Risk Versus Reward

At 2:04 am the fire department was dispatched for a fire in a commercial building. Upon arrival the first engine reports a working fire and commences with interior fire attack. Upon entry, the engine crew reports high heat conditions and low visibility, but they pressed onward. Situational awareness is marginal. Soon the second engine and first truck arrives and are pressed into action. A second line is pulled and the truck commences with rooftop ventilation. The fire conditions worsens and a second alarm is called. Additional resources are deployed with additional hose lines. Despite the tenuous conditions, the firefighters remained true to their sworn calling, fight the dragon, and valiantly declare victory. The fire is out and no one is killed, despite several close calls. Been there? Seen that? What is to result of this heroic endeavor?

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Three types of stress

imagesIn this article we discuss three types of stress: Acute stress, episodic acute stress and chronic stress. First responders can, and often do, experience all three. Stress can impact firefighter situational awareness and, equally concerning, stress can have devastating long-term impacts. Continue reading

Posted in Decision Making, Human Behavior, human factors, Safety, Situational awareness | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Explanations for situational awareness insanity – Part 5

fearThis is going to be, admittedly, an uncomfortable read for some. But, nonetheless it is a conversation we need to have. I need to discuss the “F” word. No, not THAT “F” word. The “F” word that is more dreaded than the F-bomb – Fear. Many first responders enjoy discussing fear as much as they enjoy discussing that other “F” word – feelings. Ironically, fear is a feeling. More accurately, fear is an emotion. And this emotion can save your life. It can also cost you your life. Continue reading

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Explanations for Situational Awareness Insanity – Part 4


insanityThis article continues the series focusing on the seemingly insane things that some first responders do while operating in high-stress, high consequence environments. Oftentimes, the individuals trying to make sense of these behaviors are quick to judge those on the sharp of the decision by saying things like: They weren’t paying attention? or How could they not see that?


Lessons in neuroscience affirm how easy it is for responders to not see bad things that are happening right in front of them or seeing bad things without comprehending what the information means (see Explanations for Situational Awareness Insanity – Part 3 for an in-depth discussion on comprehension). Let us explore the challenges of attention deficit.

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Crawl, Walk, Run Theory of Skill Development

The inspiration for this article comes from Situational Awareness Matters member and Fire Chief, Todd Johnson, and the members of the Woodbury Fire Department. I was invited to observe a skills-based training evaluation that was more than a year in the making and involved over 100 practice exercises. The crews were dispatched to a structure fire. They arrived, in a realistic staggered timeline at a 40×40 building (a parks and recreation warming house) that was full of simulated smoke. The objectives were simple: Vent, enter, search, attack. Seems simple enough. So why did they perform over 100 practices exercise to get it right?

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Posted in Checklists, Safety, Situational awareness, Training | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Ten explanations for unsafe actions and a bad outcome

I recently had a situational awareness conversation with a firefighter who shared the details of an incident that made him both proud and disappointed. His company officer decided to do an exterior attack at a residential dwelling fire because the conditions had deteriorated to the point where an interior attack would not be warranted. This decision was made even though neighbors were reporting there might be someone inside. Based on what I was told, the officer made the right call. At it turns out, no one was inside and if they were the conditions were not compatible with life.  This made the firefighter proud. But what happened next left him terribly disappointed.

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Posted in Accountability, Culture, Decision Making, Ego and Self-Esteem, firefighter situational awareness, Risk Assessment, Safety, Situational awareness, size-up, Teamwork | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

How To Cancel The Mayday

Mayday CancelledI had an amazing conversation with a firefighter recently about situational awareness following a program and I just had to share it with you.


He asked how many of the 26 fire departments represented in the room had a process in their mayday/rapid intervention procedures for canceling a mayday. Hearing the answer… I was stunned!

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Posted in Situational awareness, Standard Operating Procedures/Guidelines | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Rational Brain and Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness MattersOftentimes during situational awareness programs participants will share stories of incidents they have responded to, or incidents they have read about, or videos of incidents they have watched where the incident ended in a significant near-miss or a casualy. This happened recently during a program where a firefighter with 20+ years of experience showed me a video clip on break and then asked me: “How could they be so stupid? Everyone knows you don’t do that!”

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Two Key Ways to Improve Learning and Recall

Is there a role for humor while training first responders on critical, life-saving, skills?

The flight attendant begins dolling out the obligatory, in fact, federally mandated, pre-flight safety instructions. If you’re a frequent flyer, your situational awareness is probably pretty low. You know the routine and it’s boring. If you’re an infrequent flyer, the monotone, or should I say mono-drone voice of the lead flight attendant is enough to make you bury your eyes deep into the sky magazine. But, on this flight, something’s different.

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Posted in Neuroscience, Safety, Situational awareness, Training | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Training For Failure Will Impact Decision Making and Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness Matters!During a “Firefighter Safety Mistakes & Best Practices program last night , I was approached at the break by a training officer who shared with me how he was making the very mistakes I was talking about in class. It turns out, he has been training his firefighters to fail. He described my message as “A wake-up call.”


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