Technology with a Purpose

All posts in Featured Contributors

Navigating Your Way on a Steep Roof During Ventilation Operations with the ‘Mattson’

Blog by Ed Hadfield
Doing the “Mattson” is a term for establishing a foot purchase on a roof while working off a ladder and performing vertical ventilation operations. This concept was created by Seattle Fire Department’s Brian Mattson, who began utilizing it during his assignment to the Ballard Area, which is known for its large Victorian-type homes.
Establishing a strong foot-hold and sound foot-point is critical to a successful operation. Generally, working off a roof ladder is a low-frequency, high-risk event. In the past, personnel were told to utilize a roof ladder to distribute their weight and limit their exposure of falling through the roof. But this is a poor strategy. Remember, if the roof is not capable of handling the weight of two firefighters – two personnel are the typical residential roof assignment – then ventilation operations should be adjusted to another area, or transitioned to another type of ventilation operations.
All personnel should be completely aware that any area considered unsafe for completing vertical ventilation operations should not be allowed to operate underneath the roof assembly. Bottom line: If it is unsafe to assign personnel to the roof, it is equally unsafe to put people underneath. After all, roofs fall down. All personnel assigned to vertical ventilation operations should be in full PPE and have radio communications with interior crew and IC.
Please take a look at the images below for a step-by-step overview of the process.



The first step in the process is to complete a “Tool Swap.” The initial sounder, or person in front, should pass the rubbish hook to the back-up person by placing the tool to the outside of the operations and grasping the chainsaw in a pass motion on the inside of the operations. Or simply put, “tool to the outside – saws to the inside.” Saws are always passed with the chain break in the on position and the body of the saw first. 





The first step in this process is to have the back-up person place the rubbish hook/roof hook into the deck. The back-up person will place the near tine into the deck with a downward strike. Notice that only one tine is placed into the deck.




The initial cut will be toward the fire to establish the identification of the primary outside rafter. Once the outside rafter is identified, the saw is turned around and the head cut is established by reversing the direction, rolling the center rafter and stopping at the next rafter or before you cut into your roof ladder. Keep this key point in mind, chiefs don’t like when you cut into the ladder. The next step in the sequence is to establish the outside cut. Be sure to intersect your head cut and outside cut with enough completion to completely cut through the roof decking. If your roof decking is 2 inches in thickness, your intersection should be 4 inches.



Your next step is to make the bottom cut. Intersect the outside cut with the bottom cut, cut back toward the safety of your ladder, rolling the center rafter, and stopping at the inside rafter. 







Then, the final step is to complete the ventilation opening. Step back completely onto the ladder and intersect the head cut, cutting down the inside of the inside rafter. Please note that when making cuts that are parallel to rafters, give up approximately 3 to 4 inches of area so you don’t rub or cut into the rafter as the operation is being accomplished. The back-up person has removed the rubbish hook from the deck and readies himself to swap tools to accomplish the operations.





Again, the “tool swap” occurs with the saws to the inside, and tool to the outside. This limits the need to swap positions. 









Once the swap has occurred, the saw person utilizes the hook to clear the ceilings and vent the structure from the hazards of heat, smoke and other hazards. The elimination of the rapidly developing BTU’s within the structure will greatly reduce the potential of a hostile event (flashover, backdraft, smoke explosion, etc.). It’s important to keep your hand on the D-handle portion of the hook while clearing the ceilings. This will limit the chances of the hook sliding through your hands and into the structure. If you find that the hook tines are catching or other entanglement hazards, turn the hook over, grasp the straight edge of the hooks, and utilize the D-handle as the clearing mechanism.



If the initial hole is not sufficient to clearly ventilate the structure and additional ventilation needs to be accomplished, simply perform the “Tool Swap” again and continue to expand the original ventilation opening in a horizontal fashion. Since a bottom cut is already established there is no need to reestablish the identification or head cut. Continue with the outside (fire side) cut in a downward fashion.





Intersect the outside cut with the new bottom cut and roll the center rafter back toward the safety of the ladder. Once back to the outside rafter, reach up intersect the bottom of the existing opening and move downward with the completion of the inside cut and the intersection of the new bottom cut. Again, complete a “tool swap” and clear the ceiling space. This has completed the entire task and radio communication with interior crews or the IC should be made to determine if the ventilation operations have been successful in relieving the conditions that the interior crews have experienced.

The bottom line is that no operation is effective unless we actively train and become proficient at the operation. Utilize this as a foundational format to establish your operations within your own organizations.

