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Why Firefighters Should Complete a Thorough Size-Up at Every Fire Incident

Completing Fire Incident Size-Ups
Performing a size-up during a dynamically changing event like a structure fire is essential. Information is changing so rapidly that your brain can quickly become overloaded while trying to process and comprehend information.

Blog by Richard B. Gasaway, CFO, EFO, Fire Chief (ret.)

During my fireground situational awareness classes, I talk about the process for making high-stress, high-consequence decisions. The first step in this process is initially performing a rapid size-up. When I ask participants how long they take to size-up a single-family residential dwelling fire with no exposures, the answer I get ranges anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds.

Then I challenge the group why they don’t take 5 to 10 minutes to make such a critical, high-risk decision. The answer I most typically get is “Because the building will burn down.” This may be true. From the perspective of brain science, the timeframe is the same, but the explanation is much different.

Performing a rapid size-up during a dynamically changing event like a structure fire is essential. Not because the building will burn down if more time is taken (though, as I noted, that may happen). Rather, it’s because in a dynamic event, the information is changing so rapidly that your brain will quickly become overloaded trying to process and comprehend information.

Think about it this way: If I gave you a sequence of seven random two-digit numbers over the course of a thirty second period of time, and asked you to recall the fifth number in the sequence, you’d probably be able to recall it with ease.

But, if I gave you a list of seven different, random two-digit numbers numbers every 30 seconds over the course of five minutes, and then asked you to remember the 18th number I gave you, your performance would likely be abysmal. Why? Information overload. Under stress, you’ll do better when you process small amounts of information versus large amounts of information over a longer period of time.

Think back to the early decision maker of our species, the cave dweller. Their genetic encoding of how to survive in high-stress, high-consequence environments is the same genetic encoding you have in your DNA. Imagine the cave dweller is out on the daily hunt for food. A predator is fast approaching and it’s game on. The “Fight or Flight” response engages.

The cave dweller is going to have a bunch of clues and cues to process in a compressed amount of time. But there’s really only a handful of clues that are going to be important to survival, perhaps five to seven, but definitely not dozens or hundreds. And while the scene is rapidly unfolding, it’s all going to be over quickly … perhaps in 10 to 30 seconds. The size-up must be rapid and accurate. Sounds a lot like a fireground size-up, doesn’t it? Your genetic engineering is working in your favor when it comes to making an accurate, timely incident scene size-up.

The secondary size-up is as important as the primary. Again, there is a misconception the secondary size-up is to capture what may have been missed in the primary. And while this may have an element of truth, from the perspective of situational awareness, the secondary size-up serves a completely separate, yet critically important role.

The secondary size-up should take considerable more time. Two to three minutes is not out of the realm of possibility. In addition to capturing clues and cues that confirm or refute the intuition of your initial size-up, the secondary size-up is your first opportunity to develop “Level 3 Situational Awareness” and predict future events.

The ability to predict future events is a catastrophically important the skillset for a commander or company officer. To predict where the event is going, and how fast it’s going to get there, you must first understand the SPEED at which the incident is moving. And every dynamic incident scene has a speed.

The secondary size-up, conducted over a minute or two, allows you better assess the speed of the incident, as you watch conditions change over a minute or two. Armed with that information, you can now make reasonable predictions as to whether the resources you have on hand are going to be able to outmaneuver the incident based on it’s speed.

About the Author

Dr. Gasaway is widely considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and the human factors that complicate first responder decision making. In addition to his 30-plus years 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. His website, Situational Awareness Matters ( welcomes 50,000 visitors a month from 156 countries. He can be reached via e-mail at

How Effective Coaching Can Help Employees Thrive

Effective Coaching Helps Employees Thrive
Effective coaching can have a huge impact on the success of an organization.

Blog by Peter Dove

Shared Values Associates

Breakthroughs in innovation come from new thought. Henry Flagler gave John D. Rockefeller invaluable insight that made Standard Oil possible, which in 1879 produced 90 percent of the refined oil in the U.S. Tim Paterson made it possible with his Windows innovation to make Bill Gates one of the richest and influential men in history. Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples had Butch Harmon and Ford had Harry Levinson. Coaching is concerned with innovation, development and the facilitation of new thought. W. Edwards Deming said, “Nothing changes without personal transformation.”

