A Quick Profiling Drill

Use this brief response and arrival video to factually prove survivability.

I’m not knocking the research done on the subject of victim survivability profiling, at least not in a arrogant, juvenile, disagreeable manner. I believe that some of the science in the research is valid, however the application appears to fall short.

So I ask you in all sincerity and as with all our posts regarding quality constructive dialogue, tell me if you can factually prove if an occupant in the fire apartment is deceased, prior to your theoretical entry.


Don’t use hyperbole; don’t use past experience; don’t use a best guess; but use true, proven fact that you know the occupant – and you do not know the race, sex and pre-existing health of said occupant – in the room with smoke venting from the window is dead, dead beyond all means of resuscitation available on the scene. Don’t use the information stated with the video; don’t use anything but what you see visually on arrival.

Seriously. I would like to learn.

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  • Steve says:

    Unless I am really missing something here. There is no way I see any reason to consider an Occupant to be dead until they are found and confirmed dead. That smoke is high in the window. People have an incredible tendency to be very much alive in the worst conditions and very much dead in the simplest of conditions.
    Never write them off until its impossible to reach them safely.

  • Hallway Sledge says:

    Bill, there was obviously an active fire condition leading to the rapid oxidation of fuel resulting in the release of heat, light and byproducts of combustion, including carbon monoxide, cyanide and other gases. Therefore, anyone in the involved apartment is clearly dead and those throughout the rest of the building are questionable at best. A serious risk/benefit meeting made up of all on-scene Chiefs and Safety Officers must be undertaken before any firefighters but one, manning an exterior line through the involved apartment’s window, be risked inside the collapse zone. Vertical ventilation is absolutely out of the question as there is no way to ascertain with any certainty what the roof construction is or the burn-time. I would recommend special-calling two or three more truck companies to set-up on all available corners and wait for the fire to show its ugly head.

    Read entire pre-ceeding with tongue firmly implanted in cheek.

    Note: For readers familiar with our comment policy, we know who Hallway Sledge is.
    Bill Carey

  • Donovan says:

    Unless something is missing from the video that’s a mandatory search. Should probably call mutual aid and a district Haz Mat team too, just in case.

  • Bill Carey says:

    Thanks, however I’m still looking for the factual proof that no one could survive being inside that apartment based upon the conditions shown.

    Bill Carey

  • Steve says:

    Sorry Bill,
    I guess I’m totally missing it here.
    But you can’t make fact out of fiction. There is Absolutely nothing in this video that can form up a fact of no survivability.
    What I see at this point of the video. There is Absolutely no possible way I would turn my back on this fire and say it is unsurvivable. Even if this fire flashed. There is still compartments in there that a person could barricade in a room and seal it tight allowing extra time to be rescued. I would never rule that possibility out unless the whole place was gone in flames. This one is not.
    So, Like I said in my first post..
    People have an incredible tendency to be very much alive in the worst conditions and very much dead in the simplest of conditions.
    Never write them off until its impossible to reach them safely.

  • Bill Carey says:


    You’re not missing a thing, as far as I can tell. However, there are some in the fire service who are inclined to believe that you can – and should – use such a visual descriptor within risk analysis to decide whether or not a possible victim may or may not be survivable. This process, VSP specifically, was referred to in a NIOSH LODD report and has in some circles been related to our long standing sizeup process, as simply something we’ve always been doing. I’m looking for, as related to the science of the specific VSP research, how one can visually determine from smoke showing, the toxicology of a victim and whether or not they are already dead.

    Again, not bashing, but looking for the scientific proof, to learn how to do this. I can’t find it in WALLACE WAS HOT, COAL WAS WEALTH, ADULTS and BELOW.

    Bill Carey

  • Hallway Sledge says:

    Grrrrrr. You guys are TOTALLY missing the proof! THERE WAS A FIRE! Enough said. Byproducts of combustion were produced. Anyone inside is dead.

    Switch tongue to other cheek.

    Sorry Bill. I wrote a post the day after the podcast talking about this as well and in it I mention exactly what you’re going after. Outside of the physical science of the production of fire, what smoke and the gases contained within do to the human body and how the heat produced by the flames breaks down and injures human tissue, there is no “science” to it. That’s why Gustin calls his class “The Art of Reading Smoke”. Much of what we do in our job is an “art” practiced and honed by experience and training, just like a painter or sculptor. Short of taking readings with a multi-gas meter prior to entering and then somehow doing it in every possible area within a space in which a victim may be located without putting ourselves at risk, which is the catalyst behind the Captain’s research, I don’t see how it can possibly be called science. Therefore there is no evidence when pulling up outside an occupancy and reading the clues that you are presented with. It is a puzzle, in my opinion, and all the pieces must be put together to form a picture. You then make your decision. Either way, go or no go, be prepared to live with the consequences.

