By Dan DiRenzo
The search rope has become an essential piece of equipment in the fire service but is often forgotten about on the fireground. A search rope can be found on many a fire apparatus operating on a fireground but is very rarely deployed by operating companies. This search rope can be employed for search operations for life or fire and ultimately used to create safe egress for our own members. It is often referred to as “large area search” or “team search” rope, but that is just a fallacy as it has its place for several other reasons. The search rope is employed to assist with our situational awareness and maintain a reference point.
Situations for using search rope vary based on the task to be completed along with the type of occupancy in which it will be deployed. When dealing with large-square-footage occupancies such as warehouses, commercial buildings, high-rise apartments, and so on, the same search procedure cannot be applied as for a residential single-family house fire.
Whether operating in large occupancies to locate the seat of the fire or trapped occupants, a search rope has to be deployed. The search rope acts as the orientation point for members to conduct their search operations without having to worrying about their way out. If you were to apply single-family dwelling search techniques in these types of buildings, trapped occupants would be missed as all areas of the buildings will not be covered.
When conducting search operations for missing firefighters, the search rope should be deployed for all rapid intervention crew (RIC) searches no matter what type or size of occupancy. Ensure all RIC members have search rope that allows them to use rapid search techniques without having to maintain their reference point—the search rope is providing that for them. It also provides a pathway for additional rescuers to locate where the initial rescuers are operating for relief or additional assistance purposes.
The search rope is not and should not be just reserved for fireground operations. Alternative situations for search rope use include collapse rescue operations where void searches are being conducted as well as hazmat incidents where members are operating in limited visibility occupancies.
Search Rope Complement
The search rope complement can be very simple to very complex—it all depends on each department’s needs. A typical search rope system should include rope, anchor/attachment device, and a carry bag. The rope should be a minimum of 200 feet long and does not have to be life safety or top-of-the-line rope. The rope should contain some type of knot system every so many feet that will allow members to gauge their location inside a building. Some rope setups have rings in place with the knots so a firefighter does not miss the knots because of reduced visibility and loss of dexterity because of his gloves. The attachment device found at the end of the rope to be used for anchoring can be any carabiner-type hardware.
When selecting a carry bag, you want something that is both user-friendly and that allows for easy rope deployment. You’re looking for something that is smaller in-service that doesn’t weigh you down and can be carried without hampering your search efforts. The carry bag should be equipped with a strap that is large enough to fit over firefighting PPE and provides some type of quick release such as seatbelt.
Deploying the Search Rope
When it comes time to deploy the search rope, the point of entry is where you want to anchor your search rope off. Options for where to attach it can be of any fixed object that is not going to move. If one cannot be found in the area of your entry point, just create your own.
The search rope is deployed out of the bag as the search operation commences. The member responsible for leading the search should have the bag with him. The search rope should be kept taut and off the ground so the other members of the company can maintain contact with the rope. Locating the fire and searching away from that point should be the process of your search because that is where people are in the greatest danger—not to mention you have just located the fire for the engine company, so all it would need to do is follow the search rope. It is a lot quicker and easier to deploy a search rope to locate the seat of the fire rather than a charged hoseline.
Keep It Accessible
The search rope is an underutilized piece of equipment that needs to be unburied on the apparatus and kept in an accessible location. Considering it should be part of the company officer’s tool compliment for commercial building incidents, it wouldn’t hurt to store it in the area of the company officers seat. If members get into the habit of including the search rope with their tool compliment, it becomes as second nature to them as the set of irons has as equipment to carry. The search rope when partnered with a thermal imaging camera will provide for rapid search techniques of commercial buildings. When operating in large commercial buildings, if you’er not on a hoseline you had better be on a search rope because that’s your umbilical cord.
DANIEL DIRENZO is a lieutenant with the Cherry Hill (NJ) Fire Department, assigned to the Field Command Office. He is also a lieutenant/department training officer with the Bellmawr (NJ) Fire Department and a rescue specialist with New Jersey USAR Task Force 1. He is the managing member of Safety & Survival Training, LLC. He has been featured in Fire Engineering’s “Training Minutes” on personal harness use on fireengineering.com.
By Dan DiRenzo