As you see on the International Coach Federation’s website, there are a number of different kinds of coaching within this field; business, internal, leadership, life vision and executive coaching to name a few.  When selecting a coach it makes best sense that the coach be in compliance with the 11 core competencies the ICF has defined as best practice. The ICF is the coaching organization that is recognized worldwide as the standard in this space.

Coaching constitutes an ongoing conversation that empowers a person or team to fully live out their calling – in their life and profession.

For a leader, the chief outcome of executive coaching is to manifest high performing direct reports and then mobilize, lead and guide those people to a keen internal vision. For either the leader or the key person with few or no direct reports, coaching allows for enlightenment followed by action. The idea is for the participant through expert prompting to listen to the inner self in order to develop insight and understanding since most often they do have the answers. Then the participant can take specific action to reshape their life around that learning to, among other important things, facilitate a culture of high performance, which is an essential role of an executive.

Coaching is for those executives who are in ascension, often referred to as “High Potentials.” It is also for solid performers, whom one would like to reward. Coaching is also for those in regression, who are successful in certain aspects of their job but struggle in others.  The coaching relationship is expected to produce insights, greater personal awareness, changed behaviors, actions, and ultimately results that are satisfactory to the participant, their direct reports, and the expectations set by the organization.

Much is expected of the participant in this coaching process. Self-evaluation, reasoning, imagination, making decisions about a new direction, courage to look at and own faults as well as courage to own successes all resulting in significant behavior change toward established goals. The point of this exercise is implementation of new insight and behavior in order to move to the next level. The focus of executive coaching is on the participant – their goals, their learning and their growth. The participant’s accountability is a willingness to learn, change and grow.

Coaching is learning – rather than teaching.

The Participant is the expert on their life. Coaching techniques such as active listening, open questions, encouragement, and best practices management training where needed and challenging the participant are used. The coach is supportive and assists in discovering insights, facilitates change and next steps.

Coaching is action.

There are a number of models but often there are 10 or so one hour sessions, two weeks apart. In a session the participant determines 1-3 actions steps to take before the next session. Progress can be quick. The participant focuses on their life – not just their work. We all know that changing old habits and thought patterns are difficult but necessary for growth. The coach holds the participant accountable to the action steps.

Here are some important distinctions. Coaching is not therapy. Although many of the communication techniques are the same; like active listening, reflecting, use of questions, some advice giving, etc. Therapy focuses on the past to bring healing and unblock a person to move ahead. Coaching is future and action-oriented for healthy people who are fundamentally clear of psychological and emotional issues.

Coaching is not mentoring.

Mentors are experts in a particular field who seek to pass on their expertise to a person. Mentors provide knowledge, advice, guidance, correction, and encouragement. They may use some coaching techniques, but mentors usually play the role of advisor and teacher to guide and impart knowledge and wisdom. While there will be mentoring moments, time with the participant will be largely around coaching.

In coaching the emphasis is not training though training does take place. Coaching is more focused on the participant’s agenda within their scope as an executive. Coaches use adult learning principles of self-discovery and awareness to motivate change from within the participant.

Coaching is not authoritarian.

Picture the tough sports coach who screams and then demands pushups for mistakes. That is not coaching. The coach may push beyond what might be thought reasonable, but should always be supportive. The Participant is in control. The responsibility to decide and act is theirs. Coaching is effective because it brings out the participant’s best. Again, the participant can create their own answers if facilitated properly.

Here is an example of a coaching best practice process.

1. Assessment: First of all the participant must assess if the coach is a good fit for them, it’s their decision. From that point it is best for the participant to take a self-assessment. There are a number of these on the market. I use the Harrison Assessment as well as a multi-rater called the Leadership Impact Survey by Impact Achievement Group (, so the participant can receive feedback from their workplace as to their management/contribution acumen. As with a map, in order to get to point B one must assess where they are, that is: point A. Prescription before diagnosis is called malpractice. Assessments provide essential additional data used to flesh out what areas specifically the participant may want to develop in order to go to the next level.

2. Outcomes: Based upon assessments and conversation the participant and their boss decide what outcomes make best sense to pursue always with the focus on creating a work environment that facilitates insight and high performing direct reports. Sustained high performance necessitates a high trust culture.

