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Engine Company Search: Tri Level House


Life Safety is the fire services number one priority, typically accomplished by searching for victims of fire inside fire buildings. This is a high risk, high man power, and high intensity tactic that must be planned and coordinated. However, fire departments all over the country often are faced with the choice of either searching or fire suppression due to the lack of the aforementioned man power. Even in departments where man power is not an issue things happen, units get delayed and the first arriving engine is again faced with should they put the fire out or search for victims. This is a fools choice as both need to be accomplished in order to be successful. The best thing an engine company can do to save lives is to stretch a line and extinguish the fire, however this alone does not locate and remove victims. The following is a plan to accomplish BOTH of these important tasks with limited man power, and providing relative safety to the fire attack crews in a common residential structure the “Tri Level”House. This is NOT an ideal situation, as separate crews (one fire attack, one search and rescue) will always be faster, and more efficient. This is for those departments, or circumstances and engine company finds itself operating without support apparatus and needs to accomplish fire suppression and search.

The “Tri Level” House is another common residential structure. It is identified from the exterior by one side having a single level, and the other having 2 levels. Once making entry through the front door a set of stairs is located leading up to the top level, and down to the bottom level. A garage is sometimes added on the main level as well.



This is a standard floor plan for a tri level house. Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule but typically the main level is the living room and kitchen area, with the top level being reserved for bedrooms, and the bottom level for a den, and utilities (washing machine, water heater, electrical panel). Like any other multi floor occupancy the stairs are a main route of travel for firefighters and potential victims, an effort must be made to protect them no matter the fire location.


Tri Level Interior Fire Attack
Interior Fire Attack: While responding the first in officer should relay the water supply plan to the other responding companies.
Upon arrival the officer gives and initial on scene size up.
The nozzle firefighter deploys attack hand line.
The officer performs a 360-degree size up. This is vital to ensure the location of the fire, assess flashover potential, locate the best entry point, locate possible exit points, assess any hazards present, and locate victims that may have self-evacuated to the other sides of the building.
The nozzle firefighter, and officer then advance a charged hand-line to the seat of the fire.
Once water is being flowed on the fire the officer then begins to search off of the hose line from the fire room back, starting with the rooms directly adjacent to the fire room, then the next most impacted areas usually the egress points (stairs) and the floors above. The Nozzle firefighter maintains their position in the fire room protecting the searching officer.
If a victim is located the officer makes contact with the nozzle firefighter, if fire is still active the officer attempts removal, or isolation. If fire not active nozzle firefighter moves hand-line to the officer to maintain protection, and assist in removal.
Interior crews must always be cognizant of structural stability when operating in any multi floor occupancy. Fire can weaken structural members and additional weight of firefighters and water can increase the threat of collapse. This is essentially crucial in any interior attack on a below grade or lower level interior attack when operating on the fire floor or floors above. Additionally, interior attacks down stairs through a flow path of heat, smoke, and fire can be difficult to say the least. Stairs are for moving not hanging out and must be ascended, and descended rapidly.



The tri level sometimes offers us an entry door directly to the lower level. This can be a great way to access a lower level fire rapidly and safely. However, protecting the stairs can be made more difficult utilizing an alternative entry point (back or side door). This hastens the need to have the stairs assessed for victims and upper floors searched once the fire has been knocked down. The nozzle firefighter must also attempt to position himself to protect the stairs and searching officer after initial knockdown has been achieved.


(Multiple lines indicate the multiple options for transitional attack presented by this occupancy type)
Tri Level Transitional Attack:
While responding the first in officer should relay the water supply plan to the other responding companies.
Upon arrival the officer gives and initial on scene size up.
The nozzle firefighter deploys attack hand line.
The officer performs a 360-degree size up. This is vital to ensure the location of the fire, assess flashover potential, locate the best entry point, locate possible exit points, assess any hazards present, and locate victims that may have self-evacuated to the other sides of the building
While the officer is performing the 360 (this can be afterward if the officer identifies the room on the 360), the nozzle firefighter begins to flow water into the fire room.
Once the 360 is complete the officer and nozzle firefighter transition to the interior, and advance to the fire room, where water is flowed to fully extinguish the fire.
Once the hand line is flowing water into the fire room, the officer begins to search off the hose line from the fire room back, starting with the rooms directly adjacent to the fire room. The Nozzle firefighter maintains their position in the fire room protecting the searching officer.

If a victim is located the officer makes contact with the nozzle firefighter, if fire is still active the officer attempts removal, or isolation. If fire not active nozzle firefighter moves hand-line to the officer to maintain protection, and assist in removal.
It is important to note that once transitioned to the interior the same rules apply as interior fire attack. Structural stability must be assessed, and the stairs a primary route of travel and critical piece of interior real estate must be controlled and protected.


Again, this is not an ideal situation, but a plan to accomplish two critical fire ground tasks with minimal man power, and maximizing safety. No matter if your attack starts interior or exterior eventually the building must be searched. Having a well-coordinated plan, and training on the plan is the key to proper execution on the fire ground.

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