Situational Awareness Begins With Knowing Your Equipment

I received an email from a firefighter who was frustrated, disappointed and angry. He came to work for his shift and, as he always does, started his day by performing a safety check of his personal gear and his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). When he opened the cabinet door on the apparatus he could hardly believe his eyes.

There, staring back at him was a brand new SCBA – a brand different than before with functionality completely different than his previous SCBA. He had received no notification, let alone any training on how to use this new piece of critical equipment. It was left for him to figure out on his own.

Such an act of incompetence in the part of this department’s senior management, command staff and training staff seems unconscionable but it happened. This firefighter was left to fend for himself and to teach himself (quickly) how to use this new SCBA. Were all the other firefighters on his department going to do the same? Who knows?

Situational awareness requires a conscious effort to capture the clues and cues in an often hectic and hostile environment. When responders have to focus so much cognitive energy on how to operate their equipment, their situational awareness is going to be impacted.

SOLUTION: No equipment should ever be placed into service without a comprehensive orientation session and the opportunity to use the equipment in a practice/training mode. Confidence with how to use equipment and knowing its limitations is essential to responder safety. On the emergency scene is not the place to learn these lessons.


1. What is the process your department uses to ensure members are familiar with new equipment before it is place into service?

2. If you’ve put new SCBA into service in the recent past, share what steps your department used to endure a proper orientation of your members?

3. Have you ever witnesses a near-miss event because a first responder was not completely familiar with the operation of their equipment?

Safety begins with SA!


The content for this post is taken directly from the highly acclaimed programs, Fifty Ways to Kill a First Responder and Mental Management of Emergencies. These programs have been presented to more than 23,000 public safety providers from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.

If your department or association is interested in hosting a program to improve situational awareness and decision making under stress, contact me at: or call me at: 612-548-4424.

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2 thoughts on “Situational Awareness Begins With Knowing Your Equipment

  1. David Hodges

    My department is far from perfect, and I have seen such equipment put into service w/o the proper training. We now have an SOG that addresses new equipment and requires every member to sign off on training and understanding.

  2. RGasaway Post author


    Thanks for sharing. I am pleased to hear you say your department is not perfect because those who think their departments are perfect are blind to barriers the can impact situational awareness.

    Your SOG for new equipment is a BEST PRACTICE and it helps ensure situational readiness, the prerequisite for situational awareness.

    ~ Rich


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