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Episode 22: Situational Awareness Lessons Learned when Three Feet From Death – Part 1

Situational Awareness Matters
Youngstown Fire Department
Captain John Lightly

On this episode (Part 1 of 2) I interview with Captain John Lightly. John as served as a member of the Youngstown, Ohio Fire Department for 13 years. Youngstown FD has 8 stations and a sworn strength of 135 firefighters. John’s married and has twin daughters who are in 3rd grade. So you can imagine how exciting… and hectic John’s life is. I really appreciate him sitting down with me and sharing his close call survivor story where he almost died as a result of being caught in a flashover. For reasons that will become obvious during the interview, I title this episode “3 feet from death” and dedicate to all the firefighters who’ve been caught in a flashover and did not live to tell their story.

Length: 52 minutes
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Click the “Continue Reading” link below to access the show notes.

On October 8, 2009 at 0306 hours, the Youngstown, Ohio Fire Department was dispatched for a fire that would prove to be nearly fatal for (then Lieutenant – Acting Captain) John Lightly. Listen in as John shares powerful lessons that chronicles how he ended up, alone, in this single family residential dwelling conducting a primary search for victims. In this two-part story, you will learn: Situational Awareness Matters

  • How John conducted his size up and made a determination, based on clues and cues that formed his situational awareness, that there was a high probability the house was occupied.
  • How the flashover occurred within two minutes of entry – a recurring theme I see at flashover casualty incidents.
  • How communications challenges influenced understanding among crew members.
  • How John experienced TachyPsychia – or a slowing down of time when the flashover occurred.
  • Listen to John describe how he felt intuition – in the form of a sick feeling in his gut – and a feeling that someone had punched him in the stomach.
  • John will also talk about self-speak – the neurological phenomenon where we talk to ourselves during high consequence situations – only John doesn’t call it self-speak. I’ll let him explain.
  • How John’s entry the first two times were under the premise of assuming the risk of being a firefighter. Yet he admits his entry the third time – he was creating risk… not assuming it.

The pictures from the incident scene shown below were taken recently by Captain Lightly. He notes the vegetation overgrowth was not present at the time of the fire.

Area of origin.
Area of origin.
Situational Awareness Matters
Entry door that John bailed out of.
Situational Awareness Matters
View from where the bed was in the living room to the door John bailed out of. The sofa he spoke of is not in this photo. (It was near the doorway.)

The mission of Situational Awareness Matters is simple: Help first responders see the bad things coming… in time to prevent bad outcomes.

Safety begins with SA! 

Share your comments on this article in the “Leave a Reply” box below. If you want to send me incident pictures, videos or have an idea you’d like me to research and write about, contact me. I really enjoy getting feedback and supportive messages from fellow first responders. It gives me the energy to work harder for you.




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2 thoughts on “Episode 22: Situational Awareness Lessons Learned when Three Feet From Death – Part 1”

  1. Very informative. I too have lived to tell the story of a close call in a flashover. It is amazing what you see and experience when you go through something like this.

  2. Rich, thank you for the work you’re doing, Great Stuff! To your points:1. Yes, I dug in and did what I was ordered. Fortunately it was during the time when our PPE would not allow deep penetration into the structure. 2-4. On the surface it appears that the two Officers have very different perspectives and levels of SA. It is very likely an issue of training/culture/attitude. Strategies and Tactics are not on many departments short list for training objectives; certainly not my department. In my department we have a two tiered Company Officer rank structure. A member must serve as a Lieutenant first then Captain. As a Captain I make it my responsibility to train my Lieutenants and FF’s to level of competency that far exceed what the department requires of them regarding SA and strategy & tactics. Your programs are very beneficial to me in that endeavor. Our Chiefs use the Captain as Division Sups and the Captains use the Lieutenants as Team Leaders; strategic -tactic- task chain of command. Beyond that it’s a matter of personal command presence. We have our share of cowboys and hot dogs here. Without that command presence freelancing soon results. The culture here is evolving but it is a slow, very slow process.

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