3. Awareness: In order to grow, change and become more it is necessary to increase self-awareness and this is another key role of the coach; to facilitate awareness.

4. Action Plan: Faith without works is dead. Commitment to sustained action is necessary if any progress is to be made. This is a process and will be one of trial and error at times because the territory for the participant will often be new.

5. Delivery: Finally, through this process lasting change will be achieved. The hope is breakthrough and a new door opened such that the participant wins big as do others in the culture. The coach ought to report to the sponsor (boss) during and after the process as to progress while maintaining confidentiality.

6. Re-assess: Now it is time to re-assess, measure progress, reflect on lessons learned and consider any next steps.

Why use a coach? The reasons people want coaching are many and as unique as the person. Here are just 20 examples that motivate people to use a coach.

1. Making significant change

2. Career path planning

3. Developing the team and improving the culture

4. Dealing with problem employees

5. Having difficult conversations

6. Holding others accountable

7. Asserting self

8. Dealing with uncertainty

9. Making better decisions

10. Setting better goals and reaching them faster

11. Dealing with fear and gaining perspective

12. Facilitation of high performing direct reports

13. Getting organized

14. Having someone to talk to

15. Improving relationships on and off the job

16. Having peace of mind

17. Dealing with set backs

18. Being more influential and learning management best practices

19. Building collaboration

20. Simply being a better executive and leader

To bring this home, circle three that stands out to you. The coaching relationship is exciting, filled with little and big breakthroughs and allows for a life of continued success, joy and fulfillment.

About the Author

Peter Dove, is president of Shared Values Associates, a firm dedicated to corporate culture design. Learn more about Peter Dove at



Why Firefighters Should Remember Every Building Is in the Process of Falling Down

Building Behavior Under Fire Conditions
Firefighters can increase their safety by being prepared for potential structural collapses and understanding how to make predictions on how buildings will behave under fire conditions.

Blog by Richard B. Gasaway, CFO, EFO, Fire Chief (ret.)

When responding to a building on fire, does it make sense for firefighters to just assume the building is in the process of falling down? Is that a realistic expectation?

You bet it is!

You don’t have to study Newton’s law of universal gravitation to understand gravity is pushing down on the earth at all times with constant force. This means, in essence, gravity is trying to make every building fall down, including the one you are sitting in right now.

The only thing holding the building up against the force of gravity is the components of construction. Pretty simple stuff, right? The components of construction will work, as designed, for so long as they are not acted upon by an outside force (there’s a little Newtonian physics language for our scientific readers).

For the sake of this discussion, that outside force is heat. Heat degrades the ability of the building’s components to stand up to gravity. At some point, unless action is taken to stop the degradation, the components of construction will lose out to gravity and the building will fall down.

Let’s tie all of this in to situational awareness. The first level of situational awareness is perception – being aware of building construction and fire conditions. The second level of situational awareness is comprehension – being aware how the former is being impacted by the latter. The third level of situational awareness is projection – being able to make accurate predictions about how soon a building is going to lose its battle with gravity.

If you look at every building on fire as if it is in the process of falling down, it can change your entire perspective about your safety. As you conduct your size up, consider the components used to make the building. This takes some training and some knowledge of building construction. There are many different types of construction and each have benefits and detriments, most of which are a factor of strength and cost of materials.

Dwellings made with lightweight construction are going to lose their battle with gravity much sooner than dwellings with legacy construction. Buildings with fire suppression systems and fire resistive construction are going to fare better than those without.

The important point I want to make in this article is about your mindset. Be of the mindset that heat is degrading the component of construction and the building you are working in is being pushed to the ground by gravity. There may be little to no warning to indicate when gravity is going to win the battle.

I’m reminded of an experiment one of my kids did for school in which they built a toothpick structure and then loaded weight on top of it incrementally until it collapsed. Until that last unit of weight was added there was no warning signs of impending collapse. But when the final unit of weight was added, the entire structure came smashing down. There was no warning whatsoever. And while we were expecting it – in fact, we were trying to create it – we were still surprised with the speed it happened.

Here are several firefighter training items to discuss:

1. Discuss the training you have received on building construction and how those lessons apply to being prepared for potential structural collapse.

