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Perform a Needs Assessment to Determine the Right Topics for Your Fire Department Training

Blog by Jacob Johnson   
Lieutenant with Pearland Fire Department in Texas 
It’s natural for a fire service instructor to wonder if they are delivering the right firefighter training for their personnel. They may wonder if they are focusing on the right things. The answer is simple: As training administrators, we need to focus on what needs to be covered, as well as what our personnel are requesting us to cover.
This can be accomplished by performing a “needs assessment” for fire departments that center on training “needs” vs. training “wants.”
The most important question instructors face is what type of training should they deliver? They may wonder, “Should I focus on the basics or should I focus on advanced training?” Here is my stance: Are the basics of firefighting important? Yes, they are very important and much needed to survive in this profession.
The fire service, however, is prone to focusing too much on the basics and not nearly enough on the more challenging firefighter training or skills we need to improve. By completing a needs assessment for fire departments, you can use those results to determine whether you should be focused on the basics, or pushing into the more advanced training material.
My personal goal as an instructor is to give a firefighter training class that is challenging to my audience and makes a difference in their performance. If that goal is accomplished in every class, everyone is happy. Now, sometimes a simple building construction class is challenging to some members of the department. But at the same time, it is taken as a refresher for some of the other members and not really much of a learning experience. It’s important to remember training is all about learning and what new skills your students can extract and spread to the rest of their crew or department.
Unfortunately, many instructors don’t train enough themselves. They become so confident and comfortable teaching the “basics,” they become lazy and even begin to think they will look bad if they teach outside of their comfort zone. They may be afraid they won’t have all the answers to all the questions, or they may be challenged by someone more up-to-date, making them look bad.
We can’t let ourselves become “paper-stack instructors.” Meaning, we can’t become an instructor who piles up certifications (aka: a paper stack) and then forgets what we were taught, and even worse, didn’t bother to learn more.
In order to give a challenging fire department training class, which will truly benefit our students, we must take classes that challenge us and make us better – giving us the confidence and knowledge we need to be effective. After all, it’s on us, as instructors, to make firefighter training as impactful as possible.
About the Author
Jacob Johnson works for Pearland Fire Department (Texas) as a driver/operator. He has been in the fire service for more than 11 years. He has taught at extrication schools, recruit academies, and several suppression schools. His certifications include: FF Intermediate, Driver/Operator, Fire Officer 1, Fire Instructor III.

Situational Awareness on the Fireground for Incident Commanders and ‘the Inside Man’

Blog by Ed Hadfield
Situational awareness is a term we often hear about as a trait needed for our incident commanders. However, all personnel must develop their own situational awareness based on the task or objective they’re given. In this article, we will identify some very basic concepts of situational awareness based on the specific task or assignment as part of the overall fireground component.
Incident Commanders
As incident commanders, we are often tasked with assuming command of an active incident that has developed prior to our arrival. We’ve all experienced a second alarm from the bunk room based off reports from dispatch, only to discover it was a dumpster fire behind an industrial building, not a working fire in an industrial building.
We use this as an analogy to shed light on actions based on perception, not actions based on reality. Often we find individuals who lack situational awareness skills, base their decisions on a very limited view of the situation, rather than a global or comprehensive view. Therefore, the old “360 degree” philosophy becomes an important ingredient to our success model.
It is important for all incident commanders to capture a complete “360” of the structure. Having said that, one item of extreme importance is to capture the “360” yourself, or delegate to others and receive accurate feedback, within the first few minutes of establishing your action plan.
This continuous size-up of the structure and incident must become a component of the comprehensive action plan. However, adjustments may need to be made based upon the feedback you receive. Remember, the building has seven sides: the four exterior walls, the roof, the basement (if applicable) and the interior.
This view and information input will provide the basis to establish a comprehensive action plan. Often, due to the size of the structure, we rely upon our field personnel to provide the information to us as accurately and timely as possible. This is why structure identification and an understanding of building and rescue profiles are critical for all personnel on the fireground.
Given the dynamics of today’s fires and the events of extreme fire behavior that we operate within, the understanding of hostile event recognition and pressure as it relates to rapid fire progression is important information to be relayed to the incident commander. Particularly in high volume, big box and wide-rise type structures, where hostile events occur in the overhead at explosive levels that can create structural failure in the roof assembly.
Interior Situational Awareness Officer or “The Inside Man”
As a member assigned to the truck or engine, you will be tasked with a variety of objectives. Many of which require you to operate somewhat independently of the crew. Case in point, the “Inside Man,” or as I like to commonly refer to as the Interior Situational Awareness Officer. Yes, this is a mouthful, yet the concept is more important than the name.
In general, the “Inside Man” is responsible for bringing a blower to the door, pulling ceilings in the immediate overhead, coordinating the use of PPV with vertical ventilation, and working with the fire attack team to do search as extension or with his/her own company on secondary search or salvage operations. This job is really an important task for overall success. However, in today’s fires we must look at building upon this job and utilizing their ability to become a direct link between the changing dynamics of the interior and the Incident Commander; to provide him/her with accurate data to capture a better view of the situation than one from the exterior of the structure from a block away.
Changes would occur within the duties and responsibilities of the Interior Situational Awareness Officer. First, this individual would be responsible for conducting an exterior scan and size-up of at least two sides of the structure; primarily, the division or side where the primary attack team made access to the interior, and the division of approach.
Second, any identifiable structural collapse considerations, hostile events recognition factors, or roof assembly exposure would be immediately communicated to the I/C and companies operating internally. Additionally, Building Profile identification is key, and would include the age and type of the structure.
NOTE: This will determine fire spread and strengths and weaknesses based upon the building profile, and construction components and features.
Next, the conditions at the point of main egress must be taken into consideration and read, meaning reading the rapid development and increase of pressurization at the access point. All of which should be considered and communicated if recognized as a threat to the safety of personnel inside.
The use of a TIC should also be considered as a tool, to detect fire in the overhead and potential collapse in the area of main egress from the structure. While making that determination, it is important to identify the proper use of PPV. Remember, there are five recognizable elements in determining if PPV is appropriate or not. If any of these five exists, PPV should NOT be considered as the primary source of ventilation.
1. Imminent or confirmed rescue of a civilian or down firefighter
2. Unknown location of fire or inability to locate the fire by interior crews
3. Inability or lack of an adequate sized exhaust portal for PPV usage
4. Working attic fire or fire in an overhead concealed space that would impinge upon roof assembles features while personnel are interior the structure
5. Structure which is over-pressurized for the use of PPV or rapid fire development
All of the above considerations are generally seen by the Inside Man as they are performing their exterior task and job assignments.
The understanding of these elements allows this person to make adjustments to their action plan and provide a higher degree of safety for interior personnel with concise communications to the incident commander.
Once the Inside Man, or Interior Situational Awareness Officer, transitions to the interior of the structure, their job assignment and analysis of situational threats greatly increases. First, the understanding of the roof assembly features and the destructive effects of fire and exposure to fire on these features needs to be a high priority of this person.
In addition to pulling ceilings in the immediate overhead of the main access, point with a scan of the assembly both visually and TIC assisted, it is important for this person to identify the number of hoselines through the access point and the number of personnel assigned to the hoselines.
NIOSH Firefighter Data and Injury Report Data has shown that two or more hoselines through on access portal create a spaghetti like effect that will greatly increase the odds of personnel failing to egress out of a structure in the moment of a hostile event. Corrective action should be taken to minimize this potential.
Keeping hoselines pulled straight and tight, while providing ample egress portals will reduce the risk of injury and entrapment of interior personnel. The Inside Man’s ability to identify rapid fire development within the structure based on changing interior conditions, the reports from roof division as to progress and conditions of ventilation heat holes and firefighter access holes in common corridors or center hallways, along with the exterior size-up communications from the I-RIC companies determine the next course of action.
One simple task is to first determine the location of interior crews, then identify both accountability and air management of those personnel while sizing up the area in which actively involved in firefighting, search procedures or fire extension activities. Along with the normal assigned task, the Inside Man becomes the interior eyes and ears for the incident commander. Historically this has been tasked to a senior Company Officer assigned on a hoseline or an interior position.
However, with split-company operations in limited to zero visibility environments, the Inside Man can double the effective safety envelope by following the actions stated above for the Incident Commander. Also, those assigned to interior crews may be limited in their ability to identify critical safety factors previously discussed due to task overload.
Although, it may seem like a task overload situation for the Inside Man to accomplish all these objectives, bear in mind, it’s a simple algorithm to follow based upon FACTS, PRESENTATIONS, INPUT & INFORMTION, and TASK EXPECTATIONS AND OUTCOMES.
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


