Technology with a Purpose


Training for Failure

Story by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway
Web master for Situational Awareness Matters (

Is it possible to train a firefighter to fail? You bet it is! I see it all the time. I should clarify that previous statement a little: I see it NOW all the time.

There was a time when I didn’t see it. In fact, I was one of those instructors who were training firefighters to fail. I didn’t realize I was doing it. No instructor would train a firefighter to fail on purpose. But, accidentally, it’s happening all the time and the consequences can be catastrophic.

In my Mental Management of Emergencies program I share with firefighters how easy it is to be trained to fail. Experienced officers and trainers alike have called this program a wake-up call and I could not agree more. As I was conducting my research about how the brain functions under stress I had an epiphany. We are training first responders to fail! It was a punch in the gut for me because I knew how many times I had provided flawed training to firefighters and EMS providers throughout my 30 years.

Let me share just one of many examples of how this can happen. But before I do, I have to offer you some B.S. (Brain Science). This will help in your understanding of how firefighters are being trained for failure.

B.S. Law No. 1: The stressed brain does not make decisions the same way as the non-stressed brain.
The lesson here is the non-stressed brain is a calm, rational thinking brain. It’s not under a lot of pressure so it can readily process information and figure out solutions to problems rather readily. The stressed brain; not so rational. In fact, just watching the apparent dumb things firefighters do when they are under stress would lead some people to surmise the stressed brain is irrational. The stressed brain isn’t irrational in its decision making. It is intuitive.

B.S. Law No. 2: Under stress, the brain runs automatic scripts.
The lesson here is the stressed brain compels the body to become a creature of habit. The brain will instruct the body to perform exactly how it was programmed to perform based mostly on memorization and repetition. This is true when recalling cognitive information (like people’s names and e-mail addresses). It is also the case with muscle memory (the physical movements tied to performing a task). Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent.

B.S. Law No. 3: Muscle memory results from muscle movement.
The lesson here is muscles-memory is formed from actual physical movement, not from the storage of information about how to move. Talking about how to perform a demanding physical task is not the same as doing it. You can tell a firefighter all day long how to throw a ladder. But the brain does not store the memory of the actual movements until the muscles move and raise the ladder.

A Practical Application of the Brain Laws
Those are but three of dozens of lessons that are important for instructors to understand but let’s see how just those three can result in a firefighter being trained for failure.

Here’s the scenario. The instructor is going to conduct a live burn training evolution at the burn building. The crews arrive and everything is set up and the instructor conducts a pre-incident briefing of the day’s activities and objectives. Hose lines and water supplies are secured. The burn team is in place and fire in the hole! Send the first team in!

The first team advances with a 1inch line and they locate the fire and knock it down. They back out and the instructor team critiques their behavior. Each consecutive team does the same thing and this goes on for several hours and each team gets six evolutions on the line.

The instructors feel good because they know that repetition builds skills and these firefighters got some good training. The students feel good because they know they gained valuable experience and are now better prepared for structural firefighting. This is where the lessons of brain science and the fire service collide in a way that can have catastrophic consequences.

You see, the well-intended instructors, for the sake of expediency, never required each attack team to conduct a 360-degree size up around the burn building to develop their situational awareness before they engaged in the structural firefight. Why?

One of the most logical reasons is the burn building is constructed of concrete and steel. It’s NOT going to fall down on the attack team and everyone, including the instructors knows that. Everyone there has a comfort level with the stability of the structure. It’s built to be burned in for goodness sake. So, teams are not required to complete a 360-degree size up before starting each evolution.

Each team that enters the burn building advances a 1inch hose line to the fire and knocks it down. Fire isn’t large enough to require a 2inch in hose line. The smaller 1inch line is adequate and appropriate. The firefighters become very proficient with advancing their 1inch line and they are rewarded with success every time.

As firefighters practice these skills, the three laws from brain science are at work. The stress of the training causes the firefighters to think intuitively, not rationally. They are developing their automatic scripts (both cognitive and muscle memory). Under stress at a real structure fire, the firefighters are going to perform exactly how the scripts in their brains tell them to perform.

