Improving Our Searches

We have to stay away from baby duck searches. 

We have to stay away from baby duck searches. 

Lately we've been seeing a lot of poor search techniques. A lot of people look like a bunch of baby ducks. They follow the leader and don't search all of the room. The person behind the lead person searches the exact same area. We need to fan out. Orient yourself to the wall if you're in the lead or the farthest body part of the lead searcher and spread yourself out. Crawling is for babies not firefighters. Yes, you should be on your hands and knees but not in a straight line. I orient myself to the wall or lead searcher using a hand then extend my opposite arm and leg out to search the room. My body is usually at a 45 to 90 degree angle to the wall. You need to cover as much ground as you can. 

Another mistake is using a tool to search. We were all taught this by someone at some point (mostly in the academy). Does it make sense? Sure, use the tool to extend your search radius. But is it effective? NO! So your tool hit something but what was it? Is it hard? Soft? Table or victim? You don't know, so now you have to stop and check which slows your search. You can also cause trauma to a potential victim because your swinging a tool. You need to be searching with your hands, arms and legs. We already lost our sense of sight why are we taking away our sense of touch? Want to increase your search area? Use the tool to orient yourself to the wall and search off the tool. This should only be used as a quick check. This shouldn't be used during your whole search because it limits your search of anything near the wall. 

One more thing... If you're searching on/under bed or a couch DO NOT sweep with your arm. You should be patting with your hand. If there is a small child there you could sweep them off the bed and never find them. 

Get out today and search! Bunk room, bay floor... wherever! Focus on spreading out and becoming quick and efficient. Be competent, smart, and aggressive. 


Submerged Firefighter Emergency training


“In the unlikely event of an emergency water landing, your turnout gear may be used as a flotation device". All jokes aside, this video should be required viewing and training for any firefighter who operates around water. It has great information regarding what to do in the event a firefighter falls into water in full gear and SCBA. 

This video was brought to our attention by a member of the Newport News FD Marine Incident Response Team. Great stuff and thanks for sharing. 

Residential Building Construction

Frank Brannigan always stressed that "the building is your enemy. Know your enemy." Every firefighter should read Brannigan's book "Building Construction for the Fire Service" in their career. Today we are going to get to know one of our most common enemies, the residential structure. Residential fires account for 74% of all structure fires and since we will spend a lot of time fighting fires in them we should discuss some of the most common types. We will cover the colonial, split level, rancher, split foyer, cape cod, and trailers. Please feel free to comment and add some of your personal knowledge to help us all learn!

Colonial: One of the most popular houses in America. Front door is located in the middle and the interior stairs are usually in line with the front door. Windows are on directly on top of each other and the same size. Downstairs usually consists of living and dining areas near the front and the kitchen in the back. The second floor has all the bedrooms. The master bedroom will have it's own bathroom but the other bedrooms will have a shared bathroom at the top of the stairs.

Split Level: This is a combination of the colonial and the rancher. They're named different things in different places. Open floor plans where the front door leads to the kitchen/dining/living areas. Kitchen is usually in the back in line with the front door. You will usually find stairs that lead down to a basement or garage near the kitchen. Off the living area you will find a few steps that will lead up a shared hallway where you find the bedrooms. The bedrooms are usually found in the "upper level". The hallway will usually have attic access as well.

Rancher: simple rectangular home that offers an open floor plan. Front door is usually in the middle or off to one side. It is usually a one story home with low gables roofs and large windows. Kitchen as well as living and dining areas are usually on one side and the bedrooms are on the other side (usually branched off of a shared hallway). The living/dining room area is typically indicated by the larger windows on the front of the house. The open floor plans allow travel of smoke and fire.

Cape Cod: Smaller house with low ceilings. Front door located in the middle of the house. House is usually symmetrical and typically has the master bedroom plus a dining/kitchen area on the first floor. Second floor has two smaller bedrooms. The staircase is in the middle of the house that is usually right inside the front door. Roof has a steep pitch (originally to keep snow from accumulating on it). Roof may have dormer windows in them. These dormers create knee walls on the second floor that may allow fire to spread with out you knowing.