  • Steve says:

    OK, I get the picture here.
    Some things in the new way of thinking just don’t fit my mold.
    I’ll go with my gut every time.
    Science….I never was very good at that.

  • Hallway Sledge says:

    Dodson. Dodson does “Reading Smoke”. Total brain-fart, my bad.

  • J Gordon Routley says:

    Excuse me for jumping into this discussion uninvited, but I have been involoved in the subject of survivability profiling for the past few years and I am detecting a serious problem of perceptions. I fully agree with the concept of making a realistic assessment of occupant survivability potential before committing forefighters to an interior offensive attack and search. I looked at this video and it took me about one quarter of a second to make a determination that this is was a “go in” situation and not a “stay out” situation.

    One of the essential requirements for a company officer has to be the ability to conduct a rapid and intelligent size-up. The observation that there is a fire in the apartment and smoke coming out of the window should not lead to the immediate conclusion that the interior is unsurvivable. The individual who is responsible for making the determination should have a sufficient level of training and experience to differentiate between good, bad and ugly conditions.

    I have only been doing this for about 42 years and I think I have developed a reasonable capability to recognize an ugly situation when I see one. What I see in this video is definitely not what we are talking about when we refer to non-survivable conditions. If something has caused you to believe that the visual indicators in this video meet the non-survivable criteria, please return to the Training Academy immediately for reprogramming…you are not ready to fight real fires.

    • Bill Carey says:


      No need to apologize for participating. Thank you for recognizing the main point of this application, the problem of perception. Understanding that we are from the same Maryland department, as well as your past work with notable fires, I believe you would agree that perception is the top causal factor in many of the fire service’s fireground line of duty deaths. Perception is also what is skewing the understanding of victim survivability profiling as well and this is what has prompted my posting of the video example.

      Since the first articles and the research paper, I heard VSP discussed at FDIC and other shows, written about in blog posts and elsewhere, and grossly applied after the fact to many fires even the Sofa Super Store fire. Much of the for and against argument is bent on emotion tied to the deaths of firefighters past as well as the pride of tradition. Many against view VSP as a growing excuse for denying any profitability of the primary search and robbing them of the ability to conduct their own rescue sizeup. Many for VSP view it as a means to rein in the reckless firefighter who would possibly kill himself and others while making an attempt to search for a victim already deceased.

      That, already deceased, is what I use the video to ask. Listening to a conversation at FDIC, I heard that one could simply add the measure of VSP to the art of “reading smoke” and make a reliable assumption on the viability of a trapped occupant. Some say that we’ve already been doing this for years, and VSP is really nothing new. Unfortunately the application of the medical science within VSP; the carbon monoxide rates; hypoxia; and respiratory tract burns are what is skewing the perception. Less actual working fire experience combined with the overhead of firefighters dieing in the line of duty, in general, is leading some to understand that one can simply judge the smoke from a window and determine life or death, risk and reward, and keep their members safe.

      That is my challenge with this video. Can you factually prove from outside interpretation if the occupant inside is already deceased? Can you state the research in the articles, assuming one has read them and fully understands them, that can apply to this video? It goes back to your and others replies that based on their personal experience one cannot state if an occupant is dead or alive until they enter, locate and remove said occupant as long as conditions allow.

      Bill Carey

  • J Gordon Routley says:


    I guess we have to work harder on defining, explaining and providing reliable visual indicators of the threshhold between non-survivable and potentially-survivable environments.

    Most of the discussion of survivability profiling originated from situations where firefighters died in circumstances where there was clearly no logical reason for them to be inside searching for potentially viable victims. Those are the cases where someone had to come in to investigate an LODD and after looking at the circumstances had to ask “what in hell were they thinking when they went inside that place??!!!???” I have been the investigator on a few of those incidents.

    There are lots of situations where it makes all kinds of sense for firefighters to go inside, search, remove victims and extinguish the fire… but there are also situations where it is simply stupid and foolhardy to attempt to conduct interior operations. We have to teach our people to quickly recognize the situations where there is obviously no way that anyone is going to be alive to be saved.

    The perception factor is critical. Someone has to differentiate between the “go” and “no-go” situations — and it is not always easy. If we start by teaching everyone to recognize the obvious “no-go” indicators, we can prevent some truly needless LODDs.

    I have been amazed at some of the situations where firefighters thought it was not only logical, but expected, that they would go inside to attempt to rescue potential victims. I have investigated LODDs and serious injuries where firefighters told me that they always have to go in, because there is always a possibility that there could be someone inside who could possibly be rescued. Some folks use this dogma as a justification for blind stupidity.