Have you ever seen or heard of an incident where a firefighting crew arrived on a fire that should have been a defensive (exterior) attack yet they went offensive (inside) the structure only to find themselves in a world of trouble quick? You could readily see they should not have gone inside. But for some reason, they didn’t see it the same way and, like fools, they rushed in. Were they being foolish? They certainly didn’t seem to be acting rational. That’s because they weren’t acting rational. They were acting intuitive. That’s Brain Law No. 1.

The firefighters arrive and go into a well-involved fire that any competent firefighter would readily say was a no-go fire (i.e., the firefighters do not go in for it would mean catastrophic consequences). Why would the firefighters enter a no-go environment and jeopardize their lives? Because that’s what they were trained to do-go! In fact, it is absolutely rare for firefighters to be trained on the physical and cognitive tasks associated with no-go. So when the firefighters arrive, they go in. They ALWAYS go in because their brains are running automatic scripts. That’s Brain Law No. 2.

The firefighters that arrive and go into the well-involved fire are yet vulnerable to another major consequence. If the fire is no-go it is probably going to be a large fire that requires large water. But the poor firefighting team does not pull a 2inch line. They pull the 1inch hose line and advance it into a fire whose potential far exceeds the capacity of their small hose line. Big fire requires big water. That’s sorational. So why would these firefighters not pull the larger line? Because muscle memory has been built up over numerous practice evolutions. The muscles know a structure fire gets attacked with a 1inch line. The muscle movement of practice over time has built muscle memory. That is Brain Law No. 3.

The Catastrophic Results
Put it all together and what do you have?

Firefighters arriving at well-involved structures, failing to complete a 360-degree size up causing flawed situational awareness. By not practicing the complete size-up they are missing the important lessons of how to assess building construction, fire and smoke conditions. The fire may be defensive but they don’t see it as a defensive fire. Because in their minds, the script reads every fire is an offensive fire.

They advance small hose lines into fires that need big hose lines because they have only practiced with small hose lines. Even if, during training, the instructor were to say now remember, if you have a big fire, you need to pull a big hose line this will not work. It is a rational statement being made to a rational mind. Of course it’s going to make sense. The students may even let out a collective “no duh!” in response as if to indicate such a simple concept did not need to be iterated.

It’s not what the instructor says that will dictate the performance. It’s what the student does that will determine it.

Here are some tangible recommendations for fixing these problems.

1. Build a 360-degree size up into every evolution. Don’t just have them walk around for the sake of walking around. Have them say what they are looking for as it relates to building construction, building decomposition, fire and smoke conditions.

2. Practice pulling 2inch lines in training. Even if the training fire is too small for a large line, practice pulling and using the larger line.

3. Discuss and train firefighters on what no-go conditions look like. What the building decomposition would look like. What the fire conditions would look like. What the smoke conditions would look like.

4. Train firefighters on the physical tasks to be performed when a fire is a no-go fire so they know, physically, what they should do.

Is it possible to train a firefighter to fail? You bet it is! But it is avoidable with a minor change in how we conduct our training.

About the Author
Dr. Richard B. Gasaway has served as a firefighter, EMT-paramedic, company officer, training officer and fire chief in six emergency services organizations in West Virginia, Ohio and Minnesota. In addition to his exemplary 30-year career in public safety, Dr. Gasaway has completed extensive studies on the high-stress, high-consequence environments first responders operate in and how stress impacts decision making and situational awareness. His findings have been chronicled in more than 150 books, book chapters, training videos and first responder journals. Dr. Gasaway serves as the webmaster for the Situational Awareness Matters website (, a site dedicated to improving first responder safety.

TargetSolutions to Show Platform’s Capabilities at FDIC

This is an important week for the fire service community. One of the largest conferences of the year is now underway in Indianapolis.

FDIC, which is being held at the Indiana Convention Center & Lucas Oil Stadium, is running now through Saturday and TargetSolutions will be there when the exhibit hall opens Thursday. If you’d like to come by and check out TargetSolutions, the industry’s most powerful and innovative online training and records management system, please stop by booth No. 13040.

“We’re very excited to attend this conference,” said Vice President of Sales & Marketing Jon Kostyzak, “who will be handing out free swag (t-shirts) at the booth. This is one of the marquee events on our calendar. We see this event as a tremendous vehicle to discuss our platforms capabilities. FDIC is all about training and so are we.”

