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Search and rescue within structures

A primary function of fire and rescue services is to protect life and it may be necessary for personnel to search buildings or structures using breathing apparatus as an essential control measure. A logical and methodical search procedure, including a retraceable route for safe egress, is essential for BA wearers progressing through buildings or structures with restricted visibility. See National Operational Guidance: Fires and firefighting.

The incident commander must establish full awareness of the working environment, including fire conditions, fire development, levels of visibility and nature of hazardous materials, to ensure that the most appropriate search plan is implemented. Wherever possible, the incident commander should obtain risk information, including building and structural plans, which will enable operational planning for using BA at the incident.

BA wearers observing the search criteria and the nature and parameters of the operational brief in a disciplined way is critical to the safety and effectiveness of search and rescue operations.

Operational practice

Search and rescue procedures involving the use of BA should be planned following a suitable and sufficient assessment of risk. At larger and more complex incidents, the incident commander may determine a need for a strategic overview of the various search and rescue activities in each sector and at each BA entry control point. They may then appoint a dedicated search co-ordinator who will establish manageable spans of control, identify areas to be searched and produce suitable search plans. See National Operational Guidance - Lack of coordinated search plan

The BA entry control operative should maintain plans and search records at the BA entry control point. These and all other information relating to the operation should be duplicated at command support.

BA teams should ensure that details of areas searched are communicated to the BA entry control operative, who will communicate with the incident, operations or sector commander. A comprehensive search and rescue record can then be established at command support, which will preclude duplication of search and rescue activity. The quality and effectiveness of the BA team’s debriefing processes are therefore critical to the safety and effectiveness of the overall search plan.

Tactical ventilation should be considered when carrying out procedures for the search and rescue of casualties as it may significantly improve conditions for casualties and BA wearers. However, tactical ventilation must only be carried out following a suitable and sufficient risk assessment and on direct instruction from the incident commander or delegated commander. See National Operational Guidance: Fires and firefighting.

The incident commander must provide clear, unambiguous briefings and instructions to BA wearers. This will include the route to be used by BA team(s) when progressing through the building or structure and the search and rescue method or procedures to be employed. Disciplined and systematic observance of the search brief by BA wearers is essential. They must assume responsibility for confirming their understanding of the briefing and instructions and, once deployed, follow their instructions without variation, except in extreme circumstances involving life-threatening situations.

A BA team will work together, remain as a team at all times and maintain close personal contact unless a larger team decides to split. See BA operational procedures – all incidents.

In larger compartments, multiple BA teams may be committed in a co-ordinated way to ensure that the entire compartment is searched and BA team safety is maintained.

BA search teams operating within a structure where there is, or is likely to be, a fire or flammable atmosphere must be equipped with suitable and sufficient firefighting media. The means by which firefighting provision is deployed may be either:

  • Carried by each BA team deployed within the risk area
  • Carried by a specifically nominated firefighting BA team who maintain close personal contact with the BA search team at all times

The incident commander should ensure sufficient personnel are deployed to ensure that BA teams do not have to separate to manage hose lines while operating inside a structure.

When negotiating specific obstacles such as doors, stairs and vertical ladders, BA team members may separate briefly but should only be separated by the distance created by the obstacle. It is imperative to maintain line of sight and/or verbal communication at all times.

In addition to duties outlined in BA operational procedures – all incidents, the following responsibilities apply:

Role and responsibilities of the BA wearer

The BA wearer will:

  • Confirm the search procedure to be followed
  • Maintain regular gauge checks
  • Remain in close personal contact with other members of the team
  • Maintain personal protection techniques
  • Maintain communication with the BA team leader