Why we search..Extreme Edition

I’m going to dip into the “We Search” subject for just 1 article, I hope. We search, yes it sounds good and it’s catchy. But HOW do we search? I would venture a guess the phrase “We Search” is an overstatement. It’s probably more like “We stumble around, call out and hope for the best” and that usually works. Most of the time we do our search thing and if anything out of the ordinary happens we adapt and move on. I’m not going to get into the actual search proceedures today. But, I do want to modify the “We Search” to “We Search THOROUGHLY”.

Here’s what we currently do; Search the fire floor, search the floor above, confine, extinguish, secure utilities, overhaul, go home for dessert. Personally this is about the limit of what’s on my mind. I’d like to say I’m thinking about all sorts of advanced tactics, safety and once in a lifetime scenarios, but more accurately I’m an A.D.D. puppy following the next shiny thing and more than 1/2 my mind is focused on food. We search, I get it. I learned a few articles ago about being too general in my writings about searching ( http://firefighterbasics.com/2010/11/hello-vps/?preview=true&preview_id=1484&preview_nonce=23840e5650 That house is now occupied with a nice family too.). So I’ll be more specific.

The question for today is; How well do you search? How thorough are you? And when you say you searched the building, did you search behind every door? When you secured the utilities did you give the basement a quick look around? Did you actually follow the wall all the way around the room and in every recess? My money is going to say your primary search could use a little more perspective, here you go:

A fire in East Boston became not “Just another fire” when companies found a man restrained to a bed in the basement of the fire building. That discovery changed the tactics of the whole operation. http://www1.whdh.com/news/articles/local/boston/12004387927359/body-found-in-east-boston-basement-during-fire/

“The Ohio man convicted of holding three women captive in his Cleveland house over a decade and raping them repeatedly has been sentenced to life without parole” Arial Castro with the women chained in the basement.

In Georgia, kids were found locked in a crawlspace that could only be opened from the outside. Do you search crawl spaces or even look in them? (http://www.wsbtv.com/news/news/local/investigators-3-children-locked-rooms-father-month/nZQR5/)

Philly had a case of 8 kids locked in a basement with one of them chained to a furnace. Imagine finding that when you go to secure the utilities in a fire building! What are their survival probabilities in the case of a fire, or malfunctioning heater? (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/44958677/#.UoX1RuJMdsc)

locked in basement--479077842_v2.grid-7x2
Then there’s this scumbag…just read the news story:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/mass-cannibal-plotted-rape-eat-children-feds-article-1.1453549
cannibal13n-6-web

These people kept their 6 year old son locked in a cage.

http://hollywoodlife.com/2013/03/19/autistic-child-cage-naked-missouri-parents-abuse/#

 

autistic cage

“Police found the mentally challenged teen on top of several blankets Monday inside the basement of his Kansas City, North, residence. Chained to a pole.” Read more: http://www.mommyish.com/2013/02/08/teen-chained-in-basement/#ixzz2kjgKfrcU

Hundreds and hundreds of stories of people found locked into a room in the house or locked in a business. Even Harry Potter lived in the cupboard under the stairs! Unlike Harry Potter though, most of these stories are disturbing or disgusting. If you as a firefighter enter a property, you are on the hook for finding these people. Are you ready to discover something like this? Hell no, but you better be ready to give a quick coherent report to the IC. In most of these stories other agencies found the secrets before the fire department. But if they are being found by other agencies I guarantee we will find them and it won’t be pretty.

Just talking over coffee this morning I heard a bunch of stories. One guy had a job as a teenager that involved him getting locked in a business at night to clean and getting frisked when he was released in the AM. A senior Lieutenant went to a bell and smelled food on the stove, when he entered the apartment where the odor was coming from he found a man tied to a bed, covered by a sheet (it was consensual, he did ask).

How many times have you gone into a building and seen doors locked, or excessively secured even inside the unit? Most of the time we assume it’s an illegally subdivided unit. Subdivided units need to be addressed, of course but there could be more going on and if we cannot figure it out its time to call in the code enforcement people. Worst case scenario when the code enforcement folks are involved is some needless paperwork; best case is a life or 2 saved.
What about just poor layout? The following image is a poor rendition of a double fatal fire. This is the third floor, the fridge is in a closet. I remember searching the closet, finding the fridge and coming back out, totally missing the front bedroom. Good thing a more experienced/thorough guy from my crew searched it and showed it to me after the fire was knocked down. I was disgusted with myself; I searched, just not well enough. If I would have followed the basic practice of following a wall the whole way I would have found it.
bad search

Except in the case of a secret room, there is hardly a reason for our primary search not to cover EVERY room of a building. If a door is easy for us to find we need to know what is behind it. Hidden attic accesses and secret compartments aren’t going to be easy, but a kid barricaded into a closet should be an easy rescue for us (See “Girl with 100 scars”).

What would you do with a find like one of these? I think I’d start the RIT team. They will come with an hour bottle and facepiece that would be a start. At least then the victim will be on air and we can protect them in place until they are freed from their restraints. If there is even a remote chance of survival you will need specialty tools brought in like bolt cutters, metal saw. The halligan and maul may be able to do it but you need to have everything else on the way before you make an attempt in case your first plan does not work.

Many of the articles I read doing the research for this were downright disgusting and infuriating. If I got a call that involved a kid chained to something I would have a very difficult time staying professional. There are many things I did not put in and you are welcome to look them up on your own. Massage parlors with illegal immigrants locked in cages at night. Chinese restaurants with people living in them. Occupied storage units, Wal-Mart and Target’s night crew fiasco.
Stay Safe.

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