TargetSolutions will also be hosting a user workshop on Friday at 12:30 p.m. The special event, which is open to all current clients and prospects, will be held in the Santa Fe Room of the Indianapolis Marriot Downtown.

There will be free food and an up-close look at TargetSolutions’ cutting-edge platform that is revolutionizing the way departments approach training and recordkeeping.

“Whether you’re an existing client or just considering the platform, this will be a really beneficial event,” said Director of Client Services Jenny Cady Fergason. “We are going to spend a lot of time talking about how the platform is helping fire departments reduce costs, streamline operations and save time. We’re going to answer everyones questions, so this is really recommended for anyone considering TargetSolutions.”

“If you’d like to sign up for the event, please stop by booth No. 13040 for information or just show up to the Marriot Downtown on Friday,” Fergason said.

For more information on FDIC, please check online at

About TargetSolutions
TargetSolutions is the leading provider of web-based technology solutions for fire and EMS departments. These solutions enable departments to maintain compliance, reduce losses, deliver curriculum, and track all station-level tasks, certifications and training activities.

Who Says It Has to Be Difficult to Report for the ISO

If you’re like most training officers, you’ve had your share of headaches tracking and organizing training records in preparation for an audit by the Insurance Services Office (ISO). You know that if your records aren’t documented properly, you won’t receive credit from the ISO.

With TargetSolutions, everything is simplified.

TargetSolutions features powerful records management system functionality that will help your department achieve Class 1 status. The platform enables site administrators to easily and automatically accumulate the proper documentation making the entire process stress-free.

“TargetSolutions has created a records system that clearly allowed our organization to comply with our scheduled ISO audit in September of 2010,” said Guy Keirn, who is a training chief with Pinellas Park Fire Department in Florida. “The process of completing the training section of the report for ISO was seamless. We were able to extract all required information and complete a comprehensive report for the ISO inspector.”

TargetSolutions helps departments achieve greater efficiency with ISO tracking by providing access to premade, completely customizable training templates that were created specifically to report for the ISO. After training officers have delivered these activities to their employees, they can rest confidently knowing TargetSolutions’ industry-leading records management system will automatically track completions and eliminate the hassle of having to search through endless paper trails and stacks of training spreadsheets.

“ISO reports require a bunch of things, but one of the key things is training records,” said Cal Fire San Diego’s Fire Captain Dan Collins. “With the TargetSolutions system the battalion chief can easily pull out those training records. That’s a big help.”

In addition to easier tracking, final reports are comprehensive and will exceed the ISO’s expectations. Tim Riley, who is the chief of the Dunedin Fire Department in Florida, implemented TargetSolutions before his most recent fire department ISO audit and he reported back that ISO loved it.

“I absolutely endorse TargetSolutions,” Riley said. “With TargetSolutions you can easily track, assign and create a training program that is customized specifically to the needs of your own department. Tracking and standardizing firefighter training, whether for a recertification, a qualification, or ISO, has never been easier or more efficient than with our TargetSolutions system.”

About TargetSolutions
TargetSolutions is the leading provider of web-based technology solutions for fire and EMS departments. These solutions enable departments to maintain compliance, reduce losses, deliver curriculum, and track all station-level tasks, certifications and training activities.

With His Feet Missing His Motivation Returned: Are You in the Same Boat? Is It Time for a Gut Check?

Blog by Richard Blackmon
Captain, Fulton County Fire Rescue Department (Ga.)

I want to share a personal experience you may understand all too well. Recently, when I stepped out of the shower, I looked down and didn’t see my feet. You can imagine my horror. I began to panic, where did they go?

I started to look in the shower to see if they might have fallen off, but was scared to move in case I fell over. Standing there flustered and alarmed, I took a deep breath and slowly bent down to search for my missing feet. It only took a second to realize I did in fact still have feet, they were just hidden by my increasingly over-sized stomach.

What is the point of this you might ask? Well, I had become overweight and at that moment, I decided it was finally time to do something about it.

I am turning 51 years old this year and things need to change. With that in mind, I put a plan in place. I have had a treadmill for years and it has had many roles in my household, most notably, a holding area for my clothes and a storage area for my belongings. But I decided it was time to make that treadmill my best friend. After all, it just might be what saves my life.

