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When Budgets Impact Staffing, Tactics Must Change

Situational Awareness Matters!Throughout the fire service there are departments whose staffing has been reduced as a result of budget cuts. That is not going to come as a shock to most readers. What has been shocking for me, however, has been the response to my question of what fire department leaders are doing to ensure the situational awareness and safety of line personnel as a result of these cutbacks.

Situational Awareness Matters!

There are some deer in the headlights

As I have heard many, many stories from fire ground commanders about staffing cuts, I frequently inquire about how tactics have changed as a result of staffing reductions. It is both shocking and disappointing to get the deer in the headlights look from so many. The command staff in many fire departments have not held meetings with line personnel to discuss how tactics will change as a result of having less personnel. How can you avoid the “deer in the headlights” look?[tweet this]

Situational Awareness Matters!


When line personnel are asked what they’re supposed to do differently – same deer in the headlights look. They have no idea. In fact, most of the time the response is “It’s business as usual.” But it’s not. If less personnel are responding or if the response times of personnel are going to be delayed then, tactically, the same amount of work cannot get done in the same amount of time and this can compromise firefighter safety.



Command’s Obligation

Situational Awareness Matters!Firefighters need to hear from commanders,[tweet this] in advance of an emergency, that the game plan is going to change and the new plan of attack should be shared. Otherwise firefighters will continue to do the same thing they’ve always done, only with less resources… and greater risk. A competent commander should never let this happen.

Chief Gasaway’s Advice

Situational Awareness Matters!If staffing levels have been reduced or are anticipated to be reduced, commanders need to meet with line personnel and run through scenarios of how strategies and tactics will change on a fire scene. A good way to do this is to run a scenario with the former staffing, detailing what crews do and the anticipated outcomes.

Then run the same scenario with reduced staffing and discuss how the workload changes and time for the completion of anticipated tasks changes (see the article entitled Expectations are important to situational awareness for more on managing expectations).

Discussion Questions

Situational Awareness Matters!1. If your department has experienced a reduction in staffing, how have your tactics changed to reflect the reduction and to ensure firefighter safety?

2. Have your commanders sat down with crews and held meaningful discussions about how staffing impacts strategy and tactics and how they plan to change their approach to fire attack to ensure firefighter safety?

3. What fire ground challenges from staffing reductions cause you the greatest concerns?


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 “When Budgets Impact Staffing, Tactics Must Change”

  1. Effective response force, how are you assembling, and how are you using the lesser number SAFELY and effectively while you wait for the EF to arrive? Managing expectations…what won’t get done when it could have changed the outcome?

  2. Excellent article. This was my frustration when I responded to the previous article. I could not agree more with your explanation, well done my friend.

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