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Why SOPs Are Harmful to the Formation of Situational Awareness

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

During my “Fifty Ways to Kill a First Responder” program, I discuss how standard operating procedures (SOPs) and standard operating guidelines (SOGs) can be helpful in the formation of situational awareness and in making critical incident decisions. Much to the chagrin of the policy makers in the audience, I also discuss how SOPs and SOGs can be harmful to the formation of situational awareness and cripple good decision making.

The former seems easier to comprehend. When employees have SOPs or SOGs to follow their performance is consistent and predictable. When a crew arrives at an emergency and performs according to a standard, then everyone arriving after them knows what to expect. There are few surprises when all the crews using the same playbook. To this end, SOPs and SOGs are a great tool to build consistency and predictability into operations. In fact, developing and using SOPs and SOGs are one of my top 10 situational awareness best practices.

So how can SOPs and SOGs be harmful? In training, responders should use the standards. It’s a simple premise. Train to the standard. Perform to the standard. However, there are times when the standard way of doing things won’t work. The circumstances of the incident are not covered by the standard. When this happens, what is a member to do?

Essentially, they have two choices. First, follow the standard, regardless of the circumstances. Or, improvise a unique solution to the novel problem. Which will they do? The answer, surprisingly, will be based on how rigid the organization views their standards and how much resiliency the organization has built into their decision making processes.

Let’s run through a couple of made-up fire scenarios to see how this plays out.

Scenario 1: The fire is in the back of the structure. The standard says attack from the unburned side, meaning the crew is going to advance the hose line through the front door. It’s a drill they’ve practiced over and over again at the burn building. Fire in the back. Attack from the front. But the front door is barricaded and fortified. Attempts to force entry are not working. Because the policy says attack from the unburned side, additional efforts are given to making entry. The process takes five minutes. All the while, the fire is growing in the back of the structure. Crews are not willing to veer from the standard because they fear the consequences.

Scenario 2: The fire is in the back of the structure. The standard says attack from the unburned side. During training, the crews practiced in accordance to the standard until they were good at the skill. However, the instructor then created scenarios that did not fit the written standard. The scenario of the barricaded and fortified door was built into the drill. During the exercise the students were encouraged to improvise a solution. Then they were encouraged to improvise a second solution, then a third. This creative problem solving, performing on purpose in ways that does not conform to standards, builds resiliency into decision making. And this is a critical skill to develop in responders. Standards can’t cover everything and responders need to be taught how to resolve issues where the standards don’t work. They also need to practice the deviations. And they need to be encouraged and rewarded for their creative problem solving efforts.

Unless you can develop and implement standards that cover every possible scenario responders will face, you may want to work in building resiliency into your members’ decision making. It will improve their situational awareness and their safety.

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. His website, Situational Awareness Matters (www.SAMatters.com) has enjoyed over a million visits since its launch in October 2011. He can be reached via e-mail at Support@RichGasaway.com.

Wheat Ridge Fire Department Looks to TargetSolutions for Tracking Critical Training Hours Certifications

In 1926, the Wheat Ridge Fire Department began serving the citizens of Colorado under the basic principle of service before self. The department has recently reinforced its commitment to the community by adopting a new mission statement: Doing the Right Things at the Right Times for the Right Reasons.

In order to carry out its goals, the entire department must be well-organized, well-trained and well-prepared to respond to a crisis in a moment’s notice. Battalion Chief Bob Olme manages the training division and ensures the department is reaching its maximum potential in those areas.

Olme began his career in the fire service in 1984 and is extremely experienced in many disciplines of the profession. He realizes the importance of comprehensive training and that’s why it made so much sense to begin using TargetSolutions, he said.

“TargetSolutions is a very strong platform for tracking certifications, hours and all of the things you need from a certification standpoint. It’s also a great way for us to keep track of records for ISO compliance,” said Olme, whose department implemented TargetSolutions in 2009.

In addition to superior tools for tracking training, Olme’s department benefits from uploading documents onto the platform for firefighters to view 24/7.

“SOPs come out and we put them on TargetSolutions. Everybody can reference them,” Olme said. “They’re permanent documents so people don’t have to chase paper anymore.”

