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Vent Enter and Search , or as it’s commonly referred to, VES, has been an accepted term for the fire service for the last 8-10 years or so, depending on who you talk to. It’s a common strategy that has been successfully used throughout this country to save lives. I would like to offer some insight as to what this is and when and how it can be applied.

There’s a high likelihood, that if you have been in the fire service for longer than 10 years, you may have performed this already, but thought of it as a typical search. Many think of VES being a coordinated venting tactic to control the fire. Some think of it as part of the primary search. Some aren’t familiar with the term at all.

Let’s set the stage….. You are the officer on an Engine company responding to a fire at 0300. Upon your arrival, you notice heavy black smoke from a 2 story, 2,200 sq. ft. house and fire on the first floor. There are cars in the driveway and neighbors in the street that tell you they think the family is inside. After you ask them some specific questions, you understand there are a husband and wife, with a newborn child that live there.

Given the above scenario, you assign a primary search team to the first and second floors, horizontal ventilation and fire attack. Based on the information and your size up, rescue is likely that could, and should be attempted.
Now, let’s change the scenario slightly and allow me to demonstrate how we can incorporate VES into your incident action plan.

Let’s use the same scenario, but this time as you arrive, a 23 year old woman is standing in the street, very distraught and crying. She meets you at the Engine door before you get out and says that her husband and newborn are still inside the house. You specifically ask her the location, and she points to the bedroom in the A,B corner on the second floor. You now have a Confirmed Rescue, exact location and the building will “allow it”. Meaning, the fire is not in that room, or in close proximity.

You assign 2 firefighters to “VES” that bedroom on the second floor, A, B corner. They carry a 16’ roof ladder, pike pole and Halligan. They use the ladder to hit and “open” (Vent) the window, don their SCBA, hang their tools on the highest rung and 1 (experienced) firefighter ascends (while on air) the ladder while the other stabilizes it. When the firefighter reaches the window and clears the remaining glass, he uses the pike to sweep the area below the window searching for a victim, then sounds the complete area where he feels he will land after entering. He enters with his Halligan, hooks his pike pole on the sill, then stays against the wall, while keeping the pike hooked on the sill and holding it for orientation. He uses his Halligan to sweep the floor while he rapidly moves toward the bedroom door to shut it, knowing that this opening will draw the fire and smoke to that area. After the door is shut, he continues with his search.

While this is happening, the other firefighter who was stabilizing the ladder is now at the top of the ladder on air. He stays on the ladder, with his hand light inside the structure to provide orientation for his partner, and is ready to take the infant from his partner when needed.

Although there are several variables and situations where this can be applied, it’s important to understand VES because to be effective, we must be proficient in ladders, and searching prior to this being attempted. Understand that the firefighter searching goes inside alone to search and exits via the ladder, or maybe the porch roof that the ladder is placed. We do not go room to room. This strategy should be practiced frequently and only be employed when we have confirmation of entrapment and the proper training. This is a very dangerous technique and should not be attempted by less than “seasoned”, properly trained firefighters.

Greg is a Captain with the Franklin Fire Department, and is celebrating his 20'th year in the Amercian Fire Service. Greg is also a proud member of the Middle Tennessee F.O.O.L.S.

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Comment by Koll Andersen on April 11, 2009 at 3:09pm
Great Post, I believe this is the kind of information that all members of the fire service could benefit from and that we as trainers and leaders in our department cannot afford to loose with each retirement. The additional posts and comments only work to further clarify and validate the lessons we need to teach. Personal experience is a great teacher but a truely wise person will learn from the experiences and mistakes of others.
Keep the message real.
Comment by Greg Wild on April 11, 2009 at 8:13am

Thanks for adding your comments. We have found, through training, that after you take the glass with the ground ladder, don your mask and hood, start breathing air and ascend the ladder that this usually takes anywhere between 60-90 seconds. It is imperative that we allow the structure to release the smoke and heat and make the room safer for us. We must ALWAYS stress the importance of closing the door as fast as possible. This must be stressed often during training and become habit, since firefighters instinctively will start a search and forget this. Applying this strategy takes experience, training and repetition. Please practice this and know YOUR limitations before attempting.
Comment by Todd Trudeau on April 10, 2009 at 7:36pm
Great post guys. Keep up the instruction for us!
Comment by Art Zern on April 10, 2009 at 12:21am

