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Developing Meta-Awareness Is Vital in Maintaining Situational Awareness

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway
Retired Fire Chief and Web Master for Situational Awareness Matters

One of the situational awareness best practices I share with first responders is the need to develop meta-awareness. Most responders, including me before I immersed myself into the study of brain science, do not understand the concept of meta-awareness, yet it’s a critical component in the development and maintenance of your personal situational awareness.

Meta-awareness means to be consciously aware of your situational awareness. You’re probably still thinking, Huh? What does THAT mean?

Simply this: When you’re operating in the environment of high-risk and high-consequence at an emergency scene with changing conditions and immense amounts of work to be done, you can, quite simply, lose track of whether or not you are maintaining your situational awareness.

Maybe stated another way, you get so busy doing stuff that you don’t think about what is required to develop and maintain situational awareness. And then, before you realize it it’s gone and that may set you on the fast track to a near-miss or a casualty incident.

So how do you develop meta-awareness? You do it by first understanding what situational awareness is. This lesson is rarely taught in first responder training programs. When it is taught instructors rarely provide a thorough explanation because they don’t understand the complexities of situational awareness. I don’t blame the instructors. Most of them, well intended as they are, were not adequately taught about the complexities of situational awareness. So they tell us to Pay attention!

Once you understand what situational awareness is, the next lesson is to understand how you develop it. Then the next lesson is to understand how you lose it. And the final lesson is to understand how you get it back if you do lose it.

Meta-awareness is rooted in the first two lessons: Understanding what situational awareness is and how you develop it. Here is the abbreviated lesson and I do mean abbreviated. It takes me a full day in the classroom to teach this so be cautious about thinking this summary will do it for you.

Situational awareness is being able to see the bad things coming in time to change the outcome. You do this by capturing clues and cues in your environment, comprehending what they mean in context and using your understanding of the current situation to make accurate predictions about future events.

Flawed situational awareness is a big deal for first responders. In fact, it’s the biggest deal! Look at near-miss and casualty reports and you will see it or something similar like miscommunication implicated over and over again. Yet, so many first responders don’t know how to fix the problem. Fixing that problem is my mission. Please let me know how I can help.

About the Author
Dr. Gasaway is widely considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and decision-making processes used by first responders. In addition to more than 30 years in the fire service, including 22 as a fire chief, Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. His website Situational Awareness Matters (www.SAMatters.com) has enjoyed more than a million visits since its launch in October of 2011. He can be reached via e-mail at Support@RichGasaway.com or (612) 548-4424.

 

Hands On Training is Critical to Effectiveness on the Fireground

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

When learning new skills and techniques, it’s important to put our hands on the tools we are expected to use. Reading, discussing and drawing on the white board can be great learning tools. But there is much more we need to be doing.

During a recent shift, my firehouse conducted a walk-through of one of our high-rise structures. After looking at all of the nuisances and special items related to this structure, we conducted a scenario.

In theory, the strategy and tactics portion of the initial assignments high-rise incident is clear such as connecting to the standpipe and stretching a hoseline down the hall. However, after conducting this drill, several things needed to be discussed with the company officers. Some of the items found are mentioned below.

The first thing we looked at was simply putting enough of the right equipment on the right floor. This particular scenario had fire showing on the seventh floor with standpipes in each stairwell. The recon team found the fire in the center room of the seventh floor. The first item was humping the hose up to the seventh floor in a timely manner.

This feat is simple enough when drawing it up on a white board. But is your crew physically capable of completing this task? This may prove to be more taxing than anticipated. This is the same crew that must initiate fire attack.

The second item brought to our attention was the standard hose lay, which is 155 feet and 2.5 inches, was just short of the center of the structure from both stairwells. By adding an additional 50 feet to the hose, it was able to reach all the respective rooms. Adding the additional hose corrected the length problem, but the extra equipment has to be carried and deployed.

The third item was actually stretching a hoseline. We now know the length that we need, but how many people will we need and how difficult stretching a hoseline up to the stairwell above, back down and then out into the hall will be? Our standard operating procedures state that a minimum of six personnel must be assigned to this task.

Another item related to this is how the crew will actually store the extra hose in the stairwell until its deployed down the hallway. The extra hose makes it difficult to deploy with occupants evacuating. It can become a tripping hazard for occupants and firefighters.

These are just a few of the items we found that required additional discussion once we put our hands on them. When discussing similar items, we generally leave it to the notion we will just make it happen if the time comes.

Not only is this not practical, its dangerous and should not be a part of our strategy and tactics manual. This scenario happened to be held inside of a high-rise structure; however, it could have been a single-family residential structure.

