Firefighter Search and Rescue Drill

Firefighters from 205 and 464
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Using thermal imagining cameras, firefighters are to enter a structure with little visibility and locate a trapped victim, or item in this Firefighter Search and Rescue Drill from FRNSW 205 Armidale and 475 Uralla.


Always follow your service or department’s standard operating guidelines or procedures.
Firefighter safety is paramount – if a drill from another state or service is in violation of your own SOP/SOG’s, it can be undertaken at your own risk. Flashover, or the service where the drill came from, is not responsible for any damages or injuries that happen as a result of undertaking this drill.

Equipment Required

  • A structure to undertake the drill. A fire station, hall, house, training facility
  • Thermal Imaging Camera(s)
  • Heatable object to search for. It could be a tool from the station, a wheat bag, hot water bottle, anything that can be safely heated
  • BA and correct PPE
  • Radios, tools and hose lines

How to prepare for the drill

The structure needs to be dark and visibility low. This can be achieved with a smoke machine, a hot cell training center or any other form of visual impairment that allows firefighters to still operate a thermal imaging camera. A large hall, a fire station, a training center, even someone’s house if they are nice enough to allow it.

Heat your chosen object and safely position it within a structure to be searched. This could be a heated metal object, a hot water bottle or a heated wheat bag.

We tried to use a Nalgene bottle filled with hot water but due to the conditions (see video) it was indistinguishable from the surrounding environment.

NOTE: The object and effectiveness will entirely depend on your environment. A hot water bottle will work if you’re trying this scenario in a cold engine bay of a station in winter, but it won’t work in a heated structure. If you are heating up a metallic object, ensure that you place it on something that isn’t going to catch on fire! We’ve seen tools be heated up with blowtorches or in an oven, take appropriate precautions if you plan on trying this.

You can see what the heated bottle looks like in this video as it gets moved around the environment

For our simulated scenario were lucky enough to use the Armidale Training Centre Hot Cell as our searchable structure which was heated and filled with simulated training smoke. Training dummies were used as our search objects and were placed into the structure prior to the scenario commencing.

Have the OIC place the heated object somewhere within the structure and ensure that no firefighters see where it is placed. The aim of the drill is to have them search for it.

Safety Considerations for Firefighters

  • Heat the object safely. Do not heat anything that may rupture or explode!
  • Correct PPE for the scenario or environment
  • Buddy Checks and BACO procedures
  • Safety and scenario briefing prior to starting
  • Safety officer and dynamic risk assessments
  • Rehab (as we were using a hot environment)

How to undertake the drill

Treat the scenario as a live incident. Once crews have been briefed on the session, get them into the trucks and drive a short distance away. Once given the all-clear to begin, have crews respond under lights and/or sirens to arrive on scene and position appliance appropriately.

The OIC is to commence a 360-degree size up and “turn off” the power for firefighter safety. As this is happening, firefighters are to leave the appliance and begin to don BA and gather the required equipment.

Firefighters from 205 and 464
A Balmy 3C in Armidale

Once the entry crew is ready, begin buddy checks and BACO procedures.
At this point, the OIC is to task the crew to search for and locate the heated object within the structure. Depending on what object was used, this may range from easy to difficult to find.

Firefighters are then to make entry to the structure using door entry and use gas cooling as appropriate and immediately commence search and rescue using left/right-hand searches.

The TIC is to be used regularly to scan each room or environment for the heated object, or incapacitated person. Regular radio sitreps should be practiced by the firefighters inside the building.

Once the search object is located with the TIC, send an ‘object located’ radio message and exit the structure together as a crew. Be careful, if you a using a heated metallic object, crews may need to locate the object and describe it but leave it in place. Brief crews on this.

Lessons Learned

There are many valuable lessons that can be learned from this practical exercise and it’s a great drill to use to expose new firefighters to how disorienting search and rescue can be.

Key themes to focus on:

  • How to operate the TIC
  • Radio messages and communications
  • Practice implementing ICMS
  • Structural firefighting, door entries, and hose lays

A big thanks to the crews at FRNSW 205 and 475 for this drill. You can find their facebook pages here.

Have you got a drill you’d like to share?

If you have a drill or exercise you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. We’ve got a form you can fill out and attach photos, get in touch with us!

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I founded Flashover to promote Australian Firefighting. I've been a volunteer and a paid firefighter but now I spend my time chasing up leads, promoting good mental health and making the occasional Grumpy Firecom comic!

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