My wife and I removed some of the clutter the treadmill was collecting, cleaned the dust away and plugged it in. I didn’t expect it to work, but after a few seconds it came back to life and I jumped on. It was tough at first, but you know what, it’s starting to get easier now.

Motivated with a goal in mind, I’m now ready for my next challenge: lifting weights. I’ve started working out on a daily basis and am walking two miles per day. It’s only been a few short weeks, but I already feel better.

I thought, as long as I am doing all of this exercising, eating better, etc., I might as well go all the way. I decided to make an appointment for my yearly physical.

Those of us serving as emergency responders have a demanding, stressful and important job. But if you look at the statistics, most firefighters don’t die in a burning building or at the scene of a natural disaster. They die from a heart attack. It’s time to take health and wellness safety for firefighters seriously.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be around for a long, long time. I want to continue my career and carry on helping the people of my community. I want to see my grandkids one day.

If you read this far, you may be like me. I hope you’ll take the time to do a self-analysis of your physical well-being. If you need to make some changes, there is no better time than now.

Be safe. Be healthy.

About the Author
Richard Blackmon is a captain with the Fulton County Fire Rescue Department in Fulton County, Georgia. He has worked in the fire service for more than 15 years and is a training officer for his department. He is an adjunct instructor with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center and the Department of Homeland Security as a terrorism awareness instructor. He retired from the US Air Force as a master sergeant and saw combat in Grenada, Panama and the first Gulf War.

Advice for Leaders in the Fire Service: Communicate with Your Rookies

Blog by Jacob Johnson
Lieutenant with Pearland Fire Department (Texas)

What’s the best way to handle a rookie who really isn’t a rookie? You know, someone who left another department and has arrived at your doorstep. These newcomers are rookies in your department and need to learn your department’s culture, but they are still skilled with some experience in the field.

How should we as officers handle these situations?

These individuals are a little different than the regular everyday rookie just off the street. These people require a certain kind of treatment that other trainees don’t. I have with this situation several times now. A rookie recently came to our department with four years of experience. He was starting to learn the Driver/Operator position at his previous department. Here is how I handled his assimilation, and though it may not be perfect, it seems to be working nicely:

First, I sat the rookie down on his first shift and explained my expectations. I wanted to make sure he found out what was expected from me, not someone else. Obviously, expectations for somebody with four years of experience are different than someone just out of fire school. Your rookie should be able to test out of basic skills very quickly and be comfortable testing on their first day if called upon. Once they clear all basic skills, then take those abilities and build on them.

Secondly, I explained that because of his previous experience, the rookie treatment would be reduced. That he would be given a little more wiggle-room than a typical rookie. I wanted to make sure he understood, however, if he ever slacked up, he was most definitely going to hear about it. Even with previous experience, newcomers need to have necessary expectations, duties and goals that all rookies need to live up to.

I have had this conversation with several newcomers to my crew and have seen tremendous results. By communicating effectively, the newcomers feel respect, while being made completely aware of what a new employee is expected to deliver.

The most important thing for just about any rookie, in just about every profession, is to be accepted by the crew. This is especially true in our line of work. Firefighters are known to eat their young and as officers we allow it because we believe it will pay dividends and make that one-time rookie into a seasoned professional. Very seldom do officers really need to get involved, anyway. Usually your crew will handle the rookie well before you need to. Just make sure they do it in the right way.

Treating a newcomer with some experience like he’s completely uninformed will cause them to shut down. We need to respect their experience. And the best way to receive respect is to give respect. It’s also equally important for rookies to respect the men and women who came before them. Communication is the key.

About the Author
Jacob Johnson is a lieutenant with the Pearland Fire Department in Texas. He has been in the fire service for more than 10 years.

The Ultimate Test of Leadership

Blog by Bill Sturgeon
Retired Division Chief of Training for Orange County Fire Rescue Department in Florida

At the age of 38, Scott Waddle was selected to become the commanding officer of USS Greeneville, an improved Los Angeles Class Fast Attack submarine stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Commander Waddle was selected from a highly competitive field of specially trained and exceptionally skilled naval officers. On board his new submarine, the challenges Waddle faced were staggering. Extremely low morale and an unacceptable turnover rate were two of the most pressing issues.

