Study of Fire Service Residential Home Size-Up, Search and Rescue Operations

Study of Fire Service Residential Home Size-up and Search & Rescue Operations

Research endeavor to examine size-up and search & rescue tactics on the residential fireground.
  • Overview
  • Findings
  • Updates
  • Resources


This three-year FEMA Research and Development Project examines fireground size-up measures and search and rescue operations as part of a coordinated fire attack on a residential structure. 

This study builds on the experience of the fire service by investigating common components of size-up such as reading smoke and fire conditions upon arrival, search tactics such as window and/or door-initiated search, isolation measures, and rescue tactics such as removal elevation, removal timing relative to suppression, and removal pathways. It is paramount to determine the scientific based elements of size-up, search, and rescue that the fire service can use to best understand the fire dynamics to make critical tactical choices such as initial hoseline placement, search pathways, and occupant removal considerations.

This project studies and answers the following questions through conducting experiments in a residential test structure using carefully designed and placed instrumentation:

  • If an occupant is found behind a closed door, should the firefighter wait until conditions improve, take them immediately back to the entry point, or remove them via another route? In other words, how might removal techniques limit toxic gas and thermal exposures?
  • What is the difference to an occupant if found via a door-initiated search or via a window-initiated search? How can these options be leveraged to optimize the viability for potentially trapped occupants?
  • What do firefighters need to consider if search and rescue operations occur prior to suppression compared to occurring simultaneous with or post-suppression?
  • If an exterior vent is created to make entry, how do factors such as proximity to fire compartment or isolation impact tenability for a potentially trapped occupant?
  • What role does post-suppression ventilation play in returning toxic gas and thermal conditions to pre-ignitions levels?


Previous fire service tactics research on suppression and ventilation indicate several tactical considerations that could increase the effectiveness of search and rescue operations by better understanding the impacts of timing, door position, entry point, victim removal route, removal technique and suppression. These tactical considerations need to be further examined and developed with the features of the old and new residential housing stock in mind.

During previous FSRI research projects supported by the DHS AFG FP&S R&D program, three major themes emerged:

  1. Changes have occurred in the fire environment (the fire service’s workplace) that are very important to occupant survivability and firefighter safety. This has resulted in the need to understand the impact of changes in building construction methods, building construction materials, and home furnishings on fire growth and the resulting fire environment within the home.
  2. Coordination of fire attack is essential; effective water application with timely ventilation need to occur together for successful outcomes.
  3. Isolation by closing doors is critical to occupant survivability and firefighter effectiveness.

These themes have been disseminated throughout the fire service and have resulted in increased knowledge of firefighters around the world. During this research and dissemination, gaps and opportunities became apparent and were highlighted by our fire service partners.


The purpose of this study is to improve firefighter safety and victim survivability by examining the impact of:

  • different search tactics, such as search initiated through the front door or search initiated through a window.
  • different rescue tactics such as path of occupant removal or elevation of occupant removal.
  • isolation (front door, fire room, or remote bedroom) and ventilation.
  • search and rescue operations that occur prior to, during, or post suppression.

Technical Panel

group of people standing together

Group photo taken during the 2019 in-person technical panel meeting in Columbia, MD. 

Name Department
Kristofer DeMattia Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, MD
Christopher Finelli District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department, DC
Hale Fitzgerald South Portland Fire Department, ME
Kekoa Gonzales Federal Fire Department Navy Region Hawaii, HI
Tommy Hofland Seattle Fire Department, WA
Bryan Lynch Colorado Springs Fire Department, CO
Randall McDermott NIST Fire Research, MD
Justin McWilliams Clackamas Fire District #1, OR
Richard Ray Creedmoor Volunteer Fire Department, NC
Gerard Smith Baltimore City Fire Department, MD
Ron Smith Gary Fire Department, IN
Derek Sutherland Clark County Fire Department, NV
Ryan Tripp Los Angeles County Fire Department, CA
Jason Truesdale Sidney Fire & Emergency Services, OH
Samuel Villani Montgomery County Fire Rescue Service, MD
Eric Wheaton Winter Park Fire Department, FL
David Wolf Estes Valley Fire Protection District, CO
David Young Beavercreek Township Fire Department, OH

To improve continuity between research projects, three members of the Study of Coordinated Fire Attack utilizing Acquired Structures technical panel were voted by members of their panel to serve on this project as well.

Name Department
Christopher Byrne Colorado Springs Fire Department, CO
Russell Gardner Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, CA
Steve Lopez Dallas Fire Department, TX

Research Partners

Search and Rescue Experiments

Twenty-one experiments were conducted in two purpose-built single-story, single-family dwellings to analyze search and rescue tactics. Eleven of the experiments examined bedroom fires, eight examined kitchen fires, and two examined living room fires. Search operations originated through a window, door, or both and occurred pre-suppression, during suppression, or post-suppression. Temperature, velocity, and pressure were measured throughout each structure to assess the fire dynamics. Heat flux and gas concentrations were employed to assess the impact of tactics on occupant tenability and the firefighting operating environment. The relatively small number of experiments and a single structure type limit the ability to make universal, definitive assessments of tactical performance; however, several trends were identified that could influence tactical decisions for search and rescue operations on the residential fireground:

  • Prior to intervention, there were statistically significant differences in toxic and thermal exposures to occupants as a function of elevation. The higher the elevation, the higher the exposure to the potentially trapped occupant.
  • Prior to intervention, it was shown that spaces isolated prior to ignition had statistically lower measured exposures compared to non-isolated spaces.
  • A closed door to the fire compartment (e.g., closed bedroom door for a bedroom fire and closed front door for a kitchen/living room fire) was effective at reducing flame spread as well as reducing the operating class for searching firefighters and toxic and thermal exposure rates for potentially trapped occupants.
  • For scenarios where search and concurrent ventilation preceded suppression, isolation of spaces was shown to be effective at reducing the thermal operating class for firefighters and the toxic and thermal exposure rates compared to spaces that were not isolated
  • Suppression, both interior and exterior, was effective at reducing the thermal operating class for searching firefighters and the rate of thermal exposure increase to occupants. Additional post-suppression ventilation was important for the reduction of toxic gas exposures.
  • Less than 230 gallons (108 gallons ± 48 gallons) were used during the initial suppression period across all 21 experiments and less than 500 gallons, including hydraulic ventilation, were used in total for suppression for each of the bedroom, kitchen, and living room fire experiments.

Learn more about these research findings by exploring our technical reports:

For questions about this project, please contact:

Published: May 16, 2022