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Brothers and Sisters,

Recently, a video of a VES operation in Indianapolis surfaced on several web-sites including this one. The responses on this site were, for the most part, thoughtful and informative. However, on others, not so much. This is not an indictment of those sites, one in fact is a very good site providing a great deal of useful training information. In any case, the level of criticism leveled at the participants was, in my opinion, over the top prompting a response from the Captain performing the search depicted in the video (see below).

Response from Capt. Van Sant
Well, here goes my first website post ever,but when my friends said my 15 minutes was happening, I had to look. I’m the guy in the video, and against my better judgment, I feel the need to set this thing straight. First off, I’m a captain in Indianapolis, and have 23 years in the busiest companies in the city. I’ve been to a couple of fires. Because you weren’t there, I would tell you to watch the video again after I explain things, and maybe you’ll think differently. This was a 4:00 am fire dispatched as entrapment, with excitement in the dispatchers voice. We were the first ladder company on the scene, and we were met with cars in the driveway, and neighbors screaming that there was a woman in that room. Because of the involvement in the rest of the house, VES was going to be the only option on this one. When we vent the window with the ladder, it looks like the room is burning, but the flames you see are coming from the hallway, and entering through the top of the bedroom doorway. Watch it again and you’ll see the fire keeps rolling in and across the ceiling. When I get to the windowsill, the queen-sized bed is directly against the window wall, so there is no way to “check the floor” like the textbook geeks gigged me for not doing. Notice that you continue to see my feet going in, because I’m on the bed. Believe me, in the beginning, this was a tenable room both for me and for any victim that would have been in there. How else could I have been on the bed, 3 feet above the floor, calmly entering. Trust me when I say that I know what hot is, and this was no hotter than any other fire I’ve been in. My goal was to get to the door and close it, just like VES is supposed to be done. We do it successfully all the time. When I reached the other side of the bed, I dropped to the floor and began trying to close the door. Unfortunately, due to debris on the floor, the door would not close. Conditions were still quite tenable at this point, but I knew with the amount of fire entering at the upper level, and smoke conditions changing, things were going to go south fast. As stated earlier, I’ve been doing this for 23 years, and I know fire behavior. I kept my eyes on my exit point, and finished my search, including the closet, which had no doors on it. Just as I was a few feet from the window, the room lit off, and the rest is history, and fodder for all the self-proclaimed experts. It’s hard for me to imagine that firefighters who weren’t there can find so much fault with a firefighter who did exactly what we’re supposed to do. For you textbook geeks, that means risking a lot to save a savable life. Like I said earlier, when I first made this room, it was NOT on fire like the video makes it look. I’ll give you this much; once the flashover occurred, no civilian could have survived, but if she would have been in there, maybe, just maybe I could have gotten her out before it happened. I have to wonder what you would be saying if the video showed me just staying at the top of the ladder, never entering like many of you suggested, and later we found her corpse lying on the other side of the bed. Instead of calling me an idiot, you’d call me a coward. I’ll take idiot any time! To “Dave” from my department who said he’d guess that I would probably look back now and say it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, you’re absolutely right. It was the ONLY thing to do. And if I’m faced with that exact same situation a hundred more times, I’ll be in that window every time, because I’m a fireman. And if anyone wonders why I was aware of my surroundings at all times, why I was able to recognize when flashover was imminent, and why I pulled off a head-first ladder slide without a hitch….TRAINING! To the guy who said I had no facepiece’re freakin’ joking right? What you see dangling is my hand-lantern. Do you carry one? And to the guy who says I have no tool, look at the axe handle sticking out of my SCBA belt. It’s not in my hand, because when I do a search, I know when I’m touching a body with my hand. When I hit it with a tool, it’s anyone’s guess what I’m touching. But I ALWAYS has a tool. In closing, I would only suggest that when you watch a video from now on, remember that you weren’t there. And if you were faced with the same situation, with the exact same conditions I was faced with, if you wouldn’t have done the same thing, then I’m glad you’re not on my job. stay safe brothers

Capt. Van Sant deserves our thatks for having the fortitude to post this thoughtful, measured reply on this video. He had every right to “go after” those that made unfair, insulting comments; however, he took the high road. Indy firefighters are a great, talented bunch, and Capt. Van Sant is obviously another fine example. His explanation shows that he has a good handle on VES and he brought-up several key points that must be considered when determining if VES is a viable tactical option. Now to the point of this blog………

I hate to get all idealistic on you, but maybe this will help. As a Battalion Chief, I have a long-standing philosophy regarding the operations of the first due companies, I believe that the initial companies can do no wrong. In other words, I don’t second guess their actions based on what I see when I arrive. I trust that they made the best decision with the information available to them at the time. As we all know, decisions on the fireground are often life and death, always time sensitive and have to be made with little information. My only choice is to quickly evaluate the current situation status and determine if we are winning or losing and if changes need to be made based on the up to the minute information.

