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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 in 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. [tweet this] When responders have to focus so much cognitive energy on how to operate their equipment, their situational awareness is going to be impacted.

Chief Gasaway’s Advice


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. [tweet this] Confidence in 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.

Action Items

Situational Awareness Matters!

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

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

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


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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2 thoughts on “Situational Awareness Begins With Knowing Your Equipment”

  1. 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. David,

    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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