Close this search box.

We Must Stop The Insanity: Part 2

part-iiWelcome to the second article in the four-part We Must Stop The Insanity situational awareness series. In Part 1, posted October 27, I talked about flawed size-ups. In this segment, I’m going to discuss why firefighters fail to be defensive when the fire conditions indicate offensive operations are inappropriate.

Part 1 of this series sets-up the discussion for this article. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to do so as it will improve your understanding of lessons I will be sharing here.


The training practices used in many communities are setting up emergency response personnel for failure and flawed situational awareness. [tweet this] The sad part is most don’t even realize they’re doing it. When casualties occur, so do investigations. The investigations result in recommendations for how to prevent future casualty events.


Using this NIOSH recommendation, let’s look at how we train at our burn buildings. As I travel around and teach first responders I have the good fortune to see many training facilities. Most burn buildings I’ve encountered are made of steel, concrete or a combination of the two. The fires are from Class-A combustibles or propane and are, for the most part, produce a consistent and predictable amount of smoke and fire.

NIOSH Recommendation #2

Fire-fighting operations should be limited to defensive (exterior) strategy if the structure is judged to be unsafe and in any situation where the risks to fire fighter safety are excessive.

Indeed! However, while conducting training operations that involves fires in a concrete and/or steel building, the structure is never judged to be unsafe. Why? Because it was built to be burned in. It’s NOT going to fall down. If firefighters train repetitively in a building they know, with confidence, will not fall down on them, they will not be of the mindset to judge a structure fire unsafe.

During live fire training evolutions,  firefighters are not learning what an unsafe building looks like. [tweet this] The burn building NEVER looks unsafe. I cannot speak for all fire departments but I can say that I have observed many to, for whatever reason, seem to skip the risk assessment step.

In addition to failing to train firefighters on what defensive conditions look like, many fire departments do not train firefighters on what to do, tactically, if they did encounter a defensive fire. Such tactics cannot be taken for granted nor can they simply be talked about. They must be practiced to build muscle memory. Muscles do not learn from verbal instructions. Muscles learn from muscle movement.

Failing to instruct firefighters on what a defensive fire look like and what to do if/when they see one flaws situational awareness and it is TRAINING FOR FAILURE. To expect firefighters to perform at an emergency scene in a manner inconsistent with their training is INSANE! It won’t happen.

Just once, I’d like to see an investigation report say: Stop training your firefighters to do the things that are killing them. Of course, that would require a knowledge that it’s happening and best practices for how to correct it.

Thank you, in advance, for the gift of your time to read all four articles of the We Must Stop The Insanity series.

I would love to have your feedback. Leave a reply below. Share your thoughts. Join the community and together we’ll improve our safety. Also, thank you so much for sharing links to my articles with your friends and with others in your social media networks. I really appreciate that.

Additional Resources

Training For Failure DVD: You will notice that each time I mentioned “Training For Failure” I have it capitalized. Why? Because TRAINING FOR FAILURE is the name of a training program.  In it, I chronicle nine events and the catastrophically important lessons of how responders are being trained to fail and how to fix the problem. The entire DVD is available by clicking HERE.

This program has been delivered as a general session or keynote address at:

Colorado Fire Service Leadership Challenge (Keystone, CO)
British Columbia Fire Training Officer’s Association (Vancouver, BC)
VCOS Symposium in the Sun (Clearwater Beach, FL)
South Carolina Fire Academy (Columbia, SC)
League of Minnesota Cities Safety Symposium (St. Paul, MN)
Southern Alberta Firefighter’s Conference (Lethbridge, AB)

We Must Stop the Insanity: I delivered a keynote address at the Center for Public Safety Excellence Conference in Orlando, Florida entitled: We Must Stop The Insanity. That program provides powerful examples of why the recommendations for improving responder safety are not working and how to fix the problem. Feel free to give me a call to learn how you can get the program!




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.




Phone: 612-548-4424

Facebook Fan Page:

Twitter: @SAMatters

LinkedIn: Rich Gasaway

YouTube: SAMattersTV

iTunes: SAMatters Radio


5 thoughts on “We Must Stop The Insanity: Part 2”

  1. Pingback: We Must Stop The Insanity: Part 1 | Situational Awareness (SA) Matters!

  2. Pingback: We Must Stop The Insanity: Part 3 | Situational Awareness (SA) Matters!

  3. Rich – one of the things that we instituted early this year in the size up process is the announcement that a 360 has been completed. We did that because so many of the LODD and injury reports indicate that a 360 is not being done thereby impacting the SA of the first due officer and everyone else.

    1. Rick, I learned of that best practice while I was in Loveland delivering my program. I have since shared your best practice with thousands of firefighters in my programs. Thank you SO much for sharing that. In fact, I’m going to make that the topic of an article. Thank you for the inspiration! Your fire department’s motto should be “LFD: We get situational awareness!” You Rock! ~ Rich

  4. Pingback: We Must Stop The Insanity: Part 4 | Situational Awareness (SA) Matters!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.