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We Must Stop The Insanity: Part 3

part-iiiWelcome to the third article in the four-part We Must Stop The Insanity situational awareness series. In case you missed the previous two articles (which I encourage you to go back and read) or if you need a refresher, indulge me as I do a little recap. In Part 1, I talked about flawed size-ups. In Part 2 I discussed why firefighters fail to be defensive when the fire conditions indicate offensive operations are inappropriate. In this installment I am going to look at incident scene staffing.

Parts 1 and 2 of this series sets-up the discussion for this article. Reading them first will help 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 #3

Offensive (interior attack) operations should only be considered when sufficient resources are on scene to conduct offensive operations with a reasonable degree of safety, including the ability to perform essential support functions (i.e., water supply, ventilation, lighting, utility control, accountability, rapid intervention teams).

Indeed! I am pleased to report that in my travels and observations, fire departments do a great job with this one, often assembling 15-45 firefighters at the burn building prior to commencing the training event. This improves safety, not to mention compliance with the the NFPA 1403 burn standard. During training events it is easy to assemble 15+ members to immediately perform all the activities listed in the NIOSH recommendations. Easy… yes! Realistic… no!

And it gives firefighters a flawed sense of resource availability. It flaws expectations and it flaws situational awareness. Once again, I cannot speak for all fire departments but from my observations, staffing is often in-place for ready and immediate deployment. When ventilation is called for, the vent team is sent. No delays. Water supply issues? Never! The water is fully secured before the first flame is ever struck. As these challenges are engineered out of training by policy or standard, so go the challenges that firefighters will face during real structure fires. It’s 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.
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3 thoughts on “We Must Stop The Insanity: Part 3”

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

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

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

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