2. Discuss how you can improve your safety by making reasonable predictions of how buildings will behave under fire conditions.

3. Discuss what you can do to ensure you will not be inside a structure fire when gravity wins and the building (or some portion of the building) falls down.

About the Author
Dr. Gasaway is widely considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and the human factors that complicate first responder decision making. In addition to his 30-plus years 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. His website, Situational Awareness Matters ( welcomes 50,000 visitors a month from 156 countries. He can be reached via e-mail at

The Challenge of Dealing with Excessive Amounts of Radio Traffic During Emergencies


Fire Responder Radio Traffic Challenges
Deciphering information is challenging for first responders during emergencies. Mistakes are often made during radio-transmitted mayday calls.

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, CFO, EFO, Fire Chief (ret.)

When you are listening to an audible message, be that face-to-face, over the telephone, or over the radio, your brain processes audible messages into visual images.

The sound waves entering your ears are transformed into electrical impulses in the auditory control center of your brain. Then, the messages are sent on to the visual control center to be processed into visual imagery.

For example, imagine you are talking to someone on the telephone about their recent vacation. In that conversation, they vividly describe pristine blue water and beautiful white beaches. Your brain processes the audible message and sends it on to the visual processing center where you formulate images of beautiful blue waters and white, sandy beaches.

Visual Processor Overload

Problems with communications can occur when you are exposed to too much. Your brain can get overloaded. When that occurs, bad things can happen. Think of your visual processor working like the processor on your computer. When your computer processor reaches its capacity, it slows down and freezes up.

While the processor is at capacity, there is nothing you can do but wait. If you’re typing a document when the processor reaches capacity, the keyboard stops working. You can bang on it all you want, but your processor is at capacity. Anything you try to enter at that point will not process.

Let’s apply this example to your brain. Your visual processing center, like your computer, also has limitations. When those limits are reached, it stops accepting new information. Your ears and audible processing center are still working fine. But the visual center is overloaded. When that happens, you get the proverbial cognitive hourglass (or spinning psychedelic wheel). Nothing else is getting in until the current load is cleared.

When there is a lot of radio traffic, it is easy for your visual processing center to get overloaded because there is so much information coming in. Unfortunately, unlike written information, there’s no shortcut to processing audible information. If you look at a written document, you can visually scan it and get right to the heart of what you want to know. Not so with audible information. You have to listen to it all. THEN, and only then, can you determine what was important and what was not. But it still requires the full attention of your visual processor to make that determination.

Dr. Richard B. GasawayToo Much Radio Traffic

Excessive amounts of radio traffic can inhibit your ability to process information. Which information do you listen to and which do you discard? Unfortunately, your brain is not that good at deciphering and prioritizing. It’s a common misconception that a first responder will hear the critical radio traffic because the “stressed voices” of those who are in trouble will alert the listener. Seems plausible … until you evaluate how many times radio-transmitted maydays are missed the first time they are called.

About the Author

Dr. Gasaway is widely considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on situational awareness and the human factors that complicate first responder decision making. In addition to his 30-plus 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. His website, Situational Awareness Matters ( welcomes 50,000 visitors a month from 156 countries. He can be reached via e-mail at

The Importance of Behavior Modeling in the Fire Service

fire service behavior modeling
This blog on behavior modeling in the fire service previews information on how to influence your crew provided in the Training Officer’s Desk Reference.

training officer's desk referenceBlog by Brian Ward
Chief of Emergency Operations with Georgia Pacific (Madison, Ga.) and Managing Editor of the Training Officer’s Desk Reference

One of the items discussed in the Training Officer’s Desk Reference is mentoring. Regardless of rank, we all have the ability to mentor. As Lt. General Hal Moore states in “We Were Soldiers,” “learn the job above you and teach your job to those below you.”

When you understand how you influence those around you, you begin to understand how important you are to the success of your crew.

One story I tell is from my time working in Gwinnett County Station 4 as a driver/engineer. These were the days of my acceptance into the Georgia Smoke Diver Program and competing in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenges.

My cohort, retired Ironman and driver/engineer Alan Hurd, would set up obstacle courses with fire department stuff, gear up, and drill as a daily routine. At first it was just me and him making up stuff to do. After time – without forcing, mandating or threatening anyone – we had 90 percent of the station, including the lieutenant, captain and probie firefighters training with us.

