Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Safest, most effective Path of Least Resistance Pt. 4: Search & Rescue


Most fire victims will attempt to escape the building using the most effective path of least resistance, the stairs and front door. Other paths include, but are not limited to remote doorways, windows, fire escapes, and as a last resort, jumping (absolute path of least resistance and the most dangerous). Many victims are found near doors or windows, having been overcome by the products of combustion that are also looking to follow these same paths. Alternate paths of egress do not take advantage of the paths of least resistance, and as a result, take more time to get out and are far more dangerous, both to the victim and the firefighter. They also take more time. It is much easier and safer to take a victim down the interior stairs than it is to get them down a fire escape, an aerial, or tougher yet, a ground ladder. The rope rescue is at the extreme, eating up personnel and exposing rescuers and victims to deadly risk.

In regard to primary search, some of the tools we can use to assist in maintaining the paths of least resistance out of a building are lifelines and thermal imaging cameras. This is especially true in large area buildings, where these tools are an absolute must. Knowing where paths of least resistance are in advance will save valuable time and will allow rescue teams to focus in on critical areas early in the operation.

One of the most dangerous operations conducted on the fireground are vent, enter, search (V.E.S) operations whereby firefighters utilize ladders, fire escapes, and porch roofs to enter a building’s upper floors to search for and remove victims. In these cases, windows become the most effective path of least resistance for entry. This firefighter created path also creates a potentially deadly situation due to the fact that a path of least resistance for products of combustion opposite the attack line has also been created by the open entry window. For this reason, it is critical that the first action taken by firefighters on V.E.S. missions is to create a barrier between themselves and the fire and the attack team by closing the door to the room that they have entered. If this is not done, fire and the products of combustion can be driven by hose streams toward the open entry window, possibly incinerating the firefighter.

A firefighter was badly burned and suffered traumatic injuries when going to search the upper floors of a burning building. The fire was in the cellar, and there was a rear door leading from the cellar to the main living areas which was open. This was the path the search team took. The fire extended to the first floor and when the line protecting the first floor began to attack that fire they pushed it at the rear stairwell. As a result, the products of combustion were pushed into the paths of least resistance, that being the rear stairs leading to the upper floors. The ensuing fireball chased the firefighter up to the third floor where he was forced to jump out a window. He fell through an awning and narrowly missed an upside down wood picnic table. He suffered severe burn injuries as well as multiple fractures and internal trauma.

It is for this same reason that firefighters should never attempt to enter a fire building via the bulkhead door and stairway from the roof or utilize this artery to get to the roof from the interior. The bad stuff will always seek the most effective path of least resistance, regardless of who is standing in it.

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