This proved to be a very good refresher for some of us and a great learning tool for our new firefighters, which is the majority of our crew. Actually using the tools and practicing the skills will make us proficient and keep us safe. We train because we never know when we will run the call, just as we didn’t know that later this same night we would be the first at a high-rise fire.

As always train hard, take care and be safe.

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.

Technology Creates New Opportunities for Educational Growth in the Fire Service

Blog by Eddie Buchanan
Past President of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors

Technology is a vehicle to assist in the learning process and I believe there’s a change coming in regards to education and growth in the fire service. Technology is a portal to a new way of thinking about education. We use the term flipping the classroom.

What used to be homework is now pre-work. Before the class session, a student can do pre-work at home which is now the lecture, and the technology is the vehicle to get that information to them before they go to the classroom. Now, when the student physically shows up, they can focus on discussion or hands-on application of the new material. TargetSolutions is a great example. TargetSolutions provides that vehicle to be able to flip the learning environment.

Being able to do this requires a whole new set of skills for instructors. Rather than an instructor standing in front of a PowerPoint screen and lecturing and doing an instructor-centered type of delivery it’s now a student-centered delivery, which requires a different skill set.

It’s now about discussion and facilitation, and getting our students to work as peers together. As instructors, it’s about facilitating the learning. So, it’s a completely different type of environment and skill set instructors are looking at over the next 10 years.

About the Author
Chief Eddie Buchanan began his fire service career in 1982 and currently serves as the operations division chief for Hanover (Va.) Fire & EMS. Chief Buchanan is author of the “Volunteer Training Officers Handbook” from Pennwell Books and Videos and lectures throughout the country on fire service leadership and training topics. Chief Buchanan served as President of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors.

 

The Dozen That Make a Difference

Courtesy of Dennis Rubin
Editor of FireRube.com and Former Fire Chief

Being chosen fire chief is an emotional thing. You feel tremendous pride for the achievement, but that slowly fades into an overwhelming sense of responsibility. The City of Dothan, Alabama announced me as its fire chief Jan. 2, 1996. I was tasked with overseeing the departments 144 members. Later in my career, I was named Chief in Washington D.C. where I commanded a staff of more than 2,000 employees and managed an annual budget of more than $180 million.

This article takes a quick look at 12 key traits needed as a commanding officer. These rules can be studied in greater detail in my new book, Rubes Rules for Leadership. Those preparing for higher levels within the fire service despite rank or position can benefit from these recommendations:

Be Nosy: Upon arrival, develop a list of critical items and issues that must be addressed to improve efficiency and success. It is essential to continuously follow up on the various system checks and confirmations to help ensure nothing goes wrong.

Be A Good Communicator: Good communication during situations, emergencies or non- emergencies, is vital as a commanding officer. An introductory presentation should be conducted to state organizational goals, objectives, personal philosophy and rules on how the department will be run.

Be Patient: Its valuable to understand that not everyone within the department mirrors the pace of a proven fire chief. Everyone within the system is willing to make contributions to the overall goals of the department in their own way and at their own pace, no drastic change happens overnight.

Be Prepared: Since 1971, education requirements as a career firefighter have shifted, from possible completion of high school to a top job requiring a bachelors degree or higher. Through continuing training and education, a fire chief must always be prepared for whatever comes their way.

Be Honest, Direct and Clear: Maintaining public trust is the most critical and crucial task as a government official. The truth is not always pleasant but its a chiefs duty to be honest.

Learn New Systems: Immerse yourself in new systems to help improve your departments work agency. There are few members who just know how to make most systems work properly; quickly learn who these people are and distribute information and tasks accordingly.

Role-Model Behaviors: As a commanding officer, every muscle moved and action taken is being observed by your department. The best test to apply to your every day actions is the Momma Test. Ask yourself, what would your mother say about your behavior?

Be A Lifelong Learner: The firefighting career requires a brief period of intensive training that only begins the need for continuous education. There is an ongoing need to stay current with the changing environment that exists all around us; therefore, we must continue our learning and growth within the community.

Community Involvement: Fire chiefs are greatly appreciated within any community and therefore should involve themselves. Many opportunities can be found among various groups seeking information about fire and accident prevention.

Departmental Involvement: It is critically important that you are involved in all aspects of your departments activities. Maintaining involvement with stations through informational visits will help to improve overall department success.

Develop Members: Fire-rescue officers have a huge responsibility to develop their members abilities and maintain compliance. A lot of departments are choosing to decrease costs and use online and other computer-based training programs, which is smart. In order to build the most successful training system, consider all delivery methods.