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

Test Your Aerial Operators with a Challenging and Fun Training Activity

Blog by Joseph Pronesti
Captain with Elyria Ohio Fire Department
You’re probably familiar with the bean-bag toss game called cornhole. Here is a firehouse variation that will improve your skills for aerial operations and bring some fun and lively competition to your crew.
We all have some type of daily, weekly, or monthly check where we put our aerial device into the air. I have seen repeatedly in my career where firefighters, myself included, go through the motions of pulling the apparatus out on the ramp, putting the aerial up, swinging it around a couple of times, bedding it, and then callimg it a day.
But here is the question: When we have to put that aerial in the air for a rescue of a civilian or a firefighter, will the conditions mimic your front apron of the firehouse? I doubt it.
The materials you need for aerial operations training activity is a piece of rope, a tennis ball and a heavy eyebolt screwed through the middle of the ball. Attach the other end of the rope to the aerial tip or bucket and have it hang down about 5 feet. Next, get some traffic cones or buckets and place them on the roof of your station on the ground. An even better idea that incorporates building familiarization, is to take your cones “on the road” to an empty strip mall or apartment building. Place your cones on these objects and let the fun/training begin.
The overall object is to have your operator from your turntable place the weighted ball on top of the cone or into the bucket. Obviously, the tip of the cone will be more of a challenge. Once the ball is on the tip, the operator goes to the next cone. You can time the evolution, or simply have your operators take their time and go to each one. Again, it’s up to your imagination for ways to challenge your crew. No matter what type of aerial you have, this game is designed for improving your operators at the turntable.
When I did this for the first time, one young firefighter told me he didn’t get much out of putting the ball on a cone. I didn’t do a good enough job explaining the point of the game. Don’t make my mistake. Explain how important it is to have competent operators. Good aerial operations can be more than just putting the stick up and flowing water! There will come a time when an operator will have to quickly maneuver the aerial device to rescue a civilian, or a firefighter who is trapped on a roof or window.
In my opinion doing the daily or weekly aerial check on the ramp isn’t going to be enough practice to help an operator succeed. Liken it to NFL teams who practice with the speakers blasting crowd noise to help create what they will face in the visitor’s stadium on a Sunday afternoon. You need to use some imagination and make training challenging. Plus, the competitive juices will start flowing when firefighters try to get the ball on the cone. Thanks to Platoon Chief Will Anderson of Euclid, Ohio Fire Department for showing me this drill.
Attach a tennis ball and make sure it is weighted on the end of a piece of rope to your aerial.
Have the operator from the turntable get the aerial into position to place weighted ball on the tip of the cone.
Place a cone on the ground to simulate a one-story strip or technical rescue.
About the Author
Joe Pronesti is a 24-year veteran of the Elyria Ohio Fire Department where he currently serves as a shift captain. He is a certified fire instructor and teaches at the Cuyahoga Community College Fire Academy near Cleveland. He is also a graduate of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Executive Fire Officer Program Class VI.

The False Confidence to Command

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO
Retired Fire Chief and Web Master for Situational Awareness Matters
Would it be possible for something to go wrong at a structure fire incident and one of the contributing factors identified be the incident commander was under-qualified? With the emphasis in recent years on incident command, including the requirement for department members to be trained in the National Incident Management System, it would be all of our hopes that all departments have developed qualified, competent and confident commanders.
In many departments, it is the standard – if not a policy – for the officer on the first-in apparatus to establish command. As such, most will. But regulating who is in command by policy or riding position on the apparatus does nothing to assure the officer is properly trained, adequately practiced and amply experienced to command. Thus, the confidence of the first-in officer may be a false confidence. This can be very dangerous.
About a year ago I was teaching a class on firefighter safety for a volunteer department and I asked the class if possible for the first-in apparatus to have four firefighters, all of whom have less than three years’ experience and none of them are officers. After a resounding response in the affirmative, I called on a young firefighter who had three years of experience and was not an officer. I asked how confident he would be if he had to serve as the initial incident commander on the first-in engine, at a working structure fire, with a crew of four, all with less than three years of experience. He said he’d be very confident commanding the incident.
This intrigued me. So I asked him if he had command training. He informed me that he had taken an online incident command class. OK. Then I asked him if he’d ever commanded a structure fire. No, he had not. Then I asked him if he had ever commanded a training fire before. No, he had not. Then I asked him how many actual structure fires he’d been on the attack line for. He estimated it to be five. Five this year? I asked with hopeful anticipation. No, five fires over his three years of service on the department.
So, here’s a firefighter who’s been on the department for three years, has taken an online incident command class, never commanded a structure fire, never commanded a training fire, had only been on the attack line for fives fires, and now commanding a crew all of whom have less than three years’ experience. And this firefighter stated he was very comfortable in his ability to serve as the incident commander. I was astounded. Where does this confidence (and I might go as far as to say arrogance) come from? I told him, and the class, if I were in command of a crew on a fire attack who all had three or less years of experience that I’d be scared to death for their safety.
This firefighter is suffering from unconscious incompetence. In other words, he doesn’t even know what he doesn’t know about commanding fires, let alone commanding such an inexperienced crew. Unless he’s acquired a competent command skillset by a means other than practice and experience, he’s dangerously over confident.
I thought perhaps this was an anomaly – a fluke occurrence of a young, overconfident firefighter. I was wrong. I have since taught this same class more than a dozen times. Each time, I’ve sought out that young firefighter to ask the same question. And every time, without exception, the response has been the same. Under experienced, under practiced, and over confident.
So here’ the challenge I want to put out to the command officers reading this article: Go back and pose the same question to the younger firefighters on your department you know lack the practice and experience to command. See what the response is. If they say they’re confident commanding (when you know they’re not ready), educate them on what it means to be ready and work with them to ensure they acquire the practice and experience (under the direction of a competent mentor).
Confidence in a commander is a good quality to have. Being over confident and having a false confidence is not only a poor quality to have, it can be deadly.
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 more than 30 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 (, has enjoyed more than a million visits since its launch in October 2011.

