It appears and rightfully so, that there is an increase in "chatter" about the utilization on the fire ground for VEIS (Vent, ,Enter, Isolate, and Search) training. A few years back I wrote an article for Fire Engineering on utilizing what some call the 'Oriented Man" V.E.I.S. this tactic utilizes two members one with a thermal imager to conduct the operation. the two member approach in my opinion helps calm any naysayers who state that this tactic is far too danger and is only for the "big city". I also have included the video from a fire I responded to over 20 years ago that claimed the life of a little girl and was the impetus behind my writing and training on this subject.
ORIENTED VENT ENTER ISOLATE SEARCH FOR SMALL DEPARTMENTS
BY: Joseph Pronesti
Much has been written in this magazine and several others on the benefits and techniques of conducting vent, enter, search (V.E.I.S.) all a firefighter has to do is put this acronym into their favorite internet search engine and they can spend hours researching articles and videos pertaining to this very good tactic. Many of these articles and videos however focus on conducting V.E.I.S. utilizing a single searcher only, one that will present several hazards to the untrained or infrequently conducted operation an affliction most small departments face.. This article will take the lessons and strategy of interior oriented search and apply it to the exterior or V.E.I.S. tactic hopefully giving small departments a tactic that can be trained on and utilized when conditions dictate.
On the night of Sunday May 16th 1993, the city of Elyria Ohio Fire Department was called to a residence on Mendel Court for a working house fire with a child trapped; when crews arrived they found a 2 ½ story wood frame residence with heavy fire conditions enveloping the front porch and interior foyer of the residence Twelve firefighters attempted to knock down the fire and make an interior entry to conduct a traditional search but this proved futile and an eight year old was later found some twenty minutes later on the second floor under her bed obviously deceased. How could this tragic event which occurred two decades ago provide us lessons today?
In 1993, outside of the largest of departments; vent, enter, and search (V.E.I.S.) and oriented interior search were little known tactics. Our department as most departments still conducted searches as taught in fire academies; go in through the interior stairs with a partner, conduct a left or right handed search and do the best that you can to save a viable life. Throughout our history, fire ground search was and still is a very dangerous tactic, one that must be studied and trained on continuously. Many things in the Elyria Fire Department have changed in twenty years and we mirror most Midwest departments but if this fire happens again in Elyria, Ohio or any like size or smaller department would our tactics be the same as they were twenty years ago?
In preparation for this article a questionnaire was posted on the National Fire Academy’s Trade Net and several emails to fire chiefs across the state of Ohio. The questionnaire specifically targeted smaller departments and asked the following questions:
Most departments surveyed do indeed train on traditional one rescuer V.E.I.S. but the majority stated that this while they do indeed train, most train at the company level and their respective departments do not have a standard training program covering V.E.I.S.
Apprehensions on the fire ground
This questioned was answered in a standard manner by those that answered, is there a viable victim? What are the smoke conditions? How experienced is the searcher? How close is the fire to the room being search? The questionnaire indicates that commanders and company officers are in fact heeding the warnings of reading smoke but are concerned about the lack of experience and ventilation profile. Many responses indicated that staffing dictated whether or not a V.E.I.S. would be launched on the fire ground.
While many know and can relate to the term V.E.I.S. there appears to be a lack of understanding and application of utilizing an oriented member to the V.E.I.S. tactic. Few departments that are aware of the term train on specific oriented V.E.I.S. operations.
Recorded an actual save utilizing V.E.I.S.
With so few actual saves, the argument could be made that this low frequency high risk tactic be even considered on the fire ground. Many departments who answered the survey stated that because of the actual lack of experience in making a save they have possibly neglected the actual training on the tactic.
A brief overview of Vent, Enter, Search
In his book Searching Smarter Chief John “Skip” Coleman states that Vent, Enter, Search (V.E.I.S.) originated on the East Coast by a department that had a large amount of residential dwellings with front porches, quickly laddering these porches with a single section wall or roof ladder gave firefighters instant access to second floor sleeping areas. Firefighters ascend the ladder, ventilate the window to get inside the room, find the bedroom door, close it and conduct a primary search of the bedroom. When completed they get back to the entry window and exit the structure. The dangers encountered with this tactic are many and several Fire Engineering articles and videos can be researched for in depth information on the hazards of this tactic. Anytime you ventilate a window you face the fear of unpredictable fire spread creating an even more dangerous situation. Today’s fire ground presents many challenges, research by Underwriters Laboratories has confirmed that today’s modern home furnishings have a greater heat release rate than ever before possibly increasing the speed of flashover occurring and limiting the timeliness in our ability to quickly and safely enter and conduct a viable search for occupants. If you are not aware or have not had the time to read this report please do so, it provides a wealth of information that kind only improve fireground safety and performance.