Network: In order to have the best input on planning and decision making a chief should be effective at networking. A chief that stays connected within the department, community, region and industry so they are well equipped with the widest network to attain the best insight possible.

For more on Rubes Rules for Leadership, please check online at www.firerube.com.

About the Author
Dennis Rubin is the former chief of the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Chief Rubin graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Administration from the University of Maryland. He is the author of a book entitled “Rube’s Rules for Leadership” and is a long-standing contributing editor for FIREHOUSE magazine. Rubin can be followed on twitter @chiefrubin.

Hospital Tells EMS Remove Your Gloves Before Entering

Blog by Katherine West
Infection Control Consultant

This may just be the beginning of medical facilities observing EMS practices. Recently, a hospital in Colorado notified the EMS system that they were not to wear their gloves into the medical facility. The rationale for this request was that EMS might be bringing organisms into the hospital. Is this a real issue? Or, is the medical facility off-base?

Think about it. Most services are putting on gloves when tones go off and do not change or remove them after patient care. That means that they are contaminated. An EMS crew could be bringing C-diff or MRSA into the medical facility. If the patient is diagnosed with the infection after admission it could be deemed a Hospital Associated Infection (HAI). This would have a monetary effect on the medical facility as well as a being a medical care issue for the patient. There was never a need to wear gloves for all patient contact. Not from OSHA and not from the CDC. OSHA states that glove use was to be practical and feasible. There is no need to live in your gloves! Remember, your skin and basic hand washing are your major protection.

About two years ago, the Center for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) sent out letters to all the medical facilities in the country advising them that they would not be receiving government reimbursement for some HAIs. So, it is easy to see why medical facilities are looking closely at sources for infection and ways to reduce in incident rate for HAIs. They will be looking closely at how EMS is performing in the areas of proper use of personal protective equipment and cleaning of vehicles and equipment. EMS participation in vaccine/immunization programs will also be an area of review.

Many facilities will not allow EMS personnel in training to do clinical rotations if they have signed declination forms. Others have required EMS personnel to wear surgical masks if they declined influenza vaccine. Times they are changing!

About the Author
Katherine West is an expert in the field of infection control. Shes worked in the industry since 1975 and has served as a consultant to the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. She authored Infectious Disease Handbook for Emergency Care Personnel and is a well-traveled lecturer and author.

You Don’t Have Just One Situational Awareness, You Have Three

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway

Situational awareness is developed from capturing clues and cues in your environment — perception. Then you strive to understand what those clues and cues mean — comprehension. Once you have done that, the highest level of situational awareness is developed from making predictions of future events — projection. Perception, comprehension and projection are the foundation of situational awareness.

Responders seeking to develop and maintain situational awareness will benefit from understanding there are three distinctly different, yet equally important situational awarenesses: Personal, Team and Incident.

Personal
Personal situational awareness achieved by developing and maintaining an awareness of your personal abilities and inabilities, your strengths and weaknesses, your knowledge and deficiencies, your motivators, fears and phobias. In other words, making an honest assessment of yourself. This allows you to predict the future of your success and the areas where your success may be challenged.

Team
Team (or Company if you prefer) situational awareness is achieved by developing and maintaining and awareness of the same criteria listed above for personal awareness, just applied to all members of your team. This allows you improve your understanding and expectation of success and challenges that your team may experiences.

Incident
The final awareness is incident-wide awareness. This awareness comes from understanding you, and your team, are only one component of a larger system working in unison to accomplish a common goal. This awareness helps ensure all individuals and teams are operating in a coordinated way.

Firefighters should discuss, in advance, how to develop and maintain situational awareness. These discussions should address how situational awarenesses are lost and how they are regained if they are lost.

About the Author
Dr. Gasaway is widely considered to be one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and decision making processes used by first responders. In addition to his 30+ year career in the fire service (including 22 years as a fire chief), Dr. Gasaway has a second passion: Uncovering and applying research in brain science for the benefit of first responders. He can be reached at Support@RichGasaway.com.

Incident Commanders: Getting Eyes on the Problem

Blog by Ed Hadfield
www.firetowntrainingspecialist.com

Incident Commanders are often tasked with taking command of an active incident that has developed prior to their arrival. I’m sure all of us have been exposed to those that have called a second alarm from the bunk room based upon reports from dispatch only to discover it was a dumpster fire behind an industrial building, not actually a working fire in an industrial building.

We use this as an analogy to shed light on actions based upon perception, not actions based upon reality.

Individuals who lack the basic understanding of fire ground functions will often base their decisions on a limited view of the situation, rather than a comprehensive view. This is why the old “capture a 360-degree of the structure philosophy” becomes an important ingredient to our success model.

