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Healing and growing from tragedy

Situational Awareness Matters!I had an opportunity today to present along side Asheville Fire Chief Scott Burnette at the North Carolina Society of Fire Rescue Instructors Conference. This opportunity came as a result of another wonderful opportunity that Chief Burnette extended to me to conduct facilitated debriefings following the line-of-duty death of Captain Jeff Bowen.

During the debriefing process I was able to learn, first-hand, of the challenges and opportunities the department faced during this horrific event last July. Chief Burnette’s presentation (which preceded mine) was titled “Fourteen Minutes, Thirteen Seconds.” It was so named for the time it took rescue crews to locate and remove Captain Bowen following the Mayday call. Chief Burnette told the audience those brief minutes passed like hours.

Situational Awareness Matters!

The visit and presentation also gave me the opportunity to visit again with Firefighter Jay Bettencourt. Jay is the firefighter who was with Captain Bowen when he went down on the fifth floor of the medical office building. Jay’s acts of heroism to rescue his brother left me awe struck. Jay is a humble man. I am confident he does not see himself as a hero. Rather, he sees himself as a firefighter who was just doing his job.

Situational Awareness Matters!
Firefighter Jay Bettencourt

During my portion of the program, focused on how to conduct facilitated debriefings following casualty events, I brought Jay to the front of the room and, standing beside Firefighter Bettencourt I told the audience. “Some day, my grand kids will ask me if I am a hero. I will tell them no. Grandpa is not a hero. But I have stood among them” and then looked to Jay. He received the most well-deserved standing ovation I have ever seen delivered.

Likewise, when Chief Burnette finished speaking he also received a standing ovation from the audience. Chief Burnette was very forthcoming with his assessment of the incident and the lessons learned. He’s such a humble leader. One that all of us should emulate. I did not envy the position he was in to give such a tough presentation in front of such a large audience. He remained poised and professional.

At one point Chief Burnette spoke of a dream he had in November where Captain Bowen appeared  and walked the chief through the fire incident, step by step, and told him everything that happened. It was, by far, the most riveting story I had every heard. Ever! There can be no doubt for the Chief’s love and compassion for his firefighters. His commitment to learn every lesson possible from this tragedy is very apparent.

Just two weeks ago I had the opportunity to revisit my friends in Asheville. This was the first visit since my facilitated debriefing last fall. The purpose of this visit was to be briefed by the Post Incident Analysis teams. I was very impressed with the amount of work that had been done based on the recommendations in my report.

Clearly, this is an organization that is taking the lesson from the tragedy of July 28, 2011 and making real changes to improve safety. Their actions will become a blueprint for other departments to follow and I intend to write about their efforts often. To say I’m impressed is an understatement. This is a first-rate organization that is well on its way to healing and growing out of tragedy. Congratulations Asheville Fire Department.

Firefighter Bettencourt has created a website and is selling t-shirts to benefit the Bowen family. If you would like to purchase a t-shirt to support Jeff’s wife, Stacy, and his three children, please visit Thank you very much for the kind consideration.

Situational Awareness Matters!


Additionally, I will donate 100% of the proceeds for all sales of my Situational Awareness Matters Volume 1 book from the date of this posting through the anniversary date of Captain Bowen’s death (July 28) to his family. The book is available by clicking the “Educational Materials” link on the top of the page. You can’t find a better reason to buy the book! Improve your safety, help prevent a future loss, AND help the family of a fallen firefighter. It doesn’t get any better than that! 


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! 


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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