Few thought his ship could improve, but Waddle only became more resolved to prove the critics wrong. The solution was a system of beliefs that Waddle calls Deck Plate Leadership. Its a process of replacing command and control with commitment and cohesion by engaging the hearts, minds and loyalties of workers. By every measure, Waddles principles led to breakthrough results. Personnel turnover decreased to an unprecedented three percent. The rate of military promotions tripled and operating expenses were slashed by 25 percent. As a result, the USS Greeneville became regarded as the finest boat in the Pacific Fleet.

The ultimate test for Waddle and his shipmates followed a tragic accident when the Greeneville —  while at sea for a distinguished visitors day cruise — performed an emergency surface maneuver and collided with the Japanese fishing training vessel Ehime Maru, sinking the vessel in three minutes and killing nine aboard.

The story of the collision made global headlines and was the subject of heated discussion and debate. What followed, however, was even more unprecedented. Waddle, as the former commanding officer, took sole responsibility for his and his crews’ actions. He took the stand during the Navy’s Court of Inquiry and testified without immunity knowing his words could be used against him in a court martial. In a time when corporate executives have been quick to blame others within their organizations for their failures, Waddle demonstrated an uncommon strength of character, integrity and uncompromising ethical conduct by accepting responsibility for himself and the actions of his crew.

In the aftermath of the ordeal, Waddle shows us failure is not final and tells us there are no failures in life only mistakes, and from these mistakes, lessons.

What is deck plate leadership?

Let us start with a working definition of leadership.

Leadership is spoken of in various contexts. Sometimes it’s meant to describe the person in a position of authority and other times it is describing an ability to influence. Either way, a good definition of leadership would be to inspire a group of people to work together as a team and accomplish the impossible.

This is exactly what you are being asked to do every day as a fire officer. Our basic mission is to make a very bad day for someone better. But what are the characteristics of a good leader? Here are 20 characteristics of a leader:

1. Confident, but humble.

2. Demands excellence from himself and his crew.

3. Firm, but can relax and have fun doing the job.

4. Calm under pressure. Maintains focus.

5. Executes The 5 Best Principles. Be Positive. Be Specific. Be Consistent. Be Certain. Be Immediate.

6. Gives credit to teammates publicly.

7. Does not blame teammates or points fingers.

8. Knows the mission and the strengths and weakness of personnel and allows them to apply their skills.

9. Involves the entire team.

10. Sacrifices personal glory for the good of the crew.

11. Accepts that no one is perfect and that we all make mistakes. But also recognizes when a mistake has been made and learns from it.

12. Visible for everyone to see.

13. Leads by example, from the front.

14. Displays the values of honor, courage, and commitment.

15. Multi-tasks effectively.

16. Manages time efficiently.

17. Has excellent instincts and vision.

18. Makes sound, educated decisions and only takes calculated risks.

19. Vocal and points out where things aren’t happening correctly, but is not openly negative or pessimistic.

20. Inspires the crew to accomplish the impossible.

If you do not possess all of these attributes do not fret. They are all obtainable with a willingness to learn and a willingness to change. Let me sum up what Waddle would say your action plan should be every shift:

1. Get up, out of the chair!

2. Get down, on the floor to see whats going on!

3. Get dirty, do the job!

By applying lessons learned and developing your attributes as a leader, you will soon develop deck plate leadership.

EMS Agency in Pennsylvania Finds Value in TargetSolutions’ Web-Based Training System

cb-holy-spirit-ems-success-storyAs a leading provider of pre-hospital services in Pennsylvania, Holy Spirit EMS, formerly known as West Shore Emergency Medical Services, is committed to delivering top-notch assistance to its patients. To meet that goal, close to 200 employees from the agency need effective training. That’s why it turned to TargetSolutions back in 2002.

According to EMS Director Steve Poffenberger, the organization relies on TargetSolutions for three key reasons: Its comprehensive online training library, its password-protected File Center, and its unrivaled certification tracking capabilities.

Online Training: It’s critical that personnel with Holy Spirit EMS not only stay certified but exceptionally well trained to meet the demands of their profession. TargetSolutions’ variety of courses, quality of content and 24/7 system availability have gone a long way toward helping the agency meet its needs, Poffenberger said. Whether its Hazmat, Bloodborne Pathogens or a Human Resources topic such as Sexual Harassment, Holy Spirit EMS relies on TargetSolutions’ online training catalog to save time and money.

