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Episode 18: Situational Awareness Lessons Learned in Two Minutes

Situational Awareness Matters

This close call survival story is an interview with Aurora Fire Lieutenant Sean Dolan sharing amazing lessons from the house fire where he was caught in a flashover and sustained second and third-degree burns. Sean is very candid in sharing the details of what happened and how close he came to death.

Length: 63 minutes
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If you are interested in taking your understanding of situational awareness and high-risk decision making to a higher level, check out the Situational Awareness Matters Online Academy.
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I titled this episode “What I learned in two minutes.” It is an interview with Lieutenant Sean Dolan from the Aurora Fire Department. On January 7, 2013, Sean, then serving as a firefighter on Engine 7 became a close call survivor when he entered a structure fire at 16562 East Asbury Place, a single-story residential fire with confirmed people trapped.

Sean made entry through the front door with an inch-and-three-quarter line to provide protection for the truck company crew that was searching for the known victim. As conditions took a turn for the worse, Sean was caught in the wake of a fast advancing fire. A mayday was called and Sean suffered second and third-degree burns prior to being pulled to safety by a fellow firefighter.

The front door that FF Dolan entered just 2 minutes before flashover.
The front door that FF Dolan entered just 2 minutes before flashover.


While the entire experience lasted just two minutes, Sean has some great advice for others and he shares some powerful lessons learned including:

  • Having gut feelings (known as intuition) and how he ignored the warning signs of his intuition. He recognized the conditions and what needed to be done and, as he stated: “I talked myself out of it.”
  • How he felt like he was going to die in the fire and listen to him describe the feeling of “calm” that came over him when he felt the end was near. This phenomenon was also shared in Episode 9 with close call survivor John Wright as he lay down to die. If you haven’t listened to that interview, you’ll want to go back and do so.
  • He mentions several times during the interview our inherent need to WIN when fighting a fire and how this motivation to beat the fire almost cost him his life.
  • Why he thinks it would have been beneficial to have an officer inside with him.
  • How he suffered from auditory exclusion (a barrier to situational awareness) and how he, literally, was deaf. He didn’t hear any radio traffic during his time inside.
  • How training may be setting firefighters up for failure because the conditions during training are unrealistic and firefighters always make aggressive, interior attacks and they always win – and this is not reality.
  • How the sense of urgency to get the job done overcame him and his valuable advice to slow down.
  • How he is applying what he learned from that incident in his new capacity as a company officer and how he instructs his crews to tell him when they think things are going bad.

CLICK HERE to view a .pdf document of the incident. WARNING: The pictures contained in this document contain graphic images of Sean’s injuries and may not be suitable for audiences who have sensitivity to seeing human injuries.

If you have experienced or witnessed a near miss and would like to be interviewed on this show, CLICK HERE visit my companion site, Close Call Survivor and click on the Contact Us form. Thank you, in advance, for sharing your lessons learned so others may live.

Aurora Fire Department


1 thought on “Episode 18: Situational Awareness Lessons Learned in Two Minutes”

  1. Pingback: Teaching situational awareness and decision making - Situational Awareness Matters!™Situational Awareness Matters!™

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