Practical Firearms Training at PFT – Pt. 3 – Clearing a Room

Back in May, I took several force-on-force classes at Practical Firearms Training in West Virginia. To make the training scenarios as real as possible, the instruction included “live fire” with Airsoft and paintball guns and simunitions. In this third scenario, our instructor once again placed us in a simulated convenience store. The room was sparse, but spacious. There was a small table at the front and some shelves with a smattering of grocery store items in the back, furthest from the door. Our task: clear the room. Or, alternatively, avoid discovery. It was “hide and go seek”—with guns.

One student was charged with “clearing” the room of a hidden bad guy. The other student hid, defending himself from an invader coming through the doorway. Once the scenario had run, the students would switch parts and the scenario would run again.

The room has only one door. A series of three closets runs along the wall on your immediate left, one-after-the-other, with hardly any gap between them. The closets stick out about a foot or so beyond the wall.

I was told to clear the room. I waited out of sight as the other student hid himself somewhere in the room.

I drew my gun from my holster. Keeping myself about an arm’s length from the outside wall of the doorway, I peeked into the room. Carefully.

Hollywood always shows the good guy hugging the wall as he enters a dangerous space. Wrong. You don’t want to “crowd” your cover or concealment; you need to be able to move freely. You’re protected equally well whether you’re right up against the cover or a short distance away from it. When you’re “off the wall,” you have more flexibility.

I kept the gun in front of me, close to my face.

You don’t want your gun to pop into the room before the rest of you appears. If the bad guy sees your weapon, he’ll know exactly where you are. Even worse, you aren’t in a position to see him. He can shoot you where you stand. If he’s close to your position, he could also grab your gun.

I began “slicing-the-pie.” I slowly peeked into the room, starting from the most easily seen area, progressively scanning the room until I could see the entire area. It is critical that a minimum part of your head, your body, or your gun be visibly exposed to any part of the room that you have not yet scanned.

There’s a reason doorways and entryways are called the “kill funnel”. The bad guy can focus his attention (and firepower) on that area. You have no idea where HE is and must scan the room looking for him, all the while knowing that a hail of bullets could come flying at any exposed part of your body at any time.

As I started slicing the pie, I saw a small table, almost straight ahead through the doorway. There was no place for the bad guy to hide near it. So I kept slicing to the left very slowly.

As I slowly edged around the left side of the doorway, I notice that the closet door nearest to me was open. The door blocked my view into all of the closets. I couldn’t see anything along the left of the wall, or much at the back of the room.

I figured I could peek through the gap by the door’s hinge to look fort the bad guy. But it dawned on me that he might be able to fire though that same gap. I glanced quickly through the gap and quickly moved forward about a foot, so I wouldn’t be visible any more through that gap.

I was now past the main doorway. I was using the open closet door as concealment, so I could slice-the-pie for the remaining left and rear of the room. The bad guy was either in one of the three closets, in front of the closets, or possibly further back in the far left -side of the room.

Even with a small part of my head sticking out around concealment, there was a palpable feeling of vulnerability. My heart rate increased dramatically. I knew I was now only seconds from confrontation. My next move could be my last.

I slowly and quietly sliced to my left. The closet door was my safety shield.

Suddenly I spotted him. Actually, I caught only a glimpse of my opponent: his foot and part of his leg. He was about five feet away on the other side of the door, just in front of one of the other closets.

Great. Now that I know where he is, now what?

Do I rush him, firing, risking running straight into a volley of bullets? Do I run into the room at an angle and open fire? While I would be harder to hit while moving, it would be harder for me to hit the bad guy, too.

Do I step forward past the door for a clear shot and open fire, trying to stay behind that door as much as possible? That seemed my safest option, even though it left me relatively stationary with partially obscured vision.

Whatever I was going to do, I knew I had to act quickly. If he’d spotted me, there was nothing to keep him from jumping out from behind that door and blasting me as I was considering my options.

I stepped out from behind concealment to get a clean shot, still trying to stay somewhat behind the closet door.

When I had him in sight, I opened fire. So did he.

The exchange had just begun when I saw an explosion of blue in front of my right eye (remember I am wearing a protective face mast). It was over for me. I took my face mask off in disgust. Had that been a real scenario, I would have been be lying on the floor, dead.

Equally sobering: I hadn’t hit the bad guy even once.

Later, I replayed that last few seconds over and over. Should I have kicked the closet door shut, startling the bad guy, opening fire as the door was slamming? While the slamming door would be a distraction and I would have a clear shot, I would also have lost my concealment. Ugh.

What if I’d gotten down low to the floor and had shot around the closet? The low position would probably not be expected and might give me the edge by getting in a few good shots before the bad guy could react. Perhaps that might have worked.

As it was, I handled the situation badly and paid the price.

During this drill, fellow classmate Dennis O’Connor also lucked out. He was slicing the pie and completely missed the bad guy standing behind a box on the shelving in the back of the room. The items on the shelving were scarce and the bad guy’s legs and lower torso were clearly visible. Dennis never saw them. The bad guy blasted him as soon as he stepped out to go around the closet door.

The experience highlighted an important principle of visual stealth: you can elude detection by embedding yourself amongst three-dimensional relief patterns of varying colors, textures and sizes. In Dennis’ case, an otherwise exposed target blended in so well with the various items on the storage shelves that Dennis missed the bad guy entirely during his scan.

My main lesson from this exercise: do NOT clear a house unless you absolutely have to, especially alone. The police are paid to do that and will do so with enough people to property cover each area. If there is someone in your house, assume a defensive position and call 911.

One of our members was recently burglarized. Returning home, seeing an open side door, he cleared his house by himself. If he had performed this exercise in PFT’s force-on-force training,he might have reconsidered.

The issue is simple: the person sequestered in the house has the tactical edge. He knows exactly where you have to enter the room. He’s ready for you. BUT it’s not a guarantee that he will prevail. As we will see in Part Four.

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