“I know for a fact we are saving money by doing it this route. It can be very time consuming and expensive scheduling instructor-led training for our employees. There are instructor costs, overtime costs, venue costs. The more we can push out this way the better.”

Steve Poffenberger, Holy Spirit EMS (Penn.)

TargetSolutions courses not only meet federal, state and local requirements, but they’re outstanding quality, according to the feedback Poffenberger has received. The training is definitely meeting our needs, Poffenberger said. Negative comments from our personnel are few and far between and our risk management, HR, and compliance departments have reviewed the course content and are very satisfied.

File Center: Having a centralized online location for storing files, documents, and videos has been beneficial for Holy Spirit EMS, Poffenberger said. The organization uploads internal resources, including instructional manuals, how-to videos and policies into the database and directs employees there for access.

“Having a place to store material is efficient,” Poffenberger said. “You can send things out by e-mail and that is all well and good, but what happens when you hire someone two weeks from now and they don’t have all that information? We direct our employees to go to the organizational File Center.”

Certification Tracker: There are many benefits to using TargetSolutions, but its powerful certification tracking capabilities might be the most valuable for Holy Spirit EMS. Poffenberger has loaded all of his personnel’s certifications into TargetSolutions and rests easy knowing the system will warn him and the employees when important expirations approach. Rather than tracking critical information with an Excel spreadsheet, Poffenberger relies on TargetSolutions’ automated alert system. Each month he runs a report to find out who has recertified and what further action is required.

“This is a huge time saver,” Poffenberger said. “Having the whole process automated helps a great deal. People often lose track of these types of things, but with TargetSolutions, they’re assured reminders at 90 days, 60 days and 30 days. They know they have to get out and get recertified. This has proven to be huge for us.”

After a decade on the platform, Holy Spirit EMS continues to believe in TargetSolutions. Poffenberger said he occasionally checks into alternatives on the market just to see what is out there, but he’s always reminded TargetSolutions is the industry’s leader.

“I’m often asked, how do you manage all those people?” Poffenberger said. “I just tell them, it’s simple we subscribe to TargetSolutions.”

  • Please click here to download this success story.

About TargetSolutions
TargetSolutions is the leading provider of web-based technology solutions for fire and EMS departments. These solutions enable departments to maintain compliance, reduce losses, deliver training and track all station-level tasks, certifications, and activities.

TargetSolutions Looking Forward to Upcoming Release of Mobile Application to Track Training Activities

It’s not the first time and it certainly wont be the last, but TargetSolutions is about to revolutionize the way fire departments complete recordkeeping activities.

Clients will soon be able to access a ground-breaking application for smartphones, including Apples iPhone, Googles Android and the markets other mobile devices. The original application, which is currently undergoing its final testing phase and is expected to be made available this spring, will give users the ability to complete self-assigned activities, view their assignment history and easily access their departments site through a web browser.

TargetSolutions began developing the application in late 2011 and has expedited its first version to be made available as soon as possible. “It’s the first step toward providing clients with a comprehensive mobile application to track training activities,” said Software Engineer Manager Dustyn Borghi.

“The completion of this mobile apps first version is very exciting,” Borghi said. “We are pushing our technology forward and this is the beginning of our mobile application development. This is really a stepping stone to providing our most powerful features. We are focused on getting this in our clients hands quickly and receiving their feedback on where it needs to go so we can continue to innovate in the right direction.”

Platform administrators will initially be able to make operational activities that are routinely tracked on the platform self-assignable so users can complete them without needing to access a computer.

“All across the country, millions of firefighters are constantly tracking equipment, vehicles, facilities, and much more, and they’re doing it with a clipboard, a piece of paper and a pen,” said TargetSolutions CEO Jon Handy. “With this new app, clients will be able to leverage technology to save time and money. We think this app is going to make our clients lives easier.”

About TargetSolutions
TargetSolutions is the leading provider of web-based technology solutions for fire and EMS departments. These solutions enable departments to maintain compliance, reduce losses, deliver curriculum, and track all station-level tasks, certifications and training activities.