Split Foyer: The front door is located in the middle of the house and is in between two sets of full size windows. The two most identifiable features are the door being off set between the two levels and the full size windows on the basement level. The front door leads to a foyer between floors. There are stairs that lead up and down. The lay out varies greatly but downstairs usually a family room or extra bedroom (which is sometimes used as the master due to it's size). Upstairs houses the kitchen/living/dining areas and the bedrooms. Like the rancher the kitchen/living/dining areas are on one side and the bedrooms are on the other off a shared hallway.

Trailers: There are two basic designs that most of us have in our districts. The distinction is the location of bedrooms and living/dining areas. Some trailers have a large window at the end and that usually means that room is a living/dining area and the bedrooms are on the opposite side (the image on the right). The other design has no large window at the end and bedrooms are located at both ends (the image on the left). Normally the "front door" is the one that opens up into the living room and that usually puts the kitchen directly to your left. The "back door" usually opens into a hallway. Obviously people change rooms to fit their needs and manufactures change things so these rules don't always apply. I hear a lot of people say they don't go interior on trailer fires, which is doing your community a disservice. Yes they propose challenges and they can be more dangerous than a normal house, but life still hangs in the balance. One end may be fully involved but that doesn't mean there isn't someone to save in the other end. You can safely enter, to a quick search and get out before things get bad. Know the layouts and plan accordingly.



Halligan in Zero Vis

My fire service mentor taught me this early in my career. I have also seen FDNY Capt. Mike Ciampo teach it as well. If you encounter zero visibility while searching on the fire ground and you have a Halligan bar, you should hold the fork end with the adz and pick end extended in front of you. If you come across a hole or edge, the adz/pick end will drop into it, the shaft will drop and push your hand to the ground, alerting you of the hazard. Small stuff to keep you safe.

Rescue Webbing Hitch

This is a a webbing hitch I was taught when I was in the fire academy. I carry two in my gear and it can be used for a lot of different things. I carry mine for RIT or victim removal.


1)Take a 4 foot or longer piece of tubular webbing

2) Cut a slit in one side, 3 or 4 inches from the end. (Make sure you don't cut all the way through)

3) Make a bight with the webbing.

4)Use a pencil or any slender tool to push the bight through the cut you made (towards the end of the webbing).

5) Push the bight through the end.

6) Grab the bight, pull some more webbing through and make the bight bigger. Pull from the side of the bight that isn't connect to the slit you made earlier.

7) Repeat steps 1-6 on the other side of the webbing.

8) Now you have two hitches that will tighten down when you pull the webbing in the middle

As you can see I use it to wrap around wrists to help move large victims or down firefighters. It tightens down as you pull. I like my bights to be large so I can put it around my wrists, grab the persons hands and slide it across to their wrists. Really helps in zero visibility. It can also to be used to carry four air bottles at once for high rise ops. It has tons of applications. Try it out.



The Little Things


If you spend any time at a fire house, you will undoubtedly hear older firefighters say "It's the little things that matter." They talk about the past and tell stories about tedious tasks (which many new school guys would call “busy work”) with reverence. They talk about detailing brass, scrubbing with toothbrushes, and washing the trucks after every run. They know that every task they complete, no matter how big or small is a reflection of them as a firefighter.Completing even the most menial tasks with an eye for detail is about more than ‘busy work’. It is a matter of pride . Your attitude towards the job starts with how you clean and how much attention you pay to the details.

You may be asking yourself why a training company would choose to talk about this topic. The answer is simple: ours is a job where the little things matter.  If you take pride in performing small tasks that no one will ever notice, then you’ll sure as hell have pride in making yourself a better firefighter.  Some will argue that paying attention to detail while cleaning is all about public perception, but most citizens will never know if the truck is waxed, the bay floors are clean, or the toilets are spotless. The guys who go the extra mile do it because they care. Those guys are usually the most positive guys on the crew. They're the unofficial leaders of the station, the person you turn to for advice. They aren’t content with average performance, and they continually strive to be better at their craft. That’s the guy you want by your side when the shit hits the fan.