It’s important for all officers in command to capture a complete “360″or delegate to another qualified officer to acquire accurate feedback on the conditions of the structure and the growth of the incident during the first few minutes while establishing an action plan.

This continuous analysis of the situation must become a component of the overall action plan. Adjustments may need to be made based upon feedback received or the evidence visualized. Remember, the building has seven sides, the four exterior walls, the roof, the basement (if applicable) and the interior.

This information will allow you and others the basis to establish a comprehensive and plan for the incident. Equally important is structure identification and understanding building and rescue profiles, as part of the foundation of effective operations on the fire ground.

Given the dynamics of today’s fires and the events of extreme fire behavior in which we operate, the understanding of Hostile Event Recognition, and the understanding of pressure as it relates to rapid fire progression, is important information to be relayed to the incident commander. Particularly in high-volume, big box and wide-rise type structures where hostile events occur in the overhead at explosive levels that can create structural failure in the roof assembly.

As mentioned, the fire ground functions on seven sides. One critical area that is often overlooked is the placement of personnel on the roof of the structure to give the Incident Commander a realistic look from above. Placing personnel on the roof of a structure will provide information to the Incident Commander in order to determine the ability to remain in the offensive position, or take a defensive posture on the fire.

Remember, “If it’s unsafe to be on the roof, it’s unsafe to be under the same roof. This is not to say all occupancies will receive the vertical ventilation treatment. However, Incident Commanders will do themselves a great service by getting a good read on the structure and eyes on the fire by going top-side.

About the Author
Ed Hadfield has more than 26 years of fire service experience after rising through the ranks from firefighter to division chief. He is a frequent speaker on leadership, sharing his experiences within the fire service and also with corporate and civic leaders throughout the United States. For more on Hadfield, please check online at www.firetowntrainingspecialist.com.

 

Is it Time to Look Under Your Organization’s Hood

By Doug Cline
Vice President of ISFSI

An ill-maintained vehicle is an accident waiting to happen, right? We all know it takes more than just satisfactory driving skills to keep drivers from having accidents on our roadways. For drivers to be safe, vehicles need to be in excellent working condition. The tires need tread, the engine needs oil and the brakes need pads for everything to run smoothly.

It makes sense, then, that if you want your organization to run like a well-oiled automobile, it needs to be treated like one. And now may be the time to look under your organization’s hood to make sure there is no damage to your hoses and belts or in this case, personnel, policies, equipment, operating guidelines, etc.

If it’s your first time to check under your organization’s hood, you’ll probably be unfamiliar with all the numerous parts inside your organization. But if you make it a frequent practice to check on how everything is working, you’ll be able to instantly identify all the different issues and problems. It’s a good idea to procure a model and use it to evaluate any loose connections that might have occurred in your organization.

One common model that is recognized throughout the fire service is the Center for Public Safety Excellences Commission on Fire Accreditation International. Even if you are not looking to become an accredited organization, the self-assessment approach has proven solid.

There are numerous practical benefits your agency will see in utilizing a self-assessment program. The hardest component is to be honest in your assessment. If done properly, the self-conducted performance evaluation will result in increased efficiency for your organization, provided the findings are applied to the planning and implementation of activities.

Here are some of the benefits to conducting a self-assessment for fire departments:

>> Quality improvement through a continuous self-assessment process

>> Providing a detailed evaluation of the services it provides to the community

>> Identifying strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in the organization

>> A methodology for building on strong points and addressing deficiencies

>> Providing for department growth for programs, services and member capabilities

>> Fostering pride in an organization, from department members, community leaders and citizens

Through self-assessment, a systematic evaluation can be completed to determine what is currently happening in the organization. From there, you can determine whether or not the organization is meeting its goals, commensurate with its responsibilities.

The assessment process is astounding in the clarity it brings an organizations leaders and members not only regarding how the organization currently works, but how the various parts are interrelated and its overall state of health. The most important thing to come out of a self-assessment for fire departments, however, is discovering what needs to be done to make improvements. With this information in hand, you will be able to target and prioritize opportunities for change.

About the Author
Douglas Cline, a 32-year veteran and student of the Fire Service, serves as assistant chief of operations with Horry County Fire Recue (S.C.). Cline, a former fire chief, is a North Carolina Level II Fire Instructor, National Fire Academy Instructor and an EMT-Paramedic instructor for the North Carolina Office of Emergency Medical Services. Chief Cline is the President of the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs (SEAFC), a member of the North Carolina Society of Fire and Rescue Instructors and the1st Vice President International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI). Cline serves on the FEMA grant criteria development committee, Congressional Fire Service Institute (CFSI) National Advisory Committee and peer reviewer for the Fire Act Grants.

 

Duties of a Training Officer: Never Stop Experimenting

Blog by Brian Ward
Chief of Emergency Operations, Training Director for Georgia Pacific, Madison, Ga.

I recently had the opportunity to manage the Training Officers Desk Reference for a Jones and Bartlett publication. Despite having been a training officer for a few years, I had never really considered all the various areas a training officer must be versed. As I reviewed this process and determined the critical areas to focus on, it was amazing to recollect the amount of knowledge and aptitude that accompany this role.

As a training officer, you have a responsibility to exhibit solid interpersonal skills, computer skills, knowledge of performance metrics, generational issues, alternative-learning methods, strategic planning, investigations and budgets, just to name a few.

How can one person be proficient in all of these areas? The answer is continuous education and experimentation. Continuous education is easy. We have to constantly be willing to learn new methods and research technological advancements. However, the experimenting aspect can be much more difficult.

We should never experiment during investigations and budgets; however we can experiment with alternative learning methods such as computer-based learning, tactical decisions games, conferences and more. We can also experiment with altering classes based on the generations served inside and outside of the classroom.

As a training officer, we have to be willing to try these new methods. Some will work, some will not, but you will learn from your experiences. This, in conjunction with your continuous education will prove to be extremely valuable with your influence inside your department and within your region.

It will also lend credibility and respect for your programs and classes as your students will respect your efforts to provide information in new and enlightening ways.

As always, train hard, take care and be safe.

About the Author
Brian Ward is the chief of emergency operations and training director for Georgia Pacific, Madison, Ga. He is a past training officer for Gwinnett County, Ga., 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 ISFSI Board of Directors Director At Large and Lead Live Fire Credentialing Instructor. Brian was recently awarded the National Seal of Excellence from the NFFF/EGH. He has an associate’s degree in fire science and a Fire Safety and Technology Engineering Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Cincinnati. He is the founder of FireServiceSLT.com and Georgia Smoke Diver #741.

 

Taking the Right Steps at a Hazmat Incident

Blog by Michael de Guzman
Captain, San Diego Fire-Rescue

If you come up on a hazmat incident, you need to know what to do or better yet, you need to know what not to do. What I tell people is to keep things basic and know your limits.

In the fire service, acronyms are often used to help first responders remember response actions. For Hazmat incidents remember S.I.N.

S
Safety
I
Isolate
N
Notify

Lets break each item of SIN during Hazmat Incidents:

Safety: Your first thought in everything you do should always be safety. To ensure a safe response, its good to assume the worst. Remember to take account of all information given on the dispatch. Make sure you consider all of the environmental factors on your approach to the scene and protect yourself with PPE (personal protective equipment).

Responding upwind, uphill and upstream with the windows up and HVAC shut off on the apparatus
will assure no exposure to responding units. Additionally, using SCBA (self contained breathing apparatus) will assure firefighter safety. Inhalation is the No. 1 cause of exposure so be sure to take these precautions.

Isolate: Its critical to restrict the entry inside the perimeter of the release, known as the Hot Zone. Perimeters are determined using the Emergency Response Guidebook. Isolate any contaminated victims within the perimeter until they may be decontaminated by properly protected personnel.

Firefighters in PPE and SCBA should have a hose line outside the Hot Zone and be ready to decontaminate victims or personnel as needed. Firefighters should avoid any contact with product and decontaminate themselves if necessary by using ample amounts of water.

Removing clothing eliminates 90 percent of the contamination from victims. But preventing the spread of a product can be very challenging since victims tend to flee the scene to seek emergency care or proceed home. Contamination beyond the incident of origin may compromise an ambulance and hospital. Obviously, it can harm people if infected. A useful tool is the Public Address (PA) system on the apparatus. Use it to give victims instructions from a distance while staying protected inside your rig.

Notification: Notify the proper resources to respond to the incident. Typically, its the Hazardous Materials Team that is the priority notification. Notifying the Hazmat Team will get the resources needed for these responses.

First Responder Operational (FRO) firefighters are not trained to the level of hazmat mitigation. The response requires equipment and expertise that only the hazmat team can deliver. First responders usually do not have proper training, capabilities and equipment, so its important that they don’t jeopardize themselves by trying to do too much.

Remembering S.I.N. during initial response will help ensure hazmat incidents are properly handled.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on TargetSolutions’ Command Post website on Oct. 28, 2010.

About the Author
Michael de Guzman has worked with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department for the majority of his 20-plus years in the fire service. He is a Hazmat instructor with a degree in economics from the University of California San Diego.