FIRE: The Core Four To Success for Every Firefighter

Blog by Will Anderson
Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio

There are many things that make the fire service a great profession. Tradition, pride, culture, a family atmosphere, they all contribute to make our profession great. In fact, some believe it’s the most prestigious profession in the world.

So what exactly makes our profession so admirable and respected? What makes one department more successful than another? I believe these answers rest in our values and the values of the department.

Most would agree the family atmosphere of the fire service is what makes it so special. By spending nearly one-third of our lives with each other, we develop a cohesiveness that is virtually foreign to most other occupations. Merriam-Webster defines family values as values of a traditional or conservative kind which are held to promote the sound functioning of the family and to strengthen the fabric of society. This definition fits perfectly into what the fire service is all about: tradition, family, and public service.

So which values make this happen? That’s a question that could elicit 10 different answers from 10 different people. I know my Core Four that I try to live by at all times, both professionally and personally. They include the following:

Fidelity: Simply put, being faithful. As firefighters, as parents, and as spouses we have a duty and obligation to be faithful to our families, to our department, to the job, and to our communities.

Integrity: The word stems from the Latin adjective integer (whole, complete). To me, it means doing the right thing. I’ve learned what is popular, may not be right; and what is right, may not be popular. That’s the true test for all of us. The fire service will always need people of the highest integrity since were entrusted to care for people and their possessions.

Respect: In today’s fire service, many of us work with, and serve people of different cultures, races, and ethnicities. Above all, treating each other with respect and dignity, while being non-judgmental, helps us achieve our duty of honorable and dedicated service to the community. We also need a strong degree of self-respect. If we don’t respect ourselves, it’s unlikely we will be respected. Maintaining physical fitness and being a student of the job are critical to being a productive, trusted co-worker. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Don’t be the weakest link in your crew’s chain.

Excellence: By adhering to the first three values in this article, the fourth will occur naturally. It would be nice if there were such thing as a perfect fire department. Unfortunately, there isn’t. Despite this, we can still strive for perfection. While striving, well eventually reach excellence and excellence in this profession means our members go home safe at the end of their shift, and more importantly, at the end of their career.

These four values will strengthen ourselves and our members, but ultimately our departments and communities. Each of us is responsible for our own success. It’s up to us to make the job better than it was when we started. A wise firefighter once told me this job owes us nothing, but if we devote ourselves to it, it will give us everything.

Be smart, and thanks for reading!

About the Author
Will Anderson is a platoon chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio. He’s in his 18th year in the fire service and is certified as a State of Ohio Firefighter 2, Fire Instructor, and Paramedic. He recently completed his Fire Officer 1, 2, and 3 training in addition to his Blue Card certification. Follow him on Twitter @c2anderson.


Searching Techniques for Rescuing One of Your Own

The need for rapid intervention to be RAPID cannot be overemphasized. As members of a Rapid Intervention Crew, your mission to rescue a firefighter victim will come without warning.

Blog by Ed Hadfield

Searching for a lost, down or trapped firefighter is different than searching for a civilian. Since a significant event has taken place that has already put at least one firefighter in danger, the Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC) faces many obstacles and adverse conditions. The following are recommendations that can be used to help search and locate the firefighter, protect the firefighter in place, or extricate them.

The need for rapid intervention to be RAPID cannot be overemphasized. As members of a Rapid Intervention Crew, your mission to rescue a firefighter victim will come without warning. Factors such as the time a member has been on air, or a delay in the notification that a member is in need of rescue, will significantly reduce the amount of time a RIC has to conduct a successful rescue.

The Golden Time is the period of time a missing or trapped member has the greatest chance of survival if in need of rescue. Longer rapid intervention evolutions, or even the slightest delay in deploying RIC, could impact rescue attempts.

The Golden Time and the fact your rapid intervention mission comes without warning are reasons you must accept this mission with all seriousness. Getting involved in the fire ground operations, not focusing on your mission, and not knowing Rapid Intervention Standard Operating Guidelines may jeopardize someone’s life!

Crew discipline is an important factor in the overall management and effectiveness of the ICS and will prevent the need for rapid intervention rescue operations at an incident. Following the direction of company officers and communicating conditions are important duties for rapid intervention. This is all critical in rescuing a member when called upon.

It is important to understand the principle of potential rescuers becoming victims. This phenomenon is seen in many technical rescues, as well as ill-advised rescue attempts in other emergency operations, such as hazmat and trench rescue.

