Despite many modern challenges in today’s fire service, saving lives is still our #1 priority. Modern fuel loads have changed fire behavior and survivability inside structure fires. This requires us to THINK before we act (surprisingly difficult sometimes). “Traditional” tactics and previous experience can be a double-edged sword. Traditional tactics may work at certain fires. However, either new tactics (maybe just new to your FD), or traditional tactics used in different ways, may be necessary to ensure that we actually accomplish our mission of protecting and saving lives. That being said, ALL tactics require mastery of basic skills. Therefore, VES is not JUST about VES, it’s about knowing the skills, the time and the place for VES and realizing the importance of isolating the fire area and/or victims. Hence, VEIS. Simply put, without the “I” there is no “S” and without the “S” there is no rescue. Let’s talk more about it.
Searching for Life in the Modern Fire
Reading Smoke IS DIFFERENT than what we learned even 10 years ago. Not that long ago, fires were considered to be FUEL CONTROLLED. These fires could only burn what was available and spread accordingly. This delayed flashover which gave us the “20 Minute Rule” and these fires were (fairly easily) controlled with coordinated ventilation. It was during this era of fire behavior that highly successful concepts such as VES, “vent for life” and “vent for fire” were developed. Today’s fires are VENTILATION CONTROLLED/LIMITED FIRES. Modern furnishings burn much different than 10, 20 or 30 years ago. These fires are flashing over in just a few minutes often prior to, or just after, our arrival. Additionally, the fire environment is much more volatile and reactive to OUR operations.
“The Box” fills up quicker and hotter than ever before. The same furnishing/loads produce tremendously greater amounts of energy, heat saturation and smoke than in the past. BUT…the fires burn so hard so fast that they can actually “CHOKE” themselves out (i.e. VENTILATION LIMITED). Though it usually presents as acrid, turbulent smoke, you may actual arrive at a house with a well involved, deep seated fire and have light smoke or nothing showing. However, let’s talk more about “black fire” and vent limited.
Using the traditional smoke reading principles from Dave Dodson, BLACK FIRE = smoke that is high velocity + high volume + high density + dark or black color. Any ventilation could cause fully developed fire within seconds.
Vent limited black fire is too rich to burn. All it needs is air. Firefighters are causing complete combustion by performing traditional tasks such as forcible entry and/or horizontal ventilation (hence, VENTILATION CONTROLLED). Chocking open the front door and/or breaking a window can KILL anyone inside (including FIREFIGHTERS).
Searching IS DIFFERENT
Modern fuel loads cause heat saturation inside the structure. The viability of anyone not protected by a closed door or other barrier is extremely low. According to a UL study, search crews have a very limited amount of time to complete a primary search. Under “best case” controlled circumstances, UL found that total loss of tenability of a structure can occur in 100 seconds (1:40) in 1-story houses and 200 seconds (3:20) in 2-story houses.1.
Traditional left/right hand searches from the front door need to change and operating ahead of the line should be seriously reconsidered. Not that either cannot be done, they should simply be done after careful evaluation of conditions and resources. In general, searching for victims needs to include compartmentalizing (isolating) as we go. If victims are not behind a closed door, get them behind one. Because of the heat saturation remote from the fire, the remote end of the house/floor might be 100’s of degrees. Therefore, tenability of the victim removal path should also be quickly considered. “Rescue” may simply require us to drag to an isolated area, close the door and wait or evacuate through the window. This may also apply to us for areas of refuge in the quickly changing fire environment.
Where Does VEIS Fit In
Modern fire behavior can change more rapidly than most of us, or our predecessors, have ever seen. This challenges our concept of “experience” based decision making. Staffing and experience levels are constantly changing for various reasons so we need to find safer, faster ways to get the most “bang for our buck”. VEIS has traditionally been a tactic of busy, usually urban, Truck Companies to quickly search upper floors or areas with limited access. This usually happens while multiple other tactics are being performed by other crews. Ironically, because of their lack of staffing to support simultaneous tactics, smaller departments may find success with VEIS as well. Any department can benefit from having skilled members who can perform this targeted search with minimal personnel, especially when entrapment is confirmed. They don’t have to be salty city truckies, they just have to practice.
