Potsdam Firefighters Gear Up for Room Searches
By Past Fire Chief Danielle Rose
February 18, 2020

The members of the Potsdam Fire Department donned their turnout gear, and SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) this month and worked on different techniques that can be used for room searches.

Searching for occupants trapped inside a fire is one skill that should be practiced by every interior firefighter of your fire department. Protecting life has long been the number one priority for all responders. Conducting an effective primary search is a skill that isn't practiced enough by many firefighters. Becoming disoriented and lost inside today's homes, that are filled to capacity with belongings, is a real danger faced when searching for victims.

The first drill was conducting a room search with a wall search. The wall search is a method of grabbing a wall and finding your way around the room. This technique seems to be the primary method taught to firefighters from day one. While this search method may be the slowest, it offers a level of comfort to the searching firefighter as they have been trained on the skill set since the beginning of their time. Choosing to go left or right allows the firefighter to stay in contact with a fixed object (the wall) and can easily turn around if conditions deteriorate.

As the firefighters learned, some challenges with this method of searching are personal belongings or furniture that can push you away from the wall without realizing the difference. An oriented firefighter may find themselves in the middle of a room not knowing that they had lost contact with the wall. This can place you in the middle of trouble as you have lost all orientation to location.
The second method that the Potsdam Fire Department members deployed was a search line. Firefighters learned that having a pre-rigged search rope is a dependable means of staying oriented inside a structure. The Potsdam Fire Department has search lines ready to use, at a moment's notice on the SCBA packs. Firefighters learned quickly that you must train with this method constantly in order to deploy it quickly, safely, and without being tangled up in it!

Most search teams are comprised of two firefighters. This method allows the rope carrying firefighter to remain oriented while the other firefighter fans out to perform the search while remaining in voice contact. The key point in this application is the management of the rope. If it is tangled, it will not offer the quick exit that may be needed if conditions worsen.

The last method that firefighters trained on was with a thermal imaging sight mask. Using technology seems to be the answer to all questions that come up these days. Using a thermal imaging sight mask to direct searching firefighters seems to follow along with this thought. Thermal Imaging advancements have made the quality of detail amazingly easy to locate room layouts while searching for victims.

Firefighters finished off their training night by conducting a quick “Smooth, bump, bump, back to the pump” drill. This technique is how firefighters navigate when they can’t see their surroundings because of smoke caused by a fire. The coupling patterns on a hose will indicate if a firefighter is headed in the right direction or not. If the firefighter feels the “Smooth, bump, bump” once at the couplings, this will lead them out of harms way and back to the firetruck. If the firefighter feels two bumps first then that means they are headed towards the nozzle and could be headed for harms way.