When operating on the fireground, and notification for rapid intervention rescue operations becomes apparent, company officers, or members in the immediate area of the situation, should take whatever action is necessary to impact a rescue without compromising fire attack. Companies working nearby may have the best opportunity to affect a quick rescue.

Search and Locate the Firefighter
The goal of searching and locating a firefighter is:

Conducting a planned, rapid and effective search if the firefighters position is not known.
Gaining access to the firefighter in a way that can be tracked and monitored from the point of entry.
Gaining access in a way that can be followed easily by subsequent incoming search teams.
Removing obstacles so the search for the firefighter is facilitated.

To establish an anchor point for search operations, it is recommended to initiate at the entry point. This entry/egress location should provide RIC with vital RECON information via the RIC status board. Also, understand that typically there are additional egress sites or potential egress sites (wall or window breech) that may be used for a quicker extrication process.

The main entry point used for initial operations will have deployed hose lines that will aid in tracking the location and area of the victim(s). If there are no hose lines in place, RIC can either utilize a RIC pre-connected hose line, or a large area search line/rope (attached at the entry point), to initiate RIC search operations.

Searchers must maintain contact with the hose, search line, attachment by drop bag/personal rope, or by voice contact (not radio) with another member who is physically on the hose or rope.

The search is conducted based on available information on the most likely location of the downed firefighter. The TIC should be used. Searchers must remain alert to relay and mark, if possible, any significant hazards, changes in conditions, or obstacles that would affect the intervention. The RIC may need to wait for more RIC teams if additional resources are required to continue progress.

Intervention resources should be aware of the possibility that there may be multiple firefighters in need of assistance. When the downed firefighter is located they will be removed, if possible. If removal is not possible, due to entrapment or the search team is running low on air, the hose or search line should be secured to the downed firefighter. This will expedite the search time of subsequent RIC Teams arriving to remove the firefighter. Operating PASS devices should be silenced in order to hear other devices sounding in the area.

Once the downed firefighter is found, the primary objective is to support them with breathable air. This may be done by either transfilling their SCBA, if their SCBA mask and cylinder are still intact, or by placing the mask from the RIC bag on them, allowing them to breathe from the RIC bag air cylinder.

The RIC leader will supervise the entire operation, and keep the IC informed of PPPNs. This information should include distance and direction of travel, significant landmarks or hazards, structural stability, and any pertinent information reported by initial RIC operations. It is recommended that the officer NOT get involved with the actual extrication process. It is imperative that the RIC Leader stay in a heads-up position, responsible for fireground LCES and situational awareness.

In cases where locations such as basements, hospitals, X-Ray rooms, tunnels (confined space), vaults and other known radio trouble areas present communication issues, RIC members should consider using rope lines.

Large Area Searches
Searching a large area presents unique problems for the RIC. The method of using a hose line or search line with two tag lines can cover a large amount of space in a relatively quick amount of time. This SYSTEM relies on strict cohesion of crew responsibilities and assignments. Equipment will consist of: Full PPE, radios, hoseline or large area search system with drop bags, TIC, RIC bag and forcible entry tools.

RIC Leader (Officer): Coordinates rescue operation, Fireground LCES, TIC operations
RIC Member No. 1: Point Man. TIC initiated search forward progression
RIC Member No. 2: Sweeper or hound, move obstacles, rescuer
RIC Member No. 3: Sweeper

In-Line Position: A three-person search pattern that maintains contact with a reference point (escape route) while conducting the search. The first person (RIC Leader w/ TIC) on the line is responsible for leading the company and maintaining contact with reference point(s). The RIC Leader is also the person tethered (webbing or drop bag) to the outside with anchor line.

Parallel Position: This configuration allows members to temporarily reposition their position (orientate right), to increase their area of search. This technique requires the RIC Leader to remain in contact with the tether, which is anchored to the outside. To maintain contact, the RIC is using a tether.

Tether Between Personnel: There are several methods used to tether between personnel, utilizing webbing or strap. Below illustrates the utilization of a half-hitch around the palm of the hand, (allows to grasp and release as necessary) and the half-hitch around each wrist.

Carabineers secure RIC members to the RIC leader. The use of carabineers allows for a quick detachment should any of the RIC members become entangled. If a rope system is used (rings and knots), carabineers are connected to the rings. Rings also indicate the exit direction, while the knots indicate length (typically 25 feet per knot).

Hose/ Rope Line Fan: This is an effective method when following a hoseline or main search line. Tethers or drop bags can be attached to either the RIC Leader, hose line or main search lines. Remaining RIC members then fan out the length of tether and together the company searches the area around the hoseline and advances towards the nozzle.

Nozzle Fan: This procedure requires RIC to conduct a search using a nozzle as a reference point. First, RIC follows a hoseline (hose fan) to the nozzle end. The RIC leader stays at the nozzle to maintain a point of orientation. The RIC leader then utilizes nozzle fan with drop-bags. If a search system is used, the large area bag can be secured to the nozzle and extended the length of the bag by the RIC Leader.

