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Search and Rescue — Following Procedures Saves Live
Posted: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 2:45 PM
Joined: 02/05/2008
Posts: 392

Fire in the laundry,” announces the captain over the intercom system. “ All crew and passengers to their muster stations!” As all crew check in, it becomes apparent that the chief stewardess is missing. The captain orders two crewmembers to don firefighting gear and conduct a search of the chief stewardess’s cabin, which is next to the laundry.

When assigned to conduct a search and rescue, there must always be at least two people; a search and rescue must never be conducted by a single person. The search team will require full fire-protection gear and breathing apparatuses that supply air. Emergency Escape Breathing devices are not to be used for firefighting or search and rescue. These devices are for escaping from a contaminated area only. 

If the search team is to conduct a search in the area of a confirmed fire, they should have a hose line for protection. If a hose line is not available, at a minimum, an extinguisher should be carried to knock down any fire that is encountered during the search. If the search is conducted in an area just filled with smoke (no fire present), a hose line or extinguisher is not needed. If a fire is discovered during the search, the search team must stop, report the discovered fire and then bring a hose line to continue the search and/or fight the fire.
Steel cables that are used for tending lines should not be used. If the crew does not train with tending lines continuously, they create a greater risk. When preparing to search an area, the crew must wear their gear and breathing apparatus, including the mask. The search team does not need to breathe from the air cylinder unless there is an obvious hazard such as smoke or fire, or if the search team is unsure of the atmosphere in the area.

If there is a door to be opened into the search area, it first must be checked for heat. The lead person of the search team should pull their glove back to expose a small area of skin. The glove should not be removed as removing and then replacing a glove takes valuable time that a victim may not have. If there is heat in the door, it will be felt with just the small area of exposed skin. Remember that the back of the hand is more sensitive to heat than the palm. Once the door has been checked for heat, the search team stands in position opposite the hinges. The door is then opened slowly to allow any pressure to escape. Once the door is open, the stability of the deck must be checked. The lead person, keeping most of their body weight outside the door, places one foot inside on the floor deck and stomps on the deck. If the deck is solid the search team may proceed into the area.

If there is good visibility, the search team can walk through the area. If visibility is poor, the search team must proceed on their hands and knees. The search team must maneuver in this position for their safety moving as quickly as possible to conduct the search. While in this position the search team can move faster.  When conducting the search, the lead person will always keep their hand in contact with a bulkhead or structure and the second will keep physical contact with the leader. As a well-trained crewmember, you will know the location of the chief stewardess’s cabin, which, in this scenario, is the third cabin on the left.
When beginning the search, start on the left bulkhead and count the doors as you pass them so that you always know where you are during the search. Choosing which bulkhead to follow will be determined based on the hazard, and on the layout of the search area. 

A flashlight is a useful tool in conducting a search. Follow the correct search procedures and be sure to use the flashlight to assist you. If you do not follow procedure and use only the flashlight to guide you, you will find yourself in trouble. What would you do when the flashlight fails or if it is lost? A thermal imaging camera is another useful tool to assist in conducting a search. The thermal camera can be used to conduct a search more quickly, but checking under all beds and in closets is a must.

There are two types of searches: primary and secondary. The primary search — search and rescue — is performed promptly, quickly and thoroughly. The chances of the victim surviving are high when procedures are followed. However, when a person is exposed to heat and smoke, the chances of survival decrease as seconds pass. Carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide are two deadly gases present in smoke.  The secondary search — search and recovery — is conducted when looking for a body.

Let’s return to your emergency scenario and the search for your chief stewardess. The search team opens the chief stewardess’s cabin door. She is lying on the floor and still breathing. There is time to get her out, and while picking her up and carrying her out may seem to be the quickest alternative, it is not the safest.  The lead person into the area is also the lead person out of the area. Since the chief stewardess is already on the floor, the lead person leaves her on the floor and drags her to the door.

Maneuvering a person is much easier when they are on the floor. You can use some readily available items such as a bed sheet, blanket, tablecloth or a piece of rope tied around the chest and under the arms to help move a victim. Any of these will help move a victim quickly and safely. When moving a victim however, care must be taken to prevent injury. Holding or tying the arms is helpful and protecting the head and neck is paramount.

Search and rescue is a labor-intensive, time-consuming task. It must be performed quickly, and the search team must first protect themselves so that they can help the victims. Following sound search and rescue procedures will ensure victim survival as well as the survival of the search team.

To practice search and rescue procedures on your vessel, conduct this drill:

Direct two crew members to don their full firefighting gear. Use a smoke machine or blindfold the crewmembers to simulate reduced visibility, then instruct them to search an area for a victim. Using another crewmember as the victim in this exercise is an unsafe practice, due to the risk of serious injury. If available, a training manikin should be used. 

By Tom Jones, training manager at Resolve Maritime Academy, 1510 S.E. 17 St., Suite 400, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. 33316, Tel: 877-975-3473,,