A failure during the fire mentioned earlier was the lack of a 360 done immediately upon arrival, one was conducted but not until suppression and rescue efforts were well under way. An initial 360 would’ve revealed several windows on the second floor which could have been utilized to conduct a quick search of the second floor.
Oriented Search + V.E.I.S. = A safer search for members
Utilizing Coleman’s thoughts on oriented V.E.I.S. and the survey responses indicate to the author that maybe the idea of utilizing an oriented member while another conducts a V.E.I.S. off a porch roof or ladder might be an excellent tactic whose time has come due to today’s fire ground environment much of which has been emphasized by the Underwriters Laboratory modern vs. legacy combustibles research.
Interior oriented search emphasizes that an oriented firefighter stay in the hallway to be a “human lifeline” to the searcher(s) conducting primary search of the structure. The oriented member monitors fire conditions and maintains voice contact with the primary search group. The problem is what happens when conditions hamper our ability to enter through the interior? Utilizing an oriented member for a V.E.I.S. incorporates the quick access of a ground ladder to a second floor bedroom with the additional safety of a member watching your back and monitoring fire conditions as you conduct the search of the bedroom.
Conducting an oriented V.E.I.S.
Before we launch an oriented V.E.I.S. it must be determined that an attempt can indeed be made to save a viable victim, do we have credible information that victims are trapped? Are there family members advising that If so, how old are they? If family members or other building residents are on scene with knowledge of potential victims obtaining the trapped victim(s) age can prove to be helpful for rescuers; studies have indicated that young children may hide under a bed or in a closet; older children may attempt to seek refuge in their parent’s bedroom and teenagers and adults may seek refuge in a bathtub with the water running in an effort to protect themselves from the fire. V.E.I.S. should be regulated only to bedrooms, and can be utilized at both ranch style and 21/2 story structures. Knowledge of typical residential layouts is a must, for example most bedrooms in ranches will be located on the opposite side of the attached garage. Remember there are no absolutes; the best time to familiarize yourself to your respective jurisdiction’s residences is while on medical emergency and other service type calls.
While this article will not go into how to read smoke it cannot be overemphasized enough that it is the responsibility of all firefighters on the fireground to be well trained and educated on being able to read smoke conditions. For a successful and safe oriented V.E.I.S. to take plus both rescuers and command must be have some idea of where the fire is located and what the smoke is forecasting. Is flashover imminent? Is the fire below the room being searched? Has a 360 degree evaluation of the building been conducted? The author’s survey concluded that all command officers surveyed conclude that the conditions must be evaluated correctly and a cautious eye constantly fixed on fire and smoke conditions.
The role of the oriented member in V.E.I.S.
Similar to their responsibilities while conducting an interior oriented search, the oriented member on a V.E.I.S. will be the “security blanket” for the V.E.I.S. rescuer. This member will be on the ladder at the window or on the front porch roof, research has indicated that if a searcher knows that someone has the sole responsibility of watching out over them they are more likely to relax and conduct a more effective search under adverse conditions.
Once in close the door!
Once a window is vented a new avenue of smoke and fire travel is introduced the V.E.I.S. rescuer must understand that if the bedroom door is open the “race will be on” for that member to get to the door, close it and isolate the room from the fire. Some members of our fire service have even added the letter “I” after the “E” in V.E.I.S. to emphasize the need to ISOLATE the room to the fire. V.E.I.S. may be the standard term we will all be using in the years to come. The question asked by many who train in V.E.I.S. operations, “what happens if there is no door?” or if clutter or collier mansion conditions prohibit the rescuer from shutting the door a rescuer must understand that there is no way to isolate the fire from the room being searched and based on conditions a decision must be made on how long one should attempt a search in a room under these conditions.