The Role of Emotions in Decision Making

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO
Retired Fire Chief and Web Master for Situational Awareness Matters
It is believed by some that the best decisions are made without the interference of emotions. Economists and statisticians stand fast to this belief – the best decisions are made using pure logic. Facts and formulas lead to the best decisions because they are rational and analytical. But is it true? Imagine for a moment if the emotional control center of a person’s brain were removed. Would that person make better, non-emotional decisions?
To answer that question I want to introduce you to Phineas Gage. Gage was a construction foreman for a railroad company and on Sept. 13, 1848, he sustained an injury that made him the subject of neuro-researchers to this day. While placing an explosive charge into a rock using a tamping rod, the ordinance accidentally detonated and the 3-foot, 7-inch rod went through Gage’s skull.
Amazingly, Gage survived an injury that would, to this day, be fatal to many. His physical recovery was no less amazing to doctors. Within 10 weeks of the injury, Gage returned to work. Life was normal again. Or so some thought?
There was something fundamentally different about Gage. He suffered no memory loss and no motor-skill deficiencies – sans the loss of his left eye and the depth perception challenges it created from having monocular vision. Besides that, however, Gage was clearly “different.”
His behavior had changed. In addition to a change in his personality, one of the most notable deficits was Gage could no longer make a coherent decision. The accident destroyed a portion of his brain in the prefrontal lobe that controls emotions. Gage could no longer make good decisions for the lack of emotional input into the process.
Many subsequent studies involving patients with traumatic brain injuries, lesions and tumors have validated the importance of the emotional control center in the process of decision making. We now know that emotions are a critical component of decision making, though economists and statisticians might still choose to disagree.
Thanks to the advances in modern medicine, researchers are now able to gauge a person’s emotional response to a stimulus and predict behavior long before the (apparent) rational decision is made.
One study I recall reading involved asking a group of chief executive officers to register their “gut” (emotional) solution to a problem prior to embarking on the long, often difficult and timely journey of gathering all the facts and evidence needed to make a “good” decision. When the dust settled, in a vast majority of the cases, the emotional “gut” decision equaled or was better than the rational, non-emotional decision.
The ability of the emotional brain to solve problems and influence decision making is the very concept that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his best-selling novel, “Blink.” While Gladwell is not a researcher, his writing is well-researched and, for the most part, accurately portrayed.
The take away: Emotions are critical in making quality decisions, especially for those in leadership positions in the fire service. I do not advocate making purely emotional decisions. Rather, I’d say trust your gut, but validate it with some proof – facts and data – that confirm you’re on the right track. But never dismiss your gut feelings. They’re telling you something … and the message is coming right from your prefrontal cortex.
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.

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.