Approach of the Down FirefighterRIC Leader Coordinates All Operations (PPPN)Unless Needed to Assist in Rescue
Have sufficient resources (extraction team) and ALS resources at the exit portal for immediate ALS intervention and transfer of downed member(s) to hospital. Prior to the actual extrication of a downed firefighter, the following procedures should be accomplished if conditions permit:

RIC Leader: Advise RIC group supervisor/IC contact has been made, location and landmarks, condition of mayday firefighter, stabilize the area (any immediate hazards) and assess ALL needs. Allow members to view extrication scene through the TIC if visibility is poor or non-existent. Maintain PAR within the immediate area and prioritize air management and search-line management (secure all tag lines) to prevent entanglement. Request rescue support from all other fireground operations, (fire attack, search groups and ventilation groups). If possible, create a defensible area between all hazards and threats to the rescue/extrication area.

RIC Member: Remove possible hazards, entanglements or fallen objects from the immediate area. Assist with victim packaging. During extraction, clear debris for rapid egress.

RIC Member (Air Person): Prepare RIC bag prior to getting hands-on with the firefighter.
Get assessment from RIC Leader, via TIC on whether the transfill or mask replacement procedures are needed.
BE AWARE that the downed firefighter may panic and reach for your mask!
If firefighter is conscious, maintain verbal instructions, calm the situation
Shut down P.A.S.S. device and reset

Assess the firefighter for the following:
Breathing/conscious/air supply (assess by operating the red bypass valve on second stage regulator). If unconscious, assure that the mask is fully functional.
Make sure that the members waist strap is secured to the members waist, if not; try to reposition the waist strap so as to capture one leg.
If the member is conscious but trapped, contact the rescue group supervisor and depending on the time needed for extrication, connect the rescued member into the RIC Bag, one-hour air supply.

A helpful acronym used to assist in a rescue deployment operations is A.W.A.R.E.
Air: SCBA with extra bottles
Water: A charged handline to enforce a defendable space/area for victim(s)
A & R: A portable radio for members and assess victims ability to communicate
Extrication: Necessary tools/equipment needed to remove victim

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

Memory and Recall Foundations of Situational Awareness

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

Your brain has multiple memory systems. One of the most important for first responders is declarative memory, which is the memory of those things you can declare as facts such as the color of your fire engine or the score of last night’s hockey game. To develop strong memory and recall foundations of situation awareness, it is critical that first responders be able to store, remember and recall critical information. This article discusses how you store knowledge, a vital component to developing and maintaining situational awareness.

Our environment is chocked full of stimuli sights, sounds, touch, tastes and feel. Our senses are bombarded with a ridiculous amount of sensory input. What gets stored into memory (and what doesn’t) is only partially under your control.

The stimuli you encounter is sent from your sensory organs (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin) into your brain via electrical impulses. Some of this information is within your conscious awareness. Some is not. The information within your awareness is said to reside (temporarily) in your working memory sometimes called short-term memory.

Research has revealed the desktop of your working memory is not very big. For the average person, it can store about seven pieces of unrelated information (give or take two) and the information doesn’t stay there long. If something isn’t done to convert the short-term memory into a long-term memory within 30 seconds, the information is subject to be forgotten. Information gets into long-term memory stores through encoding.

Effortful Encoding
There are certain things in your life you commit to memory intentionality. You want to remember your home address, the names of loved ones, important birthdays and anniversaries, etc. This important information is stored using repetition, emotion and rehearsal. You know, with confidence, the information will need to be recalled and may even understand the potential consequences if you are not able to recall it (such as forgetting an anniversary). You commit this information into our long-term memory stores.

There are a variety of ways to aid effortful encoding. Some examples include: writing the information down; using repetition (being physically exposed to the information multiple times or through mental rehearsal); and association tying new information to previously existing information (i.e., you meet someone for the first time and their first name is the same as your father so you remember them by associating them to your father).

Automatic Encoding
Much of what your brain stores, however, is actually outside your conscious awareness. Of course, you don’t know this because, well, it is outside your conscious awareness. Your senses can take in, process and store information that you didn’t even know was happening. Of course, paying attention to something vastly increases the chances of storage. However, some of what are not paying attention to is also stored into memory. This is non-declarative memory. One example is the muscle memory of how to perform certain tasks (e.g., how to drive a car or how to ride a bicycle).

Magic Knowledge
When you recall what you have remembered using effortful (or purposeful) encoding, you’re not surprised. In fact, it can be very frustrating when you cannot recall what you know you once knew. However, much of what you know was never purposefully taught to you and you never stored it with purposeful intent. Yet, you know it. In science, this is known as tacit knowledge (unconscious knowledge). For the sake of this article, I’ll call it magic knowledge. It’s the knowledge you possess that you were unaware of.

The outward manifestation of tacit knowledge is intuition sometimes called the gut feeling you may experience in certain situations. Your magic knowledge is a critical component in the formation of your situational awareness. When operating in stimulus-rich, dynamically changing environments (e.g., emergency scenes) you are bombarded by information, some is noted consciously, much is not. Your brain uses both the conscious awareness and tacit knowledge to help you comprehend what is happening.