Understanding Crew Resource Management

Blog by Brian Ward
Officer with Gwinnett County Fire Department in Georgia

The International Association of Fire Chiefs describes Crew Resource Management (CRM) as the effective management of all available resources to mitigate a situation while minimizing errors, improving safety and increasing performance. Five factors have been identified as major components in dealing with accidents. These same five factors make up the core of CRM. They include situational awareness, communication, decision making skills, teamwork, and safety barriers.

Situational Awareness
The first and arguably the most important component is situational awareness. Everything on an emergency incident functions and revolves around situational awareness, including our decision making on the fireground. Situational awareness is commonly referred to as the Big Picture. It also encompasses more than just the Big Picture.

In Gary Klein and Caroline E. Zsamboks Naturalistic Decision Making, situational awareness is broken down into three levels:

Level 1: Perception of the Elements in the Environment

Level 2: Comprehension of the Situation

Level 3: Projection of Future Status

For the fire service this translates to how we perceive incidents, being able to understand incidents and how factors are interrelated in accomplishing our goals and forecasting future factors of an incident.

If situational awareness is not the most important key to handling an incident, then it most certainly is communication. Without effective communication, nothing will be accomplished. The IAFC describes communication as the cornerstone of CRM. There are six keys areas to communication: sender, receiver, message, medium, filters and feedback. Its best to use face-to-face communication when possible, but radio is the only option most of the time. Regardless of the method, the six key areas must be understood and used in order for communication to work and the job to be completed. Within these six key areas there are several other items that need to be addressed. The first is simply being clear and concise. Say what you mean and give enough detail, but don’t overload the individuals working memory space.

Below is a prime example from Gary Klein’s Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions on how even great leaders can make a communication mistake:

During World War II, Winston Churchill gave the order to not engage with warships that were larger and that could destroy their individual ships. What he meant was do not try and take on ships larger than theirs and lose. Consequently, one of his admirals had surrounded an enemy warship but let it go because it was larger and he did not want any trouble with his superiors. This was not the intent of Churchill’s letter to the admiral, but because of unclear communication, it happened. That same warship went on to destroy some of Britain’s ships, playing a significant role against the British during the war.

Decision Making
Situational awareness is vital to how we make decisions. One recent study examining military fighter pilots showed their decisions were directly based on how they perceived situations. They may have made the right call for their perception of the incident, but they didn’t perceive the situation correctly, so they failed.

In essence, having a strong background in situational awareness can help us make decisions within our limited scope of time. In conjunction with situational awareness, our incident commanders need accurate information relayed back to them to establish strategies and tactics. Once this has occurred, the leader can make a sound decision that will have a positive outcome on the incident.

In recent studies in the field of Naturalistic Decision Making, making decisions in a natural setting (real-life environment) has brought forward several considerations for training to be designed around, including mental simulation, pattern matching, story building and the power of intuition.

Each of these plays a part in how our brain relates to what is in front of us and how we make decisions. Nothing can replace on-scene experience, but that is not always something we can control. With this information, we have found the need for more training.

Using scenario-based or tactical decision games is a great way for a firefighter to begin to build patterns and stories of how to operate at an incident, without actually being on scene to learn. Mental simulation and intuition will only come once we show a complete understanding of how one factor relates to the next even when it’s not directly in front of us.

How often do we actually train or perform as a team? How often do we actually examine what we do as a team that makes us function effectively or fail? As firefighters we train constantly to function as part of a team; however, do we always carry that to the field?

When a team has worked together and has bonded, it functions smoothly. One key in reaching this goal is communicating suggestions and concerns to other team members. Mutual respect among team members is essential for it to excel.

Barriers or Safety Nets
Barriers or safety nets are put in place so that when we make a mistake, something is there to catch us. No matter who we are, how much training or education we have received, how much experience we’ve gained, or how many awards we have garnered, at some point we are going to make a mistake. The key is to understand our weaknesses and to avoid repeating the same mistake.

Barriers can come in the many different forms. Some of the obvious ones are SOPs/SOGs, effective training, core competency books, updated equipment and increased use of technology. Other barriers could include establishing Incident Safety Officers on all scenes, establishing RIC teams with proper resources and staffing, providing acting and company officers training, and offering drivers training programs.

One other area that can be of great benefit is the use of checklists and worksheets to help the officers on scene such as Incident Commander, Safety Officer, Rehab Group Supervisor and RIC Group Team Leader. Checklists can help remind the officers of the tasks to be completed, benchmarks, safety concerns and crew locations. However, with all great things there are downfalls.