Two things occurred during this time: Behavior modeling and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Both of these are learning and motivational theories at work in this one example.

Behavior Modeling: We have all been affected by this in one manner or another, whether we realize it or not. The theory states we will model ourselves after the environment we are placed. So, if I see someone performing at a high-level, and I recognize it as excellence, I will model myself after that behavior.

However, if I see you sleeping on the couch on truck day, and you get away with it, I might model myself after that behavior. As a senior firefighter or officer, a gut check is for you to determine how you are being perceived.

Once the introspection is complete, you can move forward and raise the bar for the minimum expectations of your crew. If I told the guys at my station to gear up without gearing up first, it would not have been as effective, and no behavior modeling would occur. However, the others saw leadership’s actions and wanted to participate.

If there was a day I did not feel like competing, it was the other guys motivating me. So, it worked both ways. They became as important to me as I was to them.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: This theory simply states that what we perceive to be reality becomes reality. So if I perceive excellence as completing the obstacle course every day in turnout gear, then that is what I will conform to because I want to be excellent with gear acclimation, dexterity, etc.

Case in point, if a probie was assigned to our station, they would automatically conform because they knew no other way. They had never been influenced by a different behavior.

As senior firefighters, company officers, or training officers – we have the chance to define excellence and the minimum standard. When you do this several things occur: Teamwork, comradery, improved knowledge and skills. It also creates a level of motivation and buy-in, regardless of generational differences.Brian Ward

By setting this example, you are mentoring those around you and establishing the next generation of the fire service. As experience moves on every day in the fire service, we need people to take the reins and lead us into the next phase.

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

About the Author
Brian Ward is the chief of emergency operations for Georgia Pacific in Madison, Ga. He is also the author of Fire Engineering’s “Training Officer’s Toolbox” and the managing editor for the Training Officer’s Desk Reference. Brian serves on the ISFSI Board of Directors and is a member of the Georgia Smoke Divers. He is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in Organizational Development from Columbia Southern University and is the founder of Brian can be contacted at


Situational Awareness Is a Trainable Skill for Firefighters

Firefighting Situational Awareness

This is the eighth tip from TargetSolutions’ special report, “Eight Great Tips for Training Your Crew,” a best practices guide. To view the entire report, please click here.

The past may predict the future, but that doesn’t mean firefighters can grow complacent. That’s dangerous. By instilling a culture of safety, personnel will have the right mindset. But how do you instill this culture? It may take time, but it’s possible through communication and training.

The first step is for leaders to promote safety from the top down. They need to make sure situational awareness is more than just words by walking the talk. Achieving successful outcomes during emergencies and remaining safe depends on an individual’s ability to interpret their environment through situational awareness. Simply put, firefighters need to be trained on what could go wrong.

Here are three critical areas to consider when creating a safety culture at your department:

360-Degree Size Ups: Make sure personnel know how to thoroughly conduct a 360-degree size-up during a fire. Make sure your department has a policy for the first arriving department to always conduct a size up. You would be surprised how many departments don’t demand this basic safety measure. The information gathered is critical to everyone’s safety. And during training, build a 360-degree size-up into every evolution.

Train for Safety: You have to crawl before you can walk and run. This is true for firefighter training as well. Making sure everyone has mastered basic movements of exercises before moving to advanced levels is critical to safety and effectiveness on the fireground. And just like anything else, firefighters get better with practice – so train your muscles by practicing proper techniques.

Put Your Life First: Yes, firefighters have taken an oath to protect their communities. But they need to make sure they don’t throw their life away in the process. As we all know, firefighting is an extremely dangerous job. But it can be performed with caution and sensibility. It’s important to know your own limitations. A building is replaceable. But lives are not replaceable. Too many firefighter deaths were preventable. It’s critical we understand what “no-go” conditions look like (building composition, smoke and fire conditions, etc.) and use caution.




Terrorism Awareness 101: Training Firefighters to Identify Terrorism and Respond Effectively

Training Firefighters to Identify Terrorism

Ofer Lichtman of Rancho Cucamonga FDOfer Lichtman of Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department (Calif.) is an expert on numerous subjects impacting the fire service including Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC) and terrorism awareness. A few months ago, Lichtman provided a comprehensive interview on TECC and is back now to answer more questions on terrorism awareness.