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 more than 30 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 (, has enjoyed more than a million visits since its launch in October 2011.

Will Your Department Be Ready for Fire in Mixed-Use Occupancy Buildings?

Blog by Joseph Pronesti
Captain with Elyria Ohio Fire Department

If you work in an older community with TYPE III (ordinary construction) buildings, do you pre-plan those buildings in case of a fire? Typical mixed-use occupancy buildings will usually have some type of mercantile establishment on the ground floor with multiple apartments above on the upper floors. Many smaller departments have these types of buildings in their respective towns they protect. It’s important to think about and train on these career defining fires before they happen.

This article is the first in a two-part series breaking down these types of buildings, so you can effectively game plan before you’re faced with an incident at 3 a.m. on a cold night.

What exactly is Ordinary Construction?
Ordinary construction is a building featuring exterior masonry walls and combustible interior beams or trusses. Although it’s not the most often used building type today, Type III construction has been used a great deal for commercial buildings built in the last 100-plus years. Most of these buildings will be two to at the most four stories in height.


A typical mixed-use ordinary construction building, these two buildings were once separate. They now have interior walls on the second and third floors and house apartments have been removed, making a single continuous structure above the separate businesses on the first floor.


Typical Concerns When Combating a Fire in Mix-Use Ordinary Construction Buildings
While not an all-encompassing list, the following three items should be on an all incident commanders checklist when arriving at a fire in one of these buildings:

1. Life Safety: As shown in the photo above, most ordinary mixed-use buildings will undergo some type of renovation in their lifespan. Large apartments that served 40 or 50 years ago may be divided into several smaller units to meet the needs of a landlord who wants to provide cheap affordable housing. Arriving firefighters can find a plethora of safety hazards, including single-room occupancies, heavy-fire loading of apartments, and run down fire escapes in need of maintenance.

2. Void Spaces: When renovation takes place, void spaces are usually created, allowing for hidden fire travel. These include horizontal voids created by dropped ceilings, and vertical voids through new utility chases. The large open cockloft areas are also a concern for rapid fire spread.

3. Collapse Issues: The age and continuous renovation cycles of these buildings make them prone to rapid fire spread and structural collapse. In today’s economy, many times you will find vacant store fronts and occupied apartments on the upper floors. Don’t be tricked into thinking the entire building is vacant. The best way to determine this is to be familiar with your response area.

This article is not meant to cover everything related to fires in ordinary construction, as the late Francis Brannigan stated: Beware the building the building is your enemy. Firefighters need to have a sound knowledge of building construction. There are many great pieces of literature available for further study. A well respected chief on the east coast once said no one has any business inside a burning building without proper knowledge of building construction and fire spread. I totally agree and it would behoove every firefighter to make this his/her career objective.


Learning to B.A.G. the Fire in Mixed Use Ordinary Constructed Occupancy
There are several well-known acronyms firefighters utilize when sizing up a fire one that will serve you well is B.A.G.where did the fire BEGIN, where is it AT currently, and where is it GOING?

Where did the fire begin? As a rule, the worst-case scenario a firefighter or incident commander can face in these structures is a basement fire. As stated earlier many buildings go through renovations just as upper story walls are removed and single structures are merged together to form larger ones, basements can undergo the same renovations making an underground cockloft, where fire can spread from building to building, taking out an entire block.

A good rule to remember is if you are called for a smell of smoke in an ordinary constructed building in a continuous block of similar type buildings, and cannot find anything, check surrounding buildings especially the basements.

Accessing the basement can be difficult under smoke and heat conditions. The hazards can be tremendous to firefighters crawling over top of a raging basement fire. Many of the store fronts on the ground floor will have multiple basement entrances, especially if there is a service alley to the rear of the structure.


Many basements will have an exterior entrance which will make for a much more effective attack on a basement fire.



Basements in continuous ordinary construction occupancies could be interconnected. This photo shows a flimsy piece of wood paneling covering an opening between two basements.



Missing or damaged tiles on this basement ceiling will severely expose the first floor rafters in the event of a basement fire.



The left half of this image shows an interior shot of the exterior basement door. After you force these doors you are faced with another fortified door. These are two common security obstacles you may face. The key is to get into your buildings prior to the fire and see what you will face when the fire call comes in.


A first floor fire will cause just as many headaches as a basement fire with the lone exception of easier access to the building. This by no means eliminates hazards to occupants above the fire in living areas. When confronted with a working fire on the first floor with apartments above, consider using a big line. The power of the 2 -inch hand line with a 1 -inch tip will put out a ton of fire in a short period of time. Many small departments say the 2 -inch line is too manpower intensive, but that is an excuse. Those departments need to train on its deployment. There are a ton of excellent training websites available to help your department train.