    I once had a company officer admit to me that the “potential victim factor” was his company’s excuse for always going offensive – no matter what – because that’s what they like to do. He was explaining this philosophy to me while I was investigating how one of his crew members had been burned while making entry into a well-involved abandoned dwelling at 4 am — the second time the house had been torched that night. We obviously had differing perceptions of acceptable and unacceptable risk.

    More recently I have been amazed by the folks who feel threatened by the discussion of victim survival profile and then try to discredit the concept by suggesting that it would apply to situations where the obvious critical risk factors are not present. No one is saying that firefighters shouldn’t go inside burning buildings… just that firefighters should not go inside to search for potential victims where there is obviously no potential for any such victims(if they are inside)to be survivors.

    Someone has to be responsible for making some very basic and critical decisions before committing firefighters to situations where their lives are likely to be in extreme danger and that person needs to be sufficiently trained and experienced to recognize the indicators of a situation where the risk factors do not justify interior offensive operations. No one is telling firefighters not to be brave, courageous and bold – within the limitations of their physical capabilities, training and protective equipment. The message is don’t be stupid in choosing where to be bold.

    I think that we need to focus our efforts on helping firefighters recognize the reliable indicators of non-survivable situations. Let’s attack the problem, not the messenger.

    • Bill Carey says:


      I am not attacking the messenger and if it appears as such, then I apologize. I believe your statement, “I guess we have to work harder on defining, explaining and providing reliable visual indicators of the threshold between non-survivable and potentially-survivable environments.” is a main issue I agree with and that teaching those indicators to be the guidance in determining little or great risk instead of having firefighters lend more consideration to victim survivability is a higher priority, especially as we, or at least I, see some commonalities in cognitive decision making (combined with reported experience levels) in many line of duty death investigations.

      The VSP research and discussions are quite interesting and indicative of our service’s new approaches to combating such a small percentage of our line of duty deaths. I do believe though that when we begin to teach our younger firefighters and officers to weigh heavily on the medical aspect of a victim’s survivability in determining if one should search, the fire service runs close to many problems unforseen by this research.

      Bill Carey

  • DaveOC says:

    Didn’t the NFPA in association with the IAFF recently perform actual scientific studies on how crew size affected fireground operations ? Anecdotally, I suppose one would have assumed that of course bigger crew size = better/faster fireground ops. but someone thought it wasn’t enough to suggest this, they had to,in fact, prove it !

    Conversely, we’re supposed to buy into VSP without any specific scientific evidence. Could there be a viable victim in a heavily involved room if they’re in a closet, covered with blankets,nose to the floor ? I don’t know for certain so I’d be fighting fire and searching and not declaring that anyone in that room is already dead.

    Carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide ? Both treatable one with hyperbaric O2 the other with Cyanokit. Airway burns ? That’s why I’ve got an intubation kit and O2. Peole can and have survived very bad conditions.

    I’m not suggesting that truckies should be bellying into fully involved structures to effect a rescue. These are situations where you have to wait for the Engine guys to knock down the fire so you can get into the closets and under the beds to search for someone who may be in a little pocket of survivability.I think VSP is used for the wrong purpose. Instead of using it to write people off as already dead we should use it to rule people in who might be alive !

  • Dave LeBlanc says:


    This has never been about the messenger, it has always been about the message. Right now there exists to grey between the research and a practical application of profiling.

    There are some obvious cases where LODD deaths have occurred when Firefighters should not have been inside. But the data set chosen in the research project draws a conclusion from inconsistent sources. Looking at fires where a Firefighter death occurred and there was no civilian death is not apples to apples. When did those deaths occur? What were the firefighters doing when they were killed? Were any victims saved at those fires?

    The question I have as an Officer is how am I supposed to make these ‘basic and critical decisions’ about whether the victim or victims are alive based on the smoke condition. That is the question Bill has here. Until we define how much smoke is too much smoke, how am I supposed to know?

    Obviously we need to address the experience factor with training. The training has to be realistic, relevant and repetitive and geared toward conditioning our people to make the go / no go decision. Folks have argued that we should not go into vacants, because they are to dangerous and they are vaacant. Yet we hear all the time about saves being made in vacants. The conditions should dictate whether or not you can enter, not whether or not someone is alive. Somewhere I seem to recall there is a Property angle to our mission as well.

    The examples you cited are obvious cases of training problems that need to be addressed. Adding an ambiguous process to an already difficult assessment may not be the answer.

    I was taught that size up is an on going process and it should be performed by every member, based on their assignment. Do we really need to add a Godlike decision tree into the mix? We base our actions on our size up and then we constantly re-evaluate based on our progress and how the conditions have changed.

    I think the discussion is needed and we need to address the problem. We also need to address the medical and accident related LODDs as well. At least those are easier…..in theory.

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