Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway
Web Master for Situational Awareness Matters (www.SAmatters.com)

I recently had an opportunity to talk with a frustrated firefighter. He described a situation where he came to work for his shift and, as he always does, started his day by performing a safety check of his personal gear and his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). When he opened the cabinet door on the apparatus he could hardly believe his eyes.

There, staring back at him was a new SCBA, a brand different than before with functionality completely different than the SCBA he was familiar with. Neither he, nor anyone on his shift, had received notification, let alone any training on how to use this new piece of critical equipment. It was left for him and his coworkers to figure out on their own.

Such an act of incompetence in the part of this department’s senior management, command staff and training staff seems incomprehensible but it happened. The firefighters on this department were left to fend for themselves and to teach themselves how to use their new SCBA.

The liability the fire department assumed for this egregious act is enormous. All it is going to take is for a firefighter to be injured or killed and a savvy investigator to start asking the right questions about the department’s SCBA training, along with a request to see the training documentation that each firefighter was properly trained. As much as it pains me to think taxpayer dollars are going to be used to settle that suit, it causes much more angst to know whatever the consequences for the firefighter(s) it could have been avoided with proper leadership and training.

Situational awareness requires a conscious effort to capture clues and cues in an often hectic and hostile environment. This required a lot of brain power. If responders need to use some of their precious cognitive energy to figure out how to use their equipment on the fly, their situational awareness is going to suffer and that is going to put them at risk.

Any time new equipment is put into service it should be done so with thoughtful planning and consideration for the safety of the end user. This includes informing personnel the equipment is coming and providing opportunities for training and practice with the new equipment before it must be used on an actual emergency scene.

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