Typical 2 ½ story residence front porches make excellent launch points for an oriented V.E.I.S. mission into bedrooms. Photo by Author
While it can be argued that accountability is everyone’s’ responsibility on the fireground, the members conducting the oriented V.E.I.S. must keep command informed. A simple radio transmission to command should be standard. For example: “Tower 8 to command, we have two members conducting a V.E.I.S. on the alpha bravo corner division 2.”
This brief but very important transmission advises command that two members are conducting a V.E.I.S. at a second floor window at a second floor window on the A-B side of the structure. Should something go wrong command now has accountability of where his people are located plus other companies on the fireground will have knowledge of where this tactic is taking place; once completed, or when a victim(s) is found an urgent radio report to command must made as soon as possible. “Tower 8 V.E.I.S. to command, urgent we have found a victim bringing them to the ladder”. If the oriented V.E.I.S. rescuer can see this taking place he will be in a better condition to radio command but more than likely this will have to be done by the firefighter inside. Bringing a victim down a ladder is a very dangerous tactic one that must be trained on continuously another concern brought up in the author’s survey. An attempt should be made by command to get resources to the location of the rescuers to assist. EMS should be on scene and staged as soon as possible when responding to any structure fire and especially anytime active rescues are being attempted.
Use of a thermal imager for oriented V.E.I.S.
One tool that can prove to be useful no matter what size department is the thermal imaging camera or T.I.C., when conducting oriented V.E.I.S. operations the oriented member should bring it up the ladder while the search member carries the six foot hook and halligan. Once window is vented and it is determined through a proper size up that the room is relatively safe to enter and conduct a search the oriented member will hand the T.I, C, up to the entry firefighter who will attempt a quick scan of the room using the T.I.C. this might be of assistance in trying to determine where the door is located, in most residences the bedroom door is located on an opposite wall of a window again, knowing the types and most common layouts of residences in your jurisdiction will be to a benefit. The T.I.C. can also be utilized to gauge the heat and the fires location to the door and most notably, the T.I.C. may in fact help locate a victim from the window.
Limitations of the T.I.C.
It is important not to rely totally on the T.I.C. as stated previously depending on the age of possible victims it is not outside the realm of possibilities that they may be under a bed or in a closet only an aggressive search inside a room can confirm. The use of the T.I.C. must be tempered with this fact and also the fact that T.I.C.s can and do fail. The point of having an oriented member as your lifeline outside the window may help balance any limitations these wonderful pieces of equipment present. The rescuers must also remember that V.E.I.S. operations are time sensitive the first rescuer up the ladder cannot spend a lot of time studying the room with the T.I.C. again; utilize the T.I.C. to quickly scan the room. The oriented member can then utilize the T.I.C. from outside as the rescuer searches the room.
Final Thoughts and training considerations from survey questions
Whether your department is large or small, life safety to the public we protect and our own members is paramount, it is the very essence of our service. The author’s survey concluded that many smaller department commanders tend to shy away from conducting V.E.I.S. operations and even more are unaware of the value in combining oriented search methods with V.E.I.S. The most troubling finding is the lack of standard organized training in V.E.I.S. operations. Most of the respondents stated that most V.E.I.S. training is left up to company officers, while these officers should be commended not having a thoroughly researched and standardized department protocol on V.E.I.S. operations could lead to uncoordinated and unsafe actions on the fireground. Training in oriented V.E.I.S. can be accomplished anywhere you have a standard bedroom window; it can be done in a firehouse, training tower, or vacant structure. The only limitation is your imagination; V.E.I.S. training also incorporates many other important fire ground tactics such as reading smoke, ladder selection and placement, and victim removal.
It is the author’s opinion based on the responses of the survey that many small departments will be at a disadvantage today should a fire occur with civilians trapped just as the Elyria, Ohio fire department was at a disadvantage some twenty years ago, the difference however is V.E.I.S. is a much more widely known acronym in the fire service but unfortunately still widely misunderstood.
Don’t wait for your ‘Mendel Court” fire to say what if, yes the tactic of V.E.I.S. wasn’t a commonly known tactic twenty years ago but you are only seconds away possibly from your next career defining fire adding oriented V.E.I.S. to your toolbox could pay dividends.
This article is dedicated to the memory of that eight year old child lost twenty years ago.
Don’t forget attic windows, many are converted into bedrooms, look for signs of occupancy such as window air conditioners Photo by author
Size up prior to V.E.I.S. operations is critical, are there viable victims on the second floor? Photo Courtesy of TMC News Elyria, Ohio