Local Fire Departments Practice New Search Tactic on Donated Home

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Assistant Chief Paul Long acts as command during the drill. (Marie Albiges/WYDaily)

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Smoke seeped out of the cracks of a one-story house overlooking Wormley Creek.

It was a clear, warm morning, with the sun reflecting off the water and firefighters’ helmets as they stood close by the burning house in full uniform, masks on, waiting for the command.

An alarm sounded from somewhere inside the house, which is boarded up with wooden panels, and the York County firefighters worked to locate the victim and get the fire under control.

On Thursday, the firefighters continued live fire training that began last week to practice a new search technique called VEIS, which stands for Vent, Enter, Isolate, Search. Firefighters are using a York County house in Marlbank Farm that was donated to them by Francine Spinelli and Bob Grey.

After the alarm sounded, four men started at the windows on the front side of the home. They threw a ladder against the brick wall before one firefighter broke through the boarded window and climbed into the smoke-filled, pitch-black house.

He swept the floor directly below the window to make sure it’s safe to walk before beginning the search for occupants.

Another firefighter stood at the top of the ladder, scanning the room with a Thermal Imaging Camera that detects body heat through flames, smoke and darkness.

As part of the drill, the firefighter inside the room quickly found the door and shut it to isolate their search and reduce the amount of smoke and heat that enter the room.

Once found, the victim — in this case, a dummy — was handed over to the other two awaiting firefighters and carried through the window and down the ladder.

Meanwhile, firefighters stationed on the right side of the house used a fire hose to contain the flames that have been growing in another room, while another crew went in through the front door with another hose to attack the fire from a different angle.

The entire drill took about five minutes, and then the firefighters received feedback from their instructors.

After a short break, the fire was ignited again and a new four-person crew performed the drill.

York County firefighters have been stationed at the house throughout the week to practice the new tactic and are occasionally joined by members of other local departments, including the Williamsburg Fire Department, the Poquoson Fire Department and the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station’s Navy Regional Mid-Atlantic Department.

Firefighters took eight hours of classroom training before applying their new knowledge on the home in Marlbank Farm.

“I think our folks are doing an exceptional job picking this up and actually putting practical application to the new tactic we are employing,” York County Assistant Chief Long said.

Long acts as a dispatcher for many of the drills, taking command as he would in a real scenario.

He explained the VEIS tactic will “enable our personnel to hopefully be more efficient and effective when we have credible information that somebody may be trapped in particular area of a residential structure.”

If firefighters receive no indication that someone is trapped in a particular room, they employ their traditional tactic of forcing their way into the home through the front door and sweeping the residence.

Long said the feedback from the firefighters performing the tactic has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Our only complaint is that our folks have really wanted to have additional time to come back over and over,” he said, expressing his gratitude for the homeowners, who plan to demolish the home after the fire department is finished with its training and build on the land.

Spinelli and Grey thought of the idea to allow firefighters to conduct training exercises shortly after buying the house in December and looked at the possibility of receiving a tax break. Although the IRS no longer gives tax breaks for donating a home for training purposes, Spinelli and Grey called the fire department anyway.

“By then we were kind of sold on the idea of letting York County firefighters use it as a training site,” Spinelli said. “We realized how excited they were about it.”

This is the first time in more than 20 years a house in York County has been donated for live fire training. Firefighters also train on controlled fires at a building in Lee Hall with other local departments annually.

Firefighters will continue practicing VEIS and other drills at the house Friday, Monday and Tuesday.

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Local Fire Departments Practice New Search Tactic on Donated Home