Why is it important for firefighters to go through terrorism awareness training? What is the goal of the training program?
It is important for firefighters to go through terrorism awareness training because our profession in the last 15 years has changed dramatically. To be truly an all-risk fire department we must be prepared to handle all situations, and in this case adequately prepare our personnel to recognize terrorism activity and be a part of the solution, not the problem. Firefighters are in a unique position in our community where we already maintain a high degree of situational awareness. This allows us to identify things that appear suspicious in a geographical area we already know best. In this day and age it is negligent for professional firefighters to not be able to recognize and respond to terror activities in their communities. If we are an all-risk fire department, then we better be when that time comes.

The goal is to educate and train firefighter personnel to identify indicators of terrorism and respond and mitigate terrorism acts in our communities. We have a Terrorism Liaison Officer (TLO) program which takes a fire department’s sworn employee, who serves as a conduit for information between firefighters, local law enforcement and to the federal government. The TLO’s will report tips and leads from the floor personnel to the Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC) and will communicate back to the department and keep our staff and fire fighters aware of current threats facing our community or region.

How often do firefighters go through the terrorism awareness program? What are the different aspects of the program?
We train our personnel on an annual basis. We update them on all different trends that can affect our local region. Each of our personnel is trained initially once they are hired and then annually thereafter. The annual training is to update personnel on current trends going on in the area and region. Curriculum consists of domestic terrorism, international terrorism and single issue terrorist groups. We also focus on activity shown through home grown terrorism as well as lone wolf activity. Different aspects of the program consist of prevention level and the response/mitigation model. The firefighters are put through educational as well as active, hands-on training. The hands-on training happens multiple times a year in order to prepare for any type of terrorist act. It is important to understand that our terrorism training and education is based on suspicious activity. It is not based on a certain group of people, culture or religion, but solely on activity that is suspicious.

Read More Fire Blogs

Is this training required for all fire and EMS officials?
Yes, this training is mandatory for all firefighter personnel including refresher training. We are even employing basic awareness training for all city employees to learn about suspicious terrorism activity, what to do if you find yourself in a terrorist attack and how to treat yourself or co-worker from a preventable death injury involving hemorrhage control.

What are some of the most important aspects of the terrorism awareness program?
The most important aspect is to remember that as a professional fire department we must always remain vigilant and have a very high level of situational awareness. America is at war with different ideologies of people who want to hurt us and don’t agree with our way of life. The only way to increase our chance to prevent another 9/11 is to be vigilant and aware. When a small community has a disaster on a global scale it doesn’t seem as catastrophic, but if a small community loses a dozen people in a terrorist attack, that is very impactful for that community. It could happen anywhere, not just big cities. There is not just one specific profile of a terrorist. It could be anyone that has that ideology and will want to hurt us.

Do you lecture on this topic? If so, when will your next lecture be?
Yes, I do. I was at the next C-TECC meeting in San Marcos, Texas hosted by the ALERRT Conference on Nov. 1, 2015. I was also at the 2016 EMS Today Conference in Baltimore on Feb. 25, where I discussed the rescue task force model as well as ICS for the rescue task force.  

About the Author:
Ofer Lichtman started out as a first responder in Israel and is currently the Terrorism Liaison Officer Coordinator for Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department (Calif.). Lichtman was instrumental in developing its Terrorism and Tactical Response Program. Lichtman is a member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force and is on the advisory board of the C-TECC.

About the Department:
The Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department (Calif.) has had a TLO program since 2009. They have fully adopted the TLO curriculum and all the Joint Regional Intelligence Center’s recommendations for a TLO program. The department has a liaison to the FBI’s joint terrorism task force in the area and is a point of contact for multiple agencies in their county regarding terrorism activity reporting.

– Bio and photo of Ofer Lichtman are courtesy of


Fire Officer 101: How to Establish the Right Expectations with Your Firefighters

company officer 101
Being a company officer is a tremendous responsibility. It is critical one understands the rank and what it entails.

Blog by Steve Prziborowski

Santa Clara County Fire Department (Los Gatos, Calif.)

The rank of company officer is undoubtedly one of the most challenging and important ranks within the fire service. If you read my previous post, “What Makes a Great Company Officer,” you know where I stand.