I use the same outlook when viewing videos that I was not involved in at the time and especially when I have no direct knowledge of the situation. I have a particular interest in this type of situation and I understand (although not exactly) what Capt. Van Sant must have been feeling while being “ripped” by anonymous bloggers who had no involvement in the fire on the tape and no direct knowledge of the situation. In the mid 90”s, I was involved in a similar situation where a video of a fire I was operating at was circulated around. For years, the wrong information was passed around as this tape was used in countless fire service classes. You may have seen it; it was a grocery store fire with an eventual collapse of a very large bowstring truss roof. While taking a break during the fire, a reporter who had been told that the crews that I was responsible for had nearly been injured or killed, asked about our thoughts on this Christmas Eve in temperatures of –20 degrees. I said that I was looking forward to seeing my kids and going home for Christmas in the morning. We were not aware that there was a crew operating on the other side of the building that did actually make a narrow escape as the roof collapsed. In any case, my crew was identified for years as the crew that had the near miss. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked questions, or had to hear from people that were at classes that my crew members had unnecessarily placed themselves in peril by operating on a bow-string truss roof that was clearly (on the tape) well involved.

The truth was that as the officer on the third arriving truck, I asked upon arrival what type of roof the store had. As I was given our assignment by the I.C., I was told that the store had a bowstring truss roof and that it was a “write-off’ and no one was to go onto the roof. The plan was to begin massive trench cutting operations on the connected buildings in an effort to save the two connected buildings (which we did). We never stepped foot on that roof; however, we had to answer the questions for years and I took it very personally.

My Dad, who died far to early, taught me that there are only a few things in this life that are really yours. Your money, job, house and most everything else can be taken from you. What you truly own is your reputation and your credibility. He said, if you don’t have a good reputation or credibility, work hard and do your best to get there. Once you have them, protect them with your very life. I hate to see a Brother dragged through the mud based on a video that even the most ardent critic would have to admit does not tell the whole story.

If….. You believe the video allows you to have the perspective of one who was there and that the situation was literally as it appears in the video, I would have to agree that the operation was ill advised. If, on the other hand, the situation was as described by Capt. Van Sant as the one and only man who actually saw, experienced and evaluated the situation at the time, I stand by every thing I have said in support of Capt. Van Sant’s reputation.

Capt. Van Sant was “lucky” to have the opportunity to address the issue on the site where the strongest negative responses were posted. As I said earlier, he was much more measured and kinder in his response than I would have been. The bad news is, he will not have the chance to address the untold numbers of uninformed firefighters across the country and beyond who will jump to conclusions, make unfair criticism and spread the wrong message. PLEASE, do Capt Van Sant and all of us really a solid on this, if you hear the wrong story, set it straight, tell your crews the truth and do what you can to protect the reputation of one of our own who clearly deserves our gratitude as a great example of what it means to be an American Firefighter.

Finally, take this opportunity to discuss VES from a training perspective and seek a positive result. There are many informative posts on the topic right here on this site. We will all be far better off if we learn what VES is and what VES is not and how and under what conditions this most valuable rescue technique should be used.

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Comment by Joe McClelland on December 18, 2008 at 4:49pm
My big thing is Monday morning quarterbacking. None of us were there, so to judge what he saw in real life and real time is not responsible. He was not freelancing, he was doing his job. I think he did what needed to be done and respect him for his 'nice' reply to his critics.

Good job Cap.
Happy Holidays boys and girls.Joe
Comment by Rick Fritz on November 29, 2008 at 3:03pm
I have but one thing to say to Capt. Van Sant:K A H O N E S! Good job, a fieman's fireman!
Comment by Jim Mason on November 29, 2008 at 1:44pm
We have a good discussion on Common Sense Firefighting (CSF) going on this video right now. The things that I think we should all concentate on from the comments posted on this and the other sites is this - are we all ON THE SAME TEAM or not? For me, being on the team means we should use the video to learn what we can about the VES technique, to consider the possible problems, to evaluate the potential success, to ask what our personnal capability is if this situation were to present itself to us on the scene and to ask what our individual dept's policy concerning VES is. What can we learn from the video AND the Capt's post? What are the things that would make the Capt in the video go into the window or not? In the Capt's post on this site (and other sites) he says that going in the window was "justified and reasonable" based on the situation along with information decided to be reliable. He's got 23 years on fire companies! He had a plan to follow once inside the window. Things changed and so did his plan. Again, the number 23 comes to mind!

This really brings up another question on those that attack ( espicially without idetifying themselves). Many in our beloved fire service haven't even been trained on this technique, let alone, had the chance to use it in real time, on a real fire ground, under real stress, while making real decisions. With this in mind I would ask this - Are these attacks "justfied and reasonable"?
Comment by Wayne Benner Jr on November 28, 2008 at 2:51pm
Ive seen the video and I agree with Frank..He should be commended, to many times we step back and take the easy way out. It was a good attempt. For those who judged him think about how he felt when he couldnt save the lady.
Comment by Joel Thacker on November 26, 2008 at 10:12pm
Thanks for the remarks Art. I know Captain Van Sant and challenge anyone to find a finer company officer so dedicated to training and staying on the cutting edge of our profession. Captain Van Sant was faced with a, what I call a "rubber meets the road" moment. Many in the fire service have not truly experience this and should learn from this experience and Captain Van Sant.

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