Search: Do you have a plan?

I would first like to say that the use of the following article is not meant to be an armchair quarterback or to be critical of the department involved. However I do feel it can be a learning opportunity for us, to at least review some basics of having a search plan.


A man died in a blaze after four firefighters failed to spot him during two searches of a burning building, an inquest heard today. Danny Holt, 33, collapsed in his lounge after a chip pan caught fire – but the emergency services failed to spot him. Both groups of firefighters assumed the other had searched the room in Eccles, Greater Manchester.

Read more:

Searching with a plan:

The most important ingredient of a successful search is the search plan. An organized and coordinated search plan will help reduce some of the risk and increase your chances of giving you and the victims you are searching for the greatest chance of survival.

.The first step of a successful plan will begin with a good search size-up. This should actually begin upon receipt of receiving the alarm. The following are few factors that should be considered.

  • Location
  • Occupancy
  • Staffing (determines what you can or can’t accomplish)
  • Fire Conditions
  • Time of Day
  • Vehicles present
  • Building Construction Features: ( Windows -Doors-Age of the construction)

Once you have considered these factors and any other information that was available upon arrival. You can start to put your plan into action.

Where do you begin your search?

Searching for life should begin upon entry such as behind doors or under windows in VES. A lot of text books will say start closest to the fire however this is not always possible and I feel that you should target area of high probability of victims, such as areas close to front door since they exit that area most of the time it become habit or close to windows. As mentioned above, the time of day will be a big part of where the victim will probably be in the building.


Once you have chosen the place to begin searching. You must start orientating yourself to that room.

¨  Identify your location in the structure based on contents (furniture, beds, fixtures, type of flooring material, etc.)

¨  Leave a hand light at the door as a beacon to the exit

¨  Where the door is hinged?  Interior doors opening out indicate closets or small spaces (or basements)

¡  Probe into a space with a tool before entering to determine size of the space

¨  Outside walls= windows = escape routes!

Primary Search:

Is  a systematic, fast-moving search of the building and should target areas of high victim probably but not stop there. This search is not complete until every area has been covered rapidly. This search should be done with at least two people. Firefighters should be very aware of their situation and use one of the following methods of orientation while conducting this rapid search while the fire is not under control.

  • Hoselines
  • Ropes
  • Walls/Building features specific to the occupancy
  • Tools
  • Flashlights
  • Voice Contact
  • Thermal Imaging Camera

Secondary Search:

The secondary search should be much more thorough and conducted slower as to leave nothing unturned or unchecked. This search should be conducted by a different crew than the one that conducted the primary search so you have a fresh body and set of eyes that will not overlook anything. Beware that by this stage, the fire should have either been extinguished or destroyed much of the area and victims may be covered by fallen debris. Once this search has been completed throughout the entire building above and below then the structure is actually all clear.

Also keep your guard up and beware that many toxic gases still exist in the secondary and overhaul stages. SCBA should be worn until the atmosphere can be deemed safe from CO and HCN.


Note: This video is not from the article mentioned above.

In light of the recent event mentioned in the article above let’s refresh on some of these basics and get off the couch to do some search and rescue training with your crews so you are not the next headline!


Stay Safe

Lt. John Shafer


  • Gabe Heatherly says:

    Good breakdown without being cr=tical of what happened. Thanks for the article. It is great to learn from others without looking down on other’s faults because we all have them.

  • Anonymous says:

    Thanks Gabe. I know for sure I have tons of faults and made many mistakes on incidents I have been on. Thanks for coming by the blog please share it with all your friends.

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John Shafer

An 18 year veteran of  the fire service, and currently a Lieutenant and the Training Officer for the Greencastle Fire Department.  An Indiana regionally recognized instructor on building construction, fireground search and command management, he has traveled throughout the State of Indiana delivering specialized training programs on building construction, fireground search and firefighter safety.

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