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Stop Judging to Improve Situational Awareness

Oftentimes when I am talking with first responders about the role of situational awareness and casualty incidents, especially the ones that have recently occurred, they share with me their opinions and frustrations about the performance of the responders and the decisions made by command staff. If I have learned anything, it’s first responders are opinionated and, in general, are not very understanding or forgiving when assessing errors. [tweet this]

Stated another way, first responder are quick to judge and slow to learn. I used to be this way. Earlier in my career I would ask: Why were they doing that? Now, I ask Why did that make sense to be doing what they were doing at that moment in time? Asking the latter question opens my mind up to learning. You see, I can offer all kinds of opinions as to why I think the responders were doing what they were doing. But I cannot possibly know the answer to the latter question without asking the people directly involved. This is exactly what I do when I conduct facilitated debriefs for departments who have had a significant near-miss or a casualty event. It is critical to learn everything possible about why casualty events occur so the lessons can improve the safety of all responders.

Chief Gasaway’s Advice

AdviceWhen responders stop judging and start learning, situational awareness will improve. Borrowing from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, seek first to understand, then to be understood. Stop judging the performance of others and start understanding why the actions and decision being made at the time of the casualty event made sense to the responders.



Action Items

  1. Situational Awareness Matters!What process does your department use to learn from your near-miss and casualty incidents?
  2. What process do you use to learn from the near-miss and casualty incidents of other departments?
  3. Has your department every conducted a facilitated debrief conducted by an independent facilitator?


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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