew


Now depending on staffing and if other fireground objectives are getting attended to then the 2nd search crew will began their search from the rear of the structure. The stockroom of most grocery stores are very cut up and usually have stuff stacked
up everywhere which can be very demanding and dangerous to firefighters therefore this should be done with hoseline for protect and to maintain orientation to the outside.  These searches will be more time consuming.


Hopefully now that we have addressed an occupancy, that is in almost every town in America. You will train on how you would handle searching a grocery. Next time your crew goes to buy food for tonight dinner take your whole crew and at least discuss
how you would search it as you are walking through it. The key to any successful search is knowing what occupancy you are searching and using key features such as layout to your advantage to cover as much area as fast as you can safety.

Note: Stay tuned for the release of Suburban Fire Tactics


Stay Safe

Lt. John Shafer


  • Chris says:

    Ok first post was weird….

    Lt. I checked out your link from the FFsenemy blog, the smartphone discussion…Great stuff over here.
    Im just to your north in the mitton state Michigan. it would be great to discuss some stuff. Stop by my website and get my email.


  • Ray McCormack says:

    One trap firefighters can easily fall into with a store fire like this is a light smoke condition. Another point that must be examined is if the store contains a basement. Please bring along a TIC and a Search rope. Without awareness search is luck.

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