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Seeing the bad things coming in time to change the outcome

Situational Awareness Matters!The mission of Situational Awareness Matters! is “Helping responders see the bad things coming… in time to change the outcome.”  That is often easier said than done. In fact, the lessons that sharpen our situational awareness often comes after the fact.

It is very easy to see the bad things that were coming when we look at an event in hindsight. The trick is seeing it with foresight.


Situational Awareness Matters!Webster’s define foresight at “looking forward.” Looking forward and making accurate predictions of the future is easier when we have been in the same situation repeatedly. We call that “experience.” Or if we have prepared ourselves for being in such environments. We call that “training.”

The trick for first responders is to be able to see the bad things coming IN TIME to change the outcome. The lessons are learned in real-time it can have a great price – injuries and deaths. There’s too much at stake to let all the lessons come from gaining painful experiences at calls. That’s bad news for responders because the number of structure fires is on the decline. So how can a responder gain experience when calls are down?

Learn from near-missses and tragedy events

One of the best ways to accelerate learning in a meaningful way is to learn from the mistakes of others. This can be done by reading near-miss and line-of-duty death reports. Experienced and well-trained firefighters are experiencing near-miss events and catastrophic events. It’s not always someone doing something “dumb” that leads to bad outcomes.

Here are some resources for near-miss and line-of-duty death reports. When you read these reports, avoid passing judgment on the responders. Instead, try to understand how things unfolded around them and how what they were doing seemed sensible at that moment.

National Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System

National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health Firefighter Line-of-Duty Death Investigation Reports

Firefighter Close Calls

Statter 911

A picture is worth a thousand words

If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what a video might be worth. There are LOTS of videos on YouTube that show bad outcomes that, just moments before, seemed like a good idea. Here are a couple:

In this first video, fortunately, firefighters were not in the scene yet. If they were, would they have been able to anticipate this outcome? Now that you’ve watched the video, could you anticipate this might happen at your next vehicle fire?


In this second video, the firefighters were not as fortunate. Now that you’ve watched this video, can you better anticipate something like this happening at your next vehicle fire?


In this video, the firefighters were very unfortunate. This incident resulted in multiple responder fatalities. Does a video like this help you see the bad things that could happen at your next haz-mat incident?


In this final video, firefighters were unable to see the smoke conditions contained the clues and cues indicating something bad could happen. Again, the consequences were significant. Does this video help you anticipate a pending smoke explosion?


Spend some time being a student of near-miss, casualty events and videos. However, don’t judge the responders involved in these incident. Instead, look at your own operations and seek to identify ways to see these bad things coming in time to change the outcome.


Share your thoughts and ideas in the “Leave a Reply” box below.


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!


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.


Phone: 612-548-4424
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LinkedIn: Rich Gasaway
Twitter: @RichGasaway
YouTube: SAMattersTV
iTunes: SAMatters


2 thoughts on “Seeing the bad things coming in time to change the outcome”

  1. Hi Rich, I’m just finalising my workshop presentation for FDIC 2016 and will be making mention of your work. Since you won the prize at our Research Event over here in the UK I’ve been following your “seeing the bad things coming” crusade for many years. In fact you’re part of the inspiration that has me doing a PhD to further my own “everyone goes home” crusade. Be good to ‘swing the lantern’ in Indy if we get the chance.

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