Consideration should even be given to pairing up companies to get the big line in service. Remember, once you get water on the fire things should get better. Even if taking the second engine away from another assignment, such as a backup line to assist in stretching the original 2 -inch attack line may pay dividends to those whose lives are in peril above the fire.


Be aware that just as in modern strip malls, the rear of the ordinary mixed-use will probably be heavily fortified. Regardless, these must be opened up for safety of interior crews. This particular building has a locked gate on the interior side of the rear door.


Editor’s Note: In second part of this two-part series, we will look at fires on the upper floors of these buildings. If you have any questions for the author, contact TargetSolutions at


About the Author
Joe Pronesti is a 24-year veteran of the Elyria Ohio Fire Department. He currently serves as a shift captain. He is a certified fire instructor and teaches at the Cuyahoga Community College Fire Academy near Cleveland. He is also a graduate of the Ohio Fire Chiefs Executive Fire Officer Program Class VI.

Challenges and Concerns of Underground Parking Garages

Blog by Will Anderson
Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio

In a previous blog, I mentioned how the Euclid Fire Department (EFD) in Ohio protects dozens of high-rise buildings. To accommodate the residents of these residential properties, both above- and below-ground parking garages exist. Any fire below grade will test the responding department, but when the fire occurs in a large open area, unique concerns come to mind. This blog discusses these concerns and helps prepare crews for the challenges of a below-grade fire, or any fire in a large, open building.

Recently, my department, the EFD, responded to a vehicle fire in an underground parking garage. While the fire was confined to one vehicle, the incident served as a reminder of several important training topics that most departments only experience every few years. We received a call about a vehicle on fire in an underground parking garage. This garage did not have sprinklers or standpipes. The first engine arrived on scene, only three minutes after the call.

The engine officer established Command and reported they had smoke showing from the 400- by 60-foot garage, but couldn’t determine how far into the garage the vehicle was located. As the on-duty platoon chief, I arrived one minute later and assumed the role of incident commander (IC).I had a ladder truck, an ambulance, and another engine responding since the fire had occurred inside a structure.

Lt. Banning performed a quick reconnaissance and instructed his crew to begin pulling 2inches of hose, while another crew member obtained the apartment pack of 1 s hose off of their apparatus. As his platoon chief, I know how important Lt. Banning takes his training. His crew performs extremely well at fire scenes and they are as equally well trained. I was very comfortable with the actions he had begun.

Shortly after their initial stretch into the garage, I was able to obtain this picture:


Crews make their initial stretch into an underground parking garage fire using 2 1/2-inch hose, which was reduced to less than 2 inches inside the structure.

By reading the smoke, we should be able to tell this fire isn’t of much significance, but that’s no reason to become complacent and assume everything will be fine. As an IC, this is what I want to avoid at all times. At this point, my thoughts were now on providing some form of ventilation to the attack crew. By now, Truck 21 led by Lt. Pete Bernacki had arrived. I instructed him and his crew to assist in getting the first line in operation. Once that was completed, their orders were to provide horizontal ventilation by breaking garage windows and performing forcible entry of a man door at the far end of the garage. There was a strong northerly wind in excess of 30 mph, which would aid the removal of the smoke.

Medic 41 was instructed to control the elevators and stand by in the basement to protect any unsuspecting occupants from entering the smoke-filled garage. After this assignment was given to Medic 41, Engine 12, led by Lt. Chris Herak, arrived. Their orders were to perform RIT duties and set up near the attack engine, Engine 13.

The fire was roughly 200 feet inside the 400 foot-long garage. It was confined to one vehicle and quickly controlled. However, the picture shown above made me think of several areas of training we must be proficient in to make sure we go home at the end of our shift. In no particular order, these topics include:

>> Proficiency in large area searches
>> The need for air management
>> Proficiency in buddy breathing
>> Understanding your ventilation options are limited, but still required
>> Carrying and deploying personal rope for use in large areas
>> The importance of staying on the hoseline
>> Understanding the dangers of cold smoke
>> Effectively communicating conditions, actions, and needs
>> Knowing your buildings
>> Blocking track of garage door

This is a short list of topics that initially came to my mind. Perhaps after you see the picture, you or your crew can think of others. Discuss your findings and work toward proficiency in these skills. All of these are important and serve a purpose. Since the attack crew made entry through the open garage door, Lt. Banning instructed one of his crew members to block the track to prevent the door from closing. They accomplished this by the methods shown in the images below:


Vice grips block the track of a garage door on left side.


A pike pole is used to block the garage door from closing on the right side.

Ironically, a few weeks prior to this incident, some firefighters from neighboring departments and I were discussing the topic of fires in underground parking garages. For us, they’re few and far between. Regardless of how small a fire may be, I still believe every fire serves as a reminder of how we can improve for the next one. Learn from your mistakes and those of others. None of us are perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to be. On the way to perfection, well eventually come to excellence. Excellence in this business helps ensure we go home at the end of our shift. Be safe, be well, and be smart! Thanks for reading.

