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In our world decisions are made in a split second.  In our world victims in a house fire have minutes not ‘tens of minutes’.  In our world first reports are often wrong.  In our world, words said over the radio have an effect on operations.  Those words can mean the difference between an aggressive interior search and a passive secondary only search.  We all know this.  So how many of the nearly 3000 civilians that die each year in house fires may have perished because we were complacent and wrote them off or felt a search was unnecessary?


“Nothing Showing”

What we mean:  We are investigating

What they hear:  This is BS.  No Fire.  Everyone can stand down.


“Fully Involved”

What we mean:  We have a working fire.

What they hear:  We have a fire and we will be defensive.  No one could be alive inside.  No search needed.



What we mean:  This house is not maintained.  Watch out for holes in floors, boarded up windows, expect piles of trash in the house and bad information upon arrival.

What they hear:  No one lives here, no search needed.


“Everyone is out”

What we mean:  We are told by occupants, bystanders or police that no one is inside.  We need to confirm this by doing a primary search.

What they hear:  Everyone is out; we don’t need to do a search.


“All Clear”

What we mean:  Fire crews have completed a primary search and confirmed no one is inside.

What they hear:  Fire crews have completed a primary search and confirmed no one is inside.


We must get in and do an aggressive primary search.  It's their only chance.  It is not enough that organizationally you say “We will attempt to search all structures for victims and tenable space with a goal to have an all clear within the first 10 minutes”.  We need to define the terminology that will be used and caution officers to be careful with the worlds they choose it can mean the difference between life and death.

(Photo credit: Charlie Robbins)

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