Throughout the fire service there are departments whose staffing has been reduced as a result of budget cuts. That is not going to come as a shock to most readers. What has been shocking for me, however, has been the response to my question of what fire department leaders are doing to ensure the situational awareness and safety of line personnel as a result of these cutbacks.
There are some deer in the headlights
As I have heard many, many stories from fireground commanders about staffing cuts, I frequently inquire about how tactics have changed as a result of staffing reductions. It is both shocking and disappointing to get the deer in the headlights look from so many. The command staff in many fire departments have not held meetings with line personnel to discuss how tactics will change as a result of having less personnel.
When line personnel are asked what they’re supposed to do differently – same deer in the headlights look. They have no idea. In fact, most of the time the response is “It’s business as usual.” But it’s not. If less personnel are responding or if the response times of personnel are going to be delayed then, tactically, the same amount of work cannot get done in the same amount of time and this can compromise firefighter safety.
Firefighters need to hear from commanders, in advance of an emergency, that the game plan is going to change and the new plan of attack should be shared. Otherwise firefighters will continue to do the same thing they’ve always done, only with less resources… and greater risk. A competent commander should never let this happen.
Chief Gasaway’s Advice
If staffing levels have been reduced or are anticipated to be reduced, commanders need to meet with line personnel and run through scenarios of how strategies and tactics will change on a fire scene. A good way to do this is to run a scenario with the former staffing, detailing what crews do and the anticipated outcomes.
Then run the same scenario with reduced staffing and discuss how the workload changes and time for the completion of anticipated tasks changes (see the article entitled Expectations are important to situational awareness for more on managing expectations).
1. If your department has experienced a reduction in staffing, how has your tactics changed to reflect the reduction and to ensure firefighter safety?
2. Have your commanders sat down with crews and held meaningful discussions about how staffing impacts strategy and tactics and how they plan to change their approach to fire attack to ensure firefighter safety?
3. What fireground challenges from staffing reductions cause you the greatest concerns?
The mission of Situational Awareness Matters is simple: Help first responders see the bad things coming… in time to change the outcome.
Safety begins with SA!
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