In addition to the records management functions, Olme also assigns online courses to the firefighters.

“It supplements our hands-on training by providing a consistent knowledge base that we can roll out both to our career and volunteer firefighters simultaneously,” said Olme. It’s fairly self-taught, so if you’re on a busy schedule you’re able to do it at your will. It has been very successful for us both on the fire side as well as EMS training.

Olme has had experience with several different platforms and he says that TargetSolutions is the easiest to use.

“It’s a super strong platform that’s easy to use,” said Olme. “I don’t have a lot of administrative help, and I am still able to do it and stay up with it. If I can do it, anybody can.”

Even though it’s a user friendly platform, Olme reports that anytime he needs help, it is given to him by the excellent Client Services team at TargetSolutions.

“Whenever I need help, I get help,” he said. “I would certainly recommend TargetSolutions to anybody who asked me about it.”

About TargetSolutions
TargetSolutions is the leading provider of web-based technology solutions for fire and EMS departments. These solutions enable departments to maintain compliance, reduce losses, deliver curriculum, and track all station-level tasks, certifications and training activities.

Tip of the Month: How to Import Files from Community Resources Application

The Community Resources application gives administrators the ability to access and share training videos, organizational policies, inspection forms, and more with other TargetSolutions clients. Administrators are able to import and distribute these resources to users through the Activities Builder.

There are two ways to locate videos in Community Recourses: Top Files and Top Videos and by searching. The Top Files and Top Videos are determined by a combination of popular views and resource ratings. The search engine provides the ability to browse the database of shared content, which is based off of keywords, as well as administrator-defined tags.

Once an administrator or supervisor locates a video in the Community Resources that they would like to share with their department, they can easily import the file with just a few simple steps. First, click the Import Resource button under the Resource Details section. The file/video will then transfer to the File Center into a folder labeled Imported Resources. The administrator can then attach the video or file to a custom activity to be assigned out to their users. It is as easy as that!

Without a doubt, Community Resources is one of TargetSolutions most useful applications. If you’d like more information on this tool, please contact your account manager.

Alternative Fire Training Methods Think Outside the Box

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

Looking outside the box is critical when a firefighter is implementing training. For instance, learning from other individuals in different geographical locations can greatly influence how we mitigate certain situations. We may never be able to use 100 percent of the expertise we’ve learned from an individual operating 1,000 miles away, but we can take parts and use them in our own department.

Working in a fire department is similar to a scavenger hunt. There are pieces of the puzzle lying all around us. It’s our job as training officers and instructors to find the pieces that will make our departments stronger, the things that will keep us safe and reduce injuries and deaths.

In 2008, Chief John Salka came to our department at my request to speak on rapid intervention and to deliver a hands-on training day. This small idea of mine to have Salka come down turned into the first Gwinnett County Leadership and Safety Conference. Chief John Norman, Chief Rick Lasky, Chief Kelvin Cochran and others have since come and brought their own area of expertise to the conference, which not only benefited my department, but many others throughout the Atlanta-metro Area.

Something of this magnitude had never been attempted before in our region and it took a tremendous amount of help and determination to put together. The financial need for this endeavor was not allocated by the department during budget time, and finding sponsors was a tough task. One of the greatest benefits of bringing speakers into a central area is that it allows multiple departments to become involved and share the cost.

If your department is interested in putting together an event like this, here are some of the lessons I learned in the process:

>> Create a plan that includes who, when and where. It’s very important to answer all of the obvious questions prior to soliciting sponsors or buy-in from outside departments.

>> Look at all possibilities and combinations, especially when considering time of year, speaker times and event sites. You may choose to run two separate locations: one for classroom and one for hands-on-training.

>> The first mistake I encountered was time frame. I was under the impression this conference would be up and rolling within four months. About nine months later we had our first conference.

>> When looking for sponsorship, think way ahead. Potential sponsors have an annual budget similar to the government. Sponsors cannot allocate money at the drop of a hat. Get on their radar prior to their conference scheduling and budget meetings.

