The Importance of Conducting a Primary Search
This article exemplifies the need to conduct a thorough primary search. I often hear that since the fire is in the middle of the day, there is not a high potential for victims. The reality way too much emphasis is placed on the time of day. It cannot be disputed that there is a need to conduct a primary search in a house or apartment fire at two in the morning. This article reminds us that the same thing applies to conducting a primary search at two in the afternoon. While nobody would dispute the fact that there is a greater likelihood of finding victims in the middle of the night, there is also a potential for finding victims in the morning, the middle of the morning, the afternoon, the middle of the afternoon, or in the early evening. In other words, there is always a chance to find a victim. This is why we conduct a primary search!
Primary searches are important to conduct in fires in residential and commercial buildings, but they cannot be overlooked in garage and/or shed or outpost fires. This includes vacant buildings with plywood over the windows. One must have to consider how the fire started in a vacant building with no power. There is a strong likelihood that the fire was started by the homeless or by children playing with matches.
A primary search should also be conducted when fighting a vehicle fire. People live in cars and the high plastic and rubber content present in today’s vehicles also contribute to the rapid smoke production and spread of fire. One of the most often overlooked placed to check is in the trunk.
Most firefighters think of conducting a primary search after the fire has been extinguished. The reality is that the reason we are entering the building is to clear it of human beings. We refer to this a getting an “ALL CLEAR” on the primary search. Our number one obligation (after providing for firefighter safety) is to get an all clear on the primary search. If we are able to limit the spread of fire and extinguish it, that’s even better. If we rescue a person, but lose the building in the process, this is considered to be a huge victory for the fire department. We would gladly trade a civilian life for a building any day. Before the smoke clears the insurance adjusters will be on scene and a new building will be erected within a year.
It breaks my heart to reflect back on my thirty years and think about how often I remember hearing after the smoke ejectors have been fired up and the lights have been stretched the following, “Interior to command, we have a fatality”.
I can’t help but wonder if the initial crews were ACTIVELY conducting a primary search, or were they laser focused on putting out the fire. I wonder if they had been actively searching for victims if the person might have survived. We will never know!
I understand the theory of lessoning the impact to victims by putting water on the fire. The sooner you put out the fire, the sooner the fire stops producing toxic smoke and gasses. I understand this point of view and I agree with it. I am suggesting that the initial attack crews also focus on conducting a primary search.