One of the most important things a company officer or any supervisor for that matter can do is establish the right expectations for personnel. While there is no one-size-fits-all method, or template for establishing expectations, I encourage you to reach out to other fire officers to understand what they are doing, as well as conduct online research to learn more.

When I was a firefighter, I didn’t enjoy having supervisors share their expectations. I interpreted that as micromanaging, which I now believe is an overused and misinterpreted word. Granted, the majority of supervisors I have had – in and out of the fire service – never bothered sharing expectations, so I at least give credit to those that did take time.

Check out other fire blogs by TargetSolutionsWhen I say I interpreted a supervisor sharing expectations as micromanaging, I felt the captain was telling me how to do my job. For example, I remember one captain stating something like this:

“If we get a car fire, I expect you to grab the front-bumper 1 and three-fourths hose line if the fire is toward the front of the vehicle. If the fire happens to be toward the rear of the vehicle, I expect you to pull the rear 1 and three-fourths hose line, as opposed to the pre-connected hose lines above the pump that are pulled to either side of the apparatus. Pulling the front or rear hose lines will keep us safe in most situations because we won’t have to pull hose out into other traffic lanes or over the side of the road.”

After serving as a captain and now a chief officer, I look back and realize the following:

  • It was the captain’s job to tell me how to do my job.
  • He was trying to set me up for success.
  • He was doing his best to ensure that communication and expectations were shared in advance so there was minimal chance for confusion on the fire ground.

Had he not shared those expectations, what would I have done on an actual vehicle fire? Any of the above options, some of which he might have liked, some of which he might not have liked. Would the fire go out with any line? Of course it would have. However, could I have put myself in danger had I done something he felt was unsafe given his experience? Of course! I could have injured myself or someone else!

Ultimately your job as a supervisor is not to handhold your personnel, but to provide clear direction as to what your expectations are in the majority of situations they face. Nobody said the job of company officer was going to be easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it.

About the Author

Steve Prziborowski has more than 21 years of fire service experience, currently serving as the Deputy Chief of Administrative Services for the Santa Clara County Fire Department (Los Gatos, Calif.), where he has served since 1995. Steve is also an instructor for the Chabot College Fire Technology Program (Hayward, Calif.), where he has been instructing fire technology and EMS classes since 1993.

About the author Steve PrziborowskiHe is a current Board Member for the California Fire Chiefs Association, serving as the Area 5 North Director, a Former President of the Northern California Training Officers Association, and he received the 2008 California Fire Instructor of the year award. He is a state-certified Chief Officer and Master Instructor, and has received Chief Fire Officer Designation and Chief Training Officer Designation through the Commission on Professional Credentialing.

He has a master’s degree in emergency services administration, and has completed the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy. He is a member of the IAFC FRI Program Planning Committee, is a regular presenter at fire service events across the country, and has authored numerous articles in all of the major fire service publications. He is also the author of three books, which were published in the fall of 2013: “How to Excel At Fire Department Promotional Exams,” “The Future Firefighter’s Preparation Guide,” and “Reach For The Badge – How To Master The Fire Department Entry-Level Testing Process.”

Comprehensive Recordkeeping Is Critical to Fire Department Training

Improve Fire Department's Training Records
This is the seventh tip from TargetSolutions’ special report, “Eight Great Tips for Training Your Crew,” a best practices guide. To view the entire report, please click here.
Simplify Department Training Records

Are your fire department’s training records accurate? Are you sweating an upcoming ISO review, or some other audit, because you don’t trust the data you have on file? Chances are you need to examine your data business practices to ensure the processes for collecting, logging and reporting information are effective.

To generate comprehensive reports, your process needs to be defined. If you want specific data, all participants in the collection and reporting of that data need to adhere to the same criteria, and all components need to be defined and coordinated.

It’s important to establish best practices for data collection. You will need to organize, plan and execute the work to ensure good, reliable data is consistently available.

The first step is to commit to gathering data properly. That commitment will lead to better reporting.


“With TargetSolutions we’re able to show auditors what we’re doing. I can pull a report on anything within the system and demonstrate its effectiveness and efficiency. This is a very cost-effective program to get our staff a great deal of training and also meet training needs.”