I believe that there is a significant lack of understanding across the fire service as to what VES is, and what VES is not. VES is a tactic that should be attempted following a narrow set of criteria. VES instruction, in many cases, misses some very key points, specifically, the entry should not rapidly follow the ventilation. There is always a desire to get in and begin the search; however, VES requires members to resist the urge to "jump-in" and get started. What I’m getting at is that following the venting of the window, you should not be in a hurry to make rapid entry. It is very important to take some time to look, listen, observe and wait. Look for signs of life, listen for noises, cries or voices, observe conditions and wait to see what the results of your ventilation will be. The act of ventilating may, especially if the door to the room is open, cause a severe and rapid change in conditions. If you don’t take a bit of time to look, listen, observe and wait, your rapid entry may put you in a very dangerous situation.

Additionally, training should also stress the recognition of features, furniture and objects that will likely be found in rooms suitable for VES and rooms that are not suitable for VES. Bedrooms are the target, not living rooms, kitchens etc..

VES is designed to target bedrooms with a high degree of opportunity for occupancy. The size of the rooms should be small. The control of the room’s door is the first priority as that will be your only protection and may buy the necessary time to complete your rapid search. VES is not an entry point for an extended primary search. If members make entry and either can’t locate and close the door or they realize they are not in a bedroom, they should make a rapid exit.

Thanks for the great post,

Comment by Nick Miller on April 9, 2009 at 7:43am

Excellent post! As a strong supporter of VES at my department, I believe you covered the topic to a tee. Keep up the good work!
Comment by Michael Bricault (ret) on April 7, 2009 at 10:49pm
Greg, I'm ecstatic to see and hear you and other members of the fire service taking up the torch and lighting the way for our younger members. Keep spreading the word and Keep The Faith.
Comment by Greg Wild on April 7, 2009 at 3:26pm

I appreciate your comments and thoughts on this subject. I hope that as others read this, they will also offer some thoughts based on their experiences since as you mentioned, so much knowledge is being lost to retirement. With so much of the fire service having less than 10 years "on the job", people like yourself are valued when you can add any information that might not be found in a textbook.

Thanks for the comments and be safe Brother.
Comment by Michael Bricault (ret) on April 7, 2009 at 1:09pm
-Greg, I like, use and teach VES. It is a great technique that produces results when executed properly.
-Far too many firefighters misunderstand VES and interpret it as merely an entry technique which it is not. You did correct this in the blog.
-Another misconception about VES is that the firefighter performing the search is working alone. In fact this is incorrect. When VES is performed properly with two firefighters, it is actually a version of an oriented search.
-The second firefighter waiting at the top of the ladder/window is the oriented man of the two member search team while the member inside the room performs the search. This is the same way the search of a bedroom would have been carried out if the members were entering from the hallway. One member would have remained oriented to the environment, waiting at the door while the other member searched.
-One key point that we teach in regard to VES is isolating the environment as soon as possible, even before initiating the search, in order to create as a safe and tenable a work environment as possible.
-Lastly, we teach firefighters the Tool Assisted Search technique but in a reverse manner that most. Believing that hand tools are very dangerous to victims and that most firefighters cannot tell the difference between inanimate objects and a human form, we instruct firefighters to keep the hand tool along the wall, maintaining contact between tool and wall, driving the tool into the wall if necessary and extending the members reach in this fashion as the firefighter will have a better opportunity in recognizing what he has made contact with. Moreover, it is much safer for the victim... preventing Mrs. Fishbiscuit from being hit and severely injured by the hand tool.
-In fact, the way we have cured firefighters of swinging and probing with hand tools is to have each participating member take a turn laying on the floor as victim and then as searching firefighter. It creates a very disconcerting feeling watching steel tools "probing" for the victim; something each firefighter remembers when he then acts as the searcher.
-VES is not a new technique and yet it is very new and misunderstood by so many within the fire service. I guess it illustrates the experience and expertise that is lost as each generation matures and retires and the vast knowledge that must be rediscovered and relearned.

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