We still have not found a way to checklist or talk a fire out. It’s important to remember that the checklist is only as effective as the expertise of the individual using it. We must still train and educate the same as before and still allow officers the discretion to change the plan of the checklist as they see fit. Each of these key areas has a place in every fire stations training schedule. The ability to understand how to correlate and implement these components into our training will translate to increased efficiency and safety on the fire ground.

About the Author
Brian Ward is an engineer/acting officer with Gwinnett County Fire Department in Georgia. He is a past training officer, chairman of the Metro Atlanta Training Officers and currently serves on the Honeywell Advisory Council. He is a State of Georgia Advocate for Everyone Goes Home and the Membership Task Force Co-Chair and Live Fire Instructor for ISFSI. Brian was recently awarded the National Seal of Excellence from the NFFF/EGH.

Is It Time to Arm Our EMTs

Story by Tim Holman
Chief, German Township Fire & EMS

According to the department of labor, 52 percent of EMTs in the field have been assaulted. This statistic is even more alarming when we see the increase of ambushes on first responders. In recent years we have seen EMTs shot and killed while trying to perform emergency care. These incidents are increasing each year.

Due to media bias toward guns, the idea of arming EMTs for self-defense and protection will receive much scrutiny. But times are changing and civil unrest is increasing. More people are becoming desperate and more people resent figures of authority.

Some argue we should just wait for law enforcement to clear the scene before entering. Unfortunately law enforcement is experiencing staffing issues just like others in public safety. How will waiting 30 or 40 minutes to enter a home to treat a patient stand up in court? Many systems, when dispatched to a drug overdose, rely on law enforcement to clear the scene before entering. This is a wise and proactive approach for keeping our EMTs safe. But suppose you are called to such a scene and the patient is not breathing. You stage your unit away from the scene and wait for your local police. Unfortunately all their units are tied up and the ETA is 20 to 30 minutes. You wait and the patient dies. The family sues you because you made no attempt to determine if the scene was safe. They argue the patient was unresponsive and of no danger to anyone. Do you really think that a jury would rule in the favor of the EMS?

What about routine calls that deteriorate into violent situations? Retreat? And what if you do not have time? Is that just the risk associated with the job? No, that is unacceptable. Our constitution states we have a right to bear arms for personal protection. That right should not end just because you are now at work.

Some may argue there are many EMTs who should not be allowed to carry a gun. The same can be said about some law enforcement officials I know. No one can convince me we cannot train EMTs in tactical skills. We teach them to start IVs, intubate, deliver medications, and many other difficult tasks.

Why can’t we train them to carry a gun for protection? Not to arrest people. Not to be a cop, but to be able to enter a scene and clear it for safety.

In 2009 the FBI estimates that more than 2 million crimes were stopped by law-abiding citizens with concealed handguns. Of these it is estimated that fewer than 100 shots were fired.

Before arming EMTs they must be trained in tactical techniques in clearing a scene, carrying a gun in deep concealment, de-escalating a violent encounter and various other skills. And yes some may not be allowed to carry if they cannot qualify appropriately. At the very least we should consider arming at least on individual on each EMS crew.

There are some negative consequences in arming EMTs. Our image may change. Some people think guns are evil. Public education would be needed to combat this. Some advocate using deep concealment and not publicizing that EMTs are armed. Another drawback may be the liability insurance. Training and qualifying may help reduce this challenge.

By the way, if you are still thinking this is a crazy concept, consider several cities have already passed ordinances to allow EMTs to carry handguns while on duty. Another city in the west has made it policy that no EMS crew leaves the station without someone on the crew being armed. This policy originated after several of their female crews were dispatched on false calls to lure them into homes.

Most people will have very strong feelings about this concept. Talk about it. Think about it. Consider other options. But we must stop the senseless killings of EMTs trying to serve their communities.

About the Author
Tim Holman is a seminar speaker who has conducted programs throughout the United States. Holman speaks and trains on a variety of business, fire and EMS management and leadership issues. Holman specializes in providing fire and EMS officer development programs. Holman was the Fire Chief magazine “Fire Chief of the Year” for 2002.