Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Advanced Search and Rescue Using - "Adult Victim Profiling"

We all understand the mission of the fire service. Upon arrival to a given building fire, the fire department’s number one priority is “Life Safety”. If we have any possible chance of locating and rescuing an occupant, we must start a rapid and systematic primary search. Many smaller fire departments in the United States with limited manpower are forced to perform search and rescue from the engine company's hose line. The assignment of search and rescue is a difficult and often dangerous task for firefighters.

Fortunately for many fire departments, modern technology has aided the search team with the introduction of the thermal imaging camera. The TIC and the use of victim profiling can potentially expedite the primary search. We have all been taught the basics of size-up for potential rescue indicators like type of occupancy, time of day, vehicles in the driveway, childrens toys, etc. These are all very important “visual indicators” when nobody is outside upon our arrival. Uncontrollable factors in which the fire department are challenged with are pre-arrival exposure time of the victim to super-heated and toxic gases causing serious and/or fatal respiratory injuries.

OK, so the first due officer has decided to enter the structure and start a primary search. The crew should start on the fire floor. If possible search the fire room first, then the remaining fire floor. Once the primary all clear is given, crews should work to the floor above the fire. As you know, basic search training has taught us that toys for example can identify the presence of small children, unable to egress without assistance. Firefighters have been trained to process this vital information and adjust our search techniques accordingly.

This article is on "Advanced Building Search and Rescue – while using Adult Victim Profiling" so, let’s talk specifically about this profile. If and when you locate an “Unconscious Adult Victim” the search team should quickly assess the victim’s body positioning and note the direction of travel for a profile pattern. Fire Investigators have used this technique along with other physical evidence, to obtain the victim’s activity and movement prior to becoming incapacitated.

Statistically, adult male victims are more likely to sustain thermal insult injuries or death while investigating or attempting to fight an incipient stage fire than do women. With this said, an adult male occupant will be more likely to be located by the rescue company in the general area of the fire’s origin or potentially attempting to get back to the sleeping area to assist with his spouse. Body position is the key to understanding any potential thoughts and movements of the victim. If the adult male victim is located in a well involved room for example, he may have been overcome during the attempt to locate or extinguish the fire. If he was located on the stairs though, especially heading up the staircase toward the suspected sleeping areas, the victim is likely heading back to assist with the notification and the evacuation of a spouse and/or possible children.

Now for adult female occupant, generally speaking they are more likely to be found incapacitated while attempting to assist with the evacuation of a child or loved one. (elderly in-law) Profiling a female victim who is found in a hallway or stairwell can potentially assist the rescue company with locating other victims within the area. When the search company finds an adult female occupant, they should look at her body position and direction of travel. Which way was she heading? A female victim that has become incapacitated and was heading AWAY from the normal entry or egress point is potentially screaming “MY KIDS ARE THAT WAY."

If the search and rescue company lets the adrenaline rush overcome their conscious thought process, they can easily miss valuable information. Never, never, never just grab a victim and start heading for the door without assessing their position and direction of travel. Take a second to look at the “victim profiling pattern” with their position, location and possible direction of travel. This valuable but often missed information obtained from the adult unconscious victim combined with some other “traditional” basic size up patterns as previously stated, may expedite the search for any remaining victims. Even though the victim is unconscious, their body position can talk to you. Remember to keep your cool and assess the situation to maximize your obtainable information. We as fire service leaders and educators must continue to strive for ways to work safer, rescue victims faster and provide the best service possible with whatever means and capabilities we have for our community.

Lt. Greenwood is a Pro-Board Certified Level III Fire Instructor and Owner of FETC Services. Billy also hosts the Fire Engineering Blog Talk Radio Show "Tap The Box with FETC Services". Check us out at