>> Advertising is key, especially if you are looking for participants to help share the cost. Look for mutual benefits with publishing companies, such as cross advertising for each other. They have a very large distribution system, use it. Also, advertise with all local fire department associations.

>> Get help. Lots of it. The smartest thing I did was entice one of our administrative assistances to help keep the financial documents and registration. This allowed me to look at everything else and get the big picture of what was going on. You can expect problems and questions to come your way. You need to be ready to handle them.

>> Don’t be afraid to follow through. Big risk equals big reward. The greatest accomplishment of that conference was receiving e-mails six months later saying how a firefighter changed their way of thinking or operating because of something that was said by a speaker.

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

About the Author
Brian Ward is the training director for Georgia Pacific in Madison, Ga. He previously was an engineer/officer with Gwinnett County Fire Department in Georgia.

TargetSolutions Offers Newly Approved Fire Content in Florida

We are excited to announce the expansion of our library of approved fire content in Florida by the Florida State Fire College. Our newly released First Responder Hybrid Vehicles Incidents course is approved, as well as the NFPA 1001 and NFPA 1021 course bundles being accepted for continuing education credits for Firesafety Inspectors and Instructors.

But TargetSolutions is not only able to deliver fire content in Florida, there are infinitely more benefits of the approvals.

This is going to be huge for many of our clients. Firefighters need 40 hours of fire recertification every other year. Now, we can go to departments and show them how we can help them meet all their required hours, including EMS, said TargetSolutions Regional Sales Manager Jeff Oathout.

Additionally, inspectors and instructors can receive credit for our 8-hour HAZWOPER refreshers, and the Emergency Response to Terrorism course fulfills four hours toward the Terrorism Pre-certification requirement for Fire Officers. These newly-approved titles facilitate TargetSolutions being able to offer a much wider variety of options for Florida Firesafety Inspectors and Instructors.

Every Minute of Training Counts with TargetSolutions’ Record Keeping

TargetSolutions’ powerful records management system helps fire department record keeping for all types of training, including drill-yard and instructor-led training activities.

The TargetSolutions records management system is packed with innovative applications built to help track firefighter training hours. But perhaps its most beneficial tool is the Activities Builder.

This powerful application has revolutionized the way clients document training. By creating custom activities, departments can distribute and track firefighter training hours in categories that were once overlooked.

“The benefit of custom activities is the ability of a fire department to design its own training programs specific to its own departments SOGs and SOPs,” said TargetSolutions’ Product Specialist Tim Riley, who prior to working with the company was a chief with Dunedin Fire Department in Florida. “It truly gives the department a sense of ownership and validity when they can attach their own policies or principles directly to an activity.”

A huge component of TargetSolutions’ Activities Builder is its ability to track training specifically for fire department ISO compliance. TargetSolutions developed custom activities built just for ISO tracking. This feature consists of 60 custom activities that are preloaded into a department’s site (upon request). In addition to those custom activities, there is a preset of three Training Tracker credentials covering Driver Operator, Firefighter and Officer.

TargetSolutions offers other preloaded custom activities created to assist departments in improving the efficiency of firefighter record keeping. One specific activity consists of 19 daily checklist activities, similar to that of ISO. These lists are broken down into specifications that ensure every amount of training, no matter how minimal, is being tracked by the administration.

“Utilization of custom activities allows a department to track firefighter training hours they never classified as training,” said TargetSolutions’ Client Services Manager Jennifer Antinone. “In most cases, departments have been doing all their required training needs, but they just weren’t tracking them. Using TargetSolutions, they never have to worry about not getting credit for their training.”

With TargetSolutions, tracking any type of training and recording the duration is a cinch. Administrators can take any training document, transform it into a web-based form, and make the document accessible to users. Inspections for SCBA, PPE, apparatus, or anything else, can be completed and tracked simultaneously which increases operational efficiency.

“It’s easier for the users to understand when an activity, policy, or principle is department-specific,” Riley said. “This helps create a better sense of buy-in for using the system to document training. It’s a win-win for department’s administration, and subordinates alike.”

One example of a custom built activity is Truck Checks, which is utilized by Auburndale Fire Department in Florida. Truck Checks forms are created featuring a hard-copy inspection list. This form allows users to record free-form responses to questions about fuel levels, truck conditions and other specifications of each truck at the station.