About the Author

Will Anderson is a Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio.Hes in his 18th year in the fire service and is certified as a State of Ohio Firefighter 2, Fire Instructor, and Paramedic. He recently completed his Fire Officer 1, 2, and 3 training in addition to his Blue Card certification. He has an Associate’s degree in Fire Science, another in Emergency Medical Services, and is nearing completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science Administration.


Competition, Peer Pressure and Situational Awareness

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

During a recent situational awareness program we were talking about near-miss events and I asked the class if anyone had experienced a near-miss. As is typical, a few hands went up. With their permission, we used the students’ real-life experiences to discuss how things unfolded and we extracted and applied powerful situational awareness lessons. It’s a great way to learn because these are not made-up “what if” scenarios or a dissection of videos snagged off the Internet. These are real events that, if only by luck, the student is still with us to share their lessons.

During this particular program a participant shared how his crew arrived on the scene of a working residential dwelling fire where smoke was coming out the front door. The crew pulled the line and advanced it in the front door in search of victims and to extinguish the fire. But they didn’t get far. The floor collapsed under their weight and into the basement they went.

A mayday was called and, as luck would have it, the second-in company arrived quickly and was able to lower a ladder into the basement and extricated the two firefighters from their imperiled situation. The two firefighters suffered fall injuries and thermal injuries. But no fatalities! So the firefighter telling about the event classified it as a near-miss.

In the process of constructing how the events unfolded, he shared that a 360-degree size-up was not completed. Sadly, the failure to complete a size-up is often cited as a contributing factor in casualty reports. This is understandable. The size-up is the first, and sometimes only, opportunity for responders to determine what the problem is before they start throwing around solutions. Shortcut the size-up and you risk operating with flawed situational awareness.

The crew thought the fire was on the first floor. It wasn’t. It was in the basement. The front of the house was on-grade. The back of the house, however, was a walk-out with plenty of windows that would have revealed the volume of fire in the basement if the 360-degree size-up were completed.

While it is easy to see how the failure to complete a size-up contributed to this near tragic event, it is critical to understand WHY the size-up was not completed. There are many possible explanations, ranging from accessibility issues, to tunnel vision, to task fixation, to imminent rescue pending, and more. But in this case, the explanation was none of those. The reason was rooted in competition and peer pressure.

The officer shared this explanation with the class:

“I am a newer company officer and our fire companies are very aggressive interior structural firefighters. We pride ourselves on getting inside and getting the job done. I know I’m supposed to conduct a 360-degree size up but if we charged our line and then did a walk around there is a chance another company would come in and take our line and go put the fire out. And if that happened, I’d never hear the end of it. The other firefighters on our shift would kill us and eat us for pussy-footing around instead of putting the fire out. I simply could not afford to take that kind of risk with my career and gain a reputation of being a non-aggressive officer.”

I give this officer a lot of credit for sharing his honest assessment, especially in the presence of his peers. The aggressive, competitive culture of his organization, coupled with peer pressure kept him from completing the size-up. I found it particularly concerning when he said he could not afford to take the risk of getting a reputation among his peers. In saying that, he was rating the risk of peer rejection higher than the risk of death.

Firefighters are competitive by nature. They train hard and work hard to win. But the opponent in this fight is not each other. The opponent is the fire and when a culture lends itself to cut-throat internal competition, coupled with peer-pressure to shortcut or bypass best practices (like size-up), the potential for flawed situational awareness increases as does the potential for a casualty.

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 more than 30 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 (, has enjoyed more than a million visits since its launch in October 2011.


Good Data Doesn’t Just Happen: A Few Steps for Better Recordkeeping

Blog by Brian Drolet

Are you frustrated you’re not receiving the data you need? Do your reports provide you the information you were expecting? Before ditching your records management software, you should examine your data business practices to ensure the processes for collecting data, the configurations and reports that hold and present your data, are functional and effective.

The elusive mystical data we are all chasing can be obtained, but the process has to be managed. 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 must be defined and coordinated.

Do you have established business practices regarding workflow and data collection? Are your firefighters knowledgeable and trained regarding your data collection wants and needs. Is there a plan to get you the data you need, or are you thinking, it should all be there?

To get what you need, you will have to organize, plan and execute the work before seeing good data reporting. Your data needs to be reliable, dependable, consistent and repeatable. Without a data management plan, you can only hope you get the data you want or need; but hoping can lead to doubting, and doubting impacts the reliability and usability of the data.

The records management system you’re using is probably a good container of data holding area per se, but you have to establish how the programs are best utilized, how the data should be collected and what specific data should be reported.

As a first step, what may be needed is a review and recommitment to the goal of good data collection and reporting.

Secondly, set your data goals and define the work that needs to be performed. Set accountability and responsibilities, and be sure to implement training regarding data collection and review, prior to needing the data.

Good data management starts with a plan. Do you have one?

About the Author
Brian Drolet is a 25 year Career Firefighter with a Southern California Fire Department. He operates a Fire Department Data Consulting Service assisting over 100 Departments in various aspects of collection, reporting, Data Management Planning and defining business practices regarding the Fire Service. For more information, please check online at