If you don’t pay attention to the little things during house duties, then you’re not going to pay attention to the little things during training. You may know to stick the fork end of the halligan in the door and hit the adz with a flat head, but you can do that all day and not force the door. If you do the little things (shock, gap, set, & force), then the door will be forced efficiently.  So let’s start paying attention to the little things that people don’t notice. Clean the corners of the walls, pick up that scrap of paper, wipe the boot scuff off the floor.  If you start doing this, you will notice an attention to detail in all aspects of the job. You’ll be amazed at how these small changes impact your overall performance.


The fire service was built by people who knew that taking pride in the little things developed character and reinforced positive habits in all aspects of the job. They are the reason why we are one of the most trusted professions in the world. Unfortunately, we’ve lost our way; the fire service has forgotten that it's the little things that matter. We don’t spend the time or effort to make sure the little things are done. To outsiders or to those who believe these tasks are “busy work”, this may not seem like a big deal. They'll argue that "there are more important things to do" or that even though we missed the details, "at least we got it done." This is unacceptable behavior that has a domino effect on everything else we do. If you ignore the details during cleaning, that attitude will carry over towards other things you perceive as mundane.  The fire service is stressing the “big picture” recently and that’s okay. We understand that we need to be able to see the forest for the trees. But let’s not forgot that there would be no forest at all without those individual trees. It’s the little things that provide a foundation for the ‘big picture.’ Without that solid foundation, everything comes crashing down


Firefighters have some awesome tools at our disposal. The halligan is amazing, gotta love a roof hook and the Pig is pretty cool too. In my opinion the best tool that firefighters have is our ability to improvise. 


With that in mind, a few weeks ago we had a fire that was being fed by natural gas. The engine crew stated they had the fire confined but couldn't put it out because they didn't have a wrench or tools to turn the gas off. asked to have their halligan, walked around the the back of the building and turned the petcock with the fork of the halligan. They had never seen this done before and I thought this was a pretty well known trick but apparently newer firefighters haven't been told about it. They asked how they could get better at improvising. Remember, look around at what you have and make it work for you!  Work the problem in reverse. Look at the end goal and work backwards. This allows you to look at things differently and may increase your improvisation skills! Don't be afraid to fail and stay positive! If you think it can't be done, then it can't! Improvise, adapt, overcome and dominate! 

Electical Utilities




We're gonna talk about electric utilities. This will be new information for rookies and a refresher for the guys with time, but it's good information. This is just basic info. Please reference your department SOP's, and use all common safety practices and equipment. Also, always call for help from your local power company.

This may sound ridiculous to some but a lot of good firefighters have pulled their hair out trying to find the breaker panel in a building they're unfamiliar with. We've seen panels in cabinets, behind mirrors, paintings and even seen book cases built around them. When tasked to turn the power off to a building most of us can't pull meters anymore, but the meter still plays a big role. Most of the time the meter will lead you to the panel. NEC rules say the panel "must be as close as practical" to the meter. Instead of a wild goose chase, just locate the meter outside and search the inside near that area. This is especially helpful with significant smoke conditions. Also, check to make sure the power is definitely off! There are plenty of people that steal power from others. They are bypassing their meters and panels to save money. Just because you turned their main disconnect off doesn't mean the power is off.

Remember when you respond to electrical issues or fire and need to turn off the power make sure you turn off just the main disconnect, not all the breakers. The electrician/maintenance will need to know whether the breaker tripped properly. Recently we've seen firefighters turn off all the breakers, this is counterproductive.

Baseball Bat Swing

Unfortunately, we are all doing more with less. Doesn't mean we have to let that hold us back. Most houses have wooden doors with wooden frames and usually the person riding backwards is at the door before their officer. Don't wait for them for a conventional force. Today's training is on the Halligan baseball bat swing for single person forcible entry. This allows you to force the door with no help.

First, try before you pry. Secondly, have a clear area around you. Then, check to make sure your door and frame are wood. Shock the door (hit the door with the fork high, middle and low). This will show you any extra locks or whether the dead bolt is locked. Have a solid stance with your feet shoulders width a part. Hold the fork end of the halligan like a baseball bat and swing, pick first into the frame, as close to the door and lock as possible. Then push the bar in the direction the adz is pointing (in our example push down. If the adz were up then push the door up). The door will open and control the door. Make sure you practice this skill. The fireground should not be the first place you try this.