Comparing “traditional” vs “modern” riding positions, the Inside Crew may NOT enter via the front door. Inside crews may have to do some “outside” work to get in (i.e. ladders, vent). The Outside Crew may have to support the Inside Crew or might be freed up to perform other tasks.
Point of Entry Considerations:
- Fire location versus search area
- Truck entering before Engine
- Sizing up vent openings
- Door control
Truckie Skills for Successful VEIS
Ventilation (Horizontal). COORDINATION IS A MUST. You have to know what’s going on in the search area AND the fire area before you break glass. Modern fire growth is measured in SECONDS NOT MINUTES. Coordinate. When you break glass, THE FIRE IS COMING TO YOU.
Entry. Forcing doors and windows requires more technique than muscle. Know how to size up door, frame and wall. Know how to use the right tools. Know how to do it all in smoke.
Search. Size up the fire area and the search area and method to determine your start point. The front door may not be the best place to start a search. Congestion of hose lines, people and/or fire conditions may warrant an alternate point of entry. DO NOT search ahead of (or without protection of) a hoseline whenever possible. If unavoidable, close doors as you go. COMPARTMENTALIZING is the most important thing you can do to save lives and property (as long as the engine puts the fire out).
Ladders. Ladder work is a lost skill in the fire service. We spend a ton of time in training learning the skills then, generally, underutilize them on the fireground. Because of this, we lose those skills. If you cannot get the ladder up quickly, you cannot perform VEIS (seconds, not minutes)
How do we VEIS?
The basic tools to perform VEIS are a 6’ hook (preferably roof hook), Halligan, TIC and appropriate ladder (if needed).
When determining when to perform VEIS you’ve got to consider where the fire is, where it is going and where the greatest viable life hazards are. Just like “old school” searches, we still may want to start our search closest to the fire.
Part of determining where to start the search is evaluating what is tenable and what is not. You will also need to know when (and how) to break glass. Use the TIC to determine conditions on the inside and clear rooms that are already empty. There’s no sense breaking glass in a room already pushing heavy smoke or showing fire. If you are going to break glass and enter the room, the TIC will help you find the door more quickly (first), locate victims (second) and maintain orientation to your exit.
A Crash Course for a VEIS Search
Vent, enter, ISOLATE and search (VEIS) is a precision tactic and skill set. It requires quick and good decision making and a solid fundamental skill base. NO HESITATIONS.
- Determine your point of entry, approach/ladder the opening and try to determine the conditions on the other side (using TIC if necessary)
- If no fire or black fire is present in that area, make your opening and “drop in”, use the TIC to locate the door, orient yourself in the room and go directly to the door.
- Do a “body’s length sweep” outside the doorway (if conditions allow), then return to the room, closing the door behind you.
- Finish searching the room, and exit the original opening you made.
- REPEAT AS NECESSARY.
Operating safely and effectively on today’s fireground requires that we all constantly monitor conditions and evaluate the likelihood and possible causes of fire condition changes. If we are going to be successful in this environment, we have to master fundamental skills and use them in creative, aggressive and efficient ways if we hope to accomplish our mission of saving lives.
Attachments and Citations:
- “Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction”, Executive Summary, Underwriters Laboratories
- “Tactical Ventilation”, Paul Grimwood
- “A Refresher Course in VES”, January 2012 issue FireRescue Magazine, Jim McCormack
- Table of Heat Release Rates of Common Materials, From NFPA 921, 2004 edition
- “The Art of Reading Smoke”, Dave Dodson
- 1st floor Living Room Fire. From Author taken during the NIST, ISFSI, SCFA Spartanburg Burns 2013.
- A/D Exposure Room during/after Photo 1 fire. From Author taken during the NIST, ISFSI, SCFA Spartanburg Burns 2013.
- From “Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction” Underwriters Laboratories
- From www.kentland33.com
- Jacksonville (FL) Fire/Rescue VEIS Rescue from www.countyfiretactics.com
- From Author
- From Author
- From Author