“Inspections like this are vital to department administrators because they ensure equipment is in proper working order,” Antinone said.

Every department differs in the demand for inspections, policies and other daily activities. So not all activities can be replicated – but with the use of reportable components and free-form questions, TargetSolutions is capable of turning any hard-copy form of documentation into a custom activity.

With custom activities and credentials in place, it opens a fire department’s eyes to what they are currently doing with respects to training, said Antinone. Also, this capability helps them to understand what other training they should be doing. By generating reports on custom activities, a department can understand which areas they are efficient and which they are lacking the proper, up-to-date training.

About TargetSolutions
TargetSolutions is the leading provider of web-based technology solutions for fire and EMS departments. These solutions enable departments to maintain compliance, reduce losses, deliver curriculum, and track all station-level tasks, certifications and training activities.

TargetSolutions Selects Winner of Social Media Contest

Congratulations to Evan Scott of Polk County Fire Rescue! Evan won TargetSolutions’ social media contest prize of a $100 Amazon gift card after “liking” our Facebook page. Evan’s name was randomly selected from a list of individuals who participated in the sweepstakes by liking us during the promotion.

If you haven’t liked us yet on Facebook, please do so today by clicking the Like button on our Facebook page. Connecting with TargetSolutions through social media is a great way to learn about future promotions, company news and platform tips and tricks.

You can also follow us on twitter to stay up to date on information about TargetSolutions and its industry-leading online training and records management system.

Like Everything in This Profession, Preparation Is Critical When Ventilating a Metal Deck Roof

Blog by Ed Hadfield
www.firetowntrainingspecialist.com

As firefighters, we are often faced with challenges out of our control. When tasked with vertical ventilation, we must deal with the roof assemblage we are dealt with. In the case of the metal deck roof, (also known as Robertson decking, or Q-decking) specific challenges are thrust upon the ventilation group. Obviously, if we had the opportunity to completely pre-plan all of the occupancies we might face in a commercial structure fire, we would have some prior knowledge of the roof assembly. But we don’t, so we must be prepared to react to the circumstances we encounter.

In most cases, once the ventilation group identifies the roof assembly is a metal-decked roof, a number of actions must occur for the mission to be safe and successful. The first item would be to indicate to command and interior operations that the structure has a metal deck roof assembly. This is important for all personnel operating within the structure due to the potential of a catastrophic collapse as the heat generated from the fire weakens the roof assembly, and support structures. The second key factor is to identify to all interior companies where specific heavy machinery on the roof may be located. This additional load may be critical in firefighter safety and survival.

Heavy Machinery Poses a Hazard to Interior Crews
The ventilation group supervisor may want to readily identify natural, or man-made ventilation points, such as skylights, and other openings that may assist in the ventilation of the structure without the need for actual cutting of ventilation openings in the roof. Of course this would be incident driven, and based upon the need, and amount of ventilation required to accomplish the task.

Cutting an Inspection Hole Four Feet from an Exterior Wall
Of course the ventilation group may not know the roof assembly is metal decked until we place an inspection cut into the roof itself. The inspection cut is the single most critical element to the vertical ventilation operation on a commercial or industrial occupancy. It will give the ventilation group five key elements in the vertical ventilation operation:

1. Roof covering
2. Roof decking
3. Rafter or truss type and direction
4. Conditions immediately underneath the ventilation group at that moment
5. Determines the operations of the ventilation group

Once the inspection cut is placed into the roof assembly the formal process begins to take action. In the case of the metal deck roof, a number of critical factors come into play. The first is the ability of the ventilation group to be successful in performing vertical ventilation on this type of roof assembly. The metal deck roof offers certain specific hazards and inhibitors to the ventilation group. The first is the ability to successfully open the roof up with the equipment on hand.

In most West Coast Fire Departments, the chainsaw, with a 20-inch bar and carbide tipped chain is the tool of choice for vertical ventilation operations. Although the advent of the newer Terminator and Raptor type chains has increased performance in this area, they still provided limited ability to