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We Must Stop The Insanity: Part 4

part-ivWelcome to the fourth and final article in the We Must Stop The Insanity situational awareness series. In case you missed the previous three 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 Part 3, I addressed incident scene staffing. In this article I’m going to talk about assessing changing conditions.

Parts 1 – 3 of this series set-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, for the most part, produce a consistent and predictable amount of smoke and fire.

NIOSH Recommendation #4

Additional size-ups and risk analyses should be performed before changing strategies, including any decision to conduct interior overhaul operations following a defensive fire attack.

Indeed! The size-up should be on-going and a continual assessment should be made of changing conditions, the speed of the incident and how fast the structure is decomposing as a result of the heat and fire. The problem is during controlled fires in concrete and/or steel buildings, conditions do not mimic reality.

In fact, conditions hardly change at all – not just during the current evolution, but from evolution to evolution. As well the speed of the incident does not change because the fire is not spreading room-to-room and the fire is not consuming the structural components of the building. Finally, the burn building is not decomposing under the strain of the fire (It’s built NOT to).

Once again, I cannot speak for all fire departments but from my observations, live fire training in a burn building does not address the realistic challenges that will be faced at a structure fire. This leads to flawed situational awareness, a flawed sense of confidence based on repetitive successful outcomes, a flawed ability to assess changing conditions, a flawed ability to know when to be defensive and a flawed ability to know when (and how) to order the removal of firefighters from a structure fire in time to avoid the catastrophic outcome.  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 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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4 thoughts on “We Must Stop The Insanity: Part 4”

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

  2. Pingback: We Must Stop The Insanity: Part 2 | Situational Awareness Matters!™

  3. Pingback: We Must Stop The Insanity: Part 1 | Situational Awareness Matters!™

  4. Pingback: Situational Awareness Survey - Situational Awareness Matters!™Situational Awareness Matters!™

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