Public trust cannot be taken lightly, especially in the search
Throughout the past year or two, I did something that, in hindsight, I probably shouldnâ€™t have done. It was very risky on so many different levels but I needed to see and experience it with my own eyes. I had read several articles pertaining to Victim Survivability Profiling and my curiosity had peaked. It was simply a matter of waiting for the right opportunity. I wanted to show those who didnâ€™t believe it to be true. I needed a way for the members of our profession to see that these people, regardless of their gender, age, race, religious beliefs and financial status, are relying on us; no one else is coming. I wanted everyone to see through my eyes that if we make assumptions or hesitate to take action, people will die.
Captain Stephen Marsar (FDNY) wrote a three-part series on the concept of Survivability Profiling that first appeared in the December 2009 issue of Fire Engineering, followed up by the second part in July of 2010, and the final article in July of 2011. Almost immediately, I became concerned that perhaps I had taken the idea out of context. I couldnâ€™t help but to wonder if I had, who else may have gotten the wrong idea? Sure enough, it didnâ€™t take long for the reactions to pour in. In Fire Engineeringâ€™s â€œLetters to the Editorâ€ section of the September 2011 issue there is a brief article written by Joseph Fleming, a Deputy Chief in the Boston Fire Department, titled â€œIC’s perspective of risk vs. gainâ€. Chief Fleming warns us that because every fire and every department is different, we should not be too rule-driven when making fireground decisions. He also makes reference to the fact that victims might have protected themselves by closing their bedroom door, which was an idea that was right on track with ULâ€™s studies at the time.
Photo provided with permission by Lt. Rob McHenry
How could it be that a couple of well-respected, high ranking officers from two major metropolitan fire departments in the northeast have such opposing opinions? While I donâ€™t have the answer I am hoping it is simply a matter of perspective. I do know one thing, though, and that is that we canâ€™t lose the publicâ€™s trust. If this were to occur, we would lose everything that our forefathers have worked for. In its simplest form, we would lose lives. Of course, Iâ€™m not telling you anything you donâ€™t already know, but perhaps weâ€™ve focused some much on this that weâ€™ve forgotten to trust each other.
York Township Fire Department
Hundreds, if not, thousands, of homeless are living in abandoned structures across the United States. They are taking up shelter in vacated structures in rural and suburban America. There are entire city blocks out there that arenâ€™t being used for anything right now aside from providing the homeless with a little bit of warmth. Youâ€™re fooling yourself if you think theyâ€™re all in designated shelters.
An abandoned farmhouse in Red Lion, PA
Over the course of the past year or two, Iâ€™ve entered a few of these homes in an attempt to document that, at least on occasion, some occupants are only there out of necessity. Iâ€™d like to suggest that Iâ€™ve gone into hundreds of buildings looking for clues but the fact of the matter is I can probably count how many I have been in using only my two hands.
Abandoned Baltimore City block of rowhomes.
Alpha side of â€œ1912â€
Charlie Side of â€œ1912â€
Alpha Side of 1614
Charlie Side of â€œ1614â€
Front bedroom of â€œ1614â€
Rear bedroom of â€œ1614â€
Whether you are the acting officer or the head honcho in charge, the decision is yours, but Iâ€™m telling you, if there is a chance that someone inside is still alive, the search for victims needs to be done. It is my sincere hope that youâ€™ll stay informed by reading the articles. Spend a couple of minutes looking at the photographs included in this article. See how they might relate to a potential situation when you have to decide.
“Survivability Profiling: Are the Victims Savable?” Marsar, Fire Engineering December 2009
“Survivability Profiling: How Long Can Victims Survive in a Fire?” Marsar, Fire Engineering July 2010
“Survivability Profiling: Applying What We’ve Learned” Marsar, Fire Engineering July 2011
Letters to the Editor, Fire Engineering September 2011 (gated)
“%$#@ “Victim Survivability Profiling”; Do Your Primary Search” Brennan, Fire Service Warrior October 2010
Photos courtesy of author unless noted otherwise
Bill Schnaekel was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, Bill is a fifth generation firefighter who has had eight other relatives in the fire service since 1898. He served as a volunteer for six years prior to getting hired in 1998 by the Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue Department, one hundred years after his great-great grandfather had joined the service. In addition to his full time career as a Lieutenant in the bustling 4th Battalion, Bill works part time as a firefighter / chauffeur with the West York Fire Department and as a State Suppression Instructor in Pennsylvania. In the past, he has served as a Battalion Training Officer and assisted in training both recruits and field personnel at the Fire and Rescue Academy. Currently, he is working on a degree in fire science through Tidewater Community College. In February of 2013, he created the Facebook Page â€œHolding1and1â€œ, a resource to discuss fireground operations and firefighter interests with his friend, Lt. Mike Dowling.