Nate Renzella, Fire Inspector with Hendersonville Fire Department (Tenn.)


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Tips for Making the Right Selection When Hiring a Firefighter

firefighter hiring process

Deputy Chief Jeff CaseWhen hiring a new firefighter, it is important for fire department leaders to have a set of standards and criteria. After all, every candidate hired is a direct reflection on the department. Deputy Chief of Phoenix Fire Department Jeff Case recently sat down with TargetSolutions to discuss the hiring process and how an agency can develop the future of firefighters.



What tips would you provide fire department leaders on how to prepare their organization for success when it comes to hiring new members?

First of all, we talk a lot about making sure who we hire represents what a firefighter really is today. Making sure we don’t simply glamorize the position, and market the fire aspect of it.

Again, that is a critical and absolutely necessary component of what you hire. Someone that can go into a burning building, rip through things, and has that aggressiveness about them or toughness about them, means they can do the most difficult part of what we do, which is fight fire. But we must also realize that a person has to have components of compassion, nurse characteristics, counselor characteristics, humanitarian characteristics, have construction knowledge, etc.

So it is the total package we really need for a firefighter to be successful, and also to be happy. I mean if you hire somebody based on the premise they are going to come to work and three times a day they are going to fight intense fires, they are going to be very unhappy in this profession because that is not a typical day.

It is a challenge to find the right mix of personalities and not just look for that single toughness component, but recognize it is a total package.


What is something fire department leaders might not consider when making a hire?

Recognizing you need to be very careful about who you hire because you are probably not going to change them. You can train them, you can teach them, you can talk about your philosophies, but the general core essence of who a person is when you hire them at age 20 to 27 is already established. Their core personality, their core behaviors, and their core values are set by that point. And so, something we talk about is recognizing people’s strengths, and recognizing those are the things that are going to determine your ability to have them be successful and happy in their career.

We spend a lot of time talking about how to develop people’s career toward those strengths because we do need all types of personalities on our fire trucks.

Also, making sure that they are going to be happy because if you sell the job to people based upon this hero mentality, and that is what they expect to do every day – these extreme, dangerous, and hard things – they are going to be disappointed. So it is great they have the ability to respond well when that is the call and that is what they need to do, but they also need to be happy, content, and enjoy all the other 90 percent of what we do most of the time.Check Out More Blogs


In your experience, are there any secrets or keys to finding the right employees? What do you look for that others should consider?

I do not know that there is any magic pill or series of things, but I think it is important to create a process. A process that allows you to get to know people better than a 20-minute interview where we ask three to four questions in which they are absolutely scripted coming in – if they are at all prepared as a candidate through classes and mock interviews and everything else. You do not want to be fooled by some of these pre-planned answers and set questions, and all of a sudden assume you know that person.

So I think relationships with the community colleges, mentorship programs, cadet programs, or volunteer opportunities where you get to see people in real settings are important. Inviting prospects into your fire stations, encouraging ride-alongs, and talking to people that interact with these people. Because it is in that element where both their positive and/or negative ones will be seen. So you have to create those opportunities.

We have firefighter one-on-two academies, we work with the community colleges, and we stay in close communication with them. The ongoing challenge you are going to have is looking out for people that we are associated with – friends and family. Not that it is a bad thing, but we have to make sure that our members do not encourage or falsely represent people as being good potential firefighters when they are really just a friend and they do not have the qualities, attributes, or characteristics you are looking for. We need to protect against that and make sure our members know who they bring in either strengthens or weakens the organization one person at a time.

So it is important to make sure all of those elements are as pure as possible. No process will ever be perfect. However, with families where a family member meets those criteria, then it should absolutely be encouraged. But do not bring someone in just because they are family or friends that do not meet the criteria you are looking for.


About the Author
Deputy Chief Jeff Case serves as a Shift Commander on the Phoenix Fire Department. As a Shift Commander he helps administrate the department’s Command Training Center and the management of Fire, Medical and Special Operation responses. Chief Case helped design and run Mesa Community College’s (MCC) Virtual Incident Command Center. Faculty member MCC, and adjunct instructor with TEEX’s WMD/EMS response program. Bachelor’s degree, Fire Service Management and a Master’s degree in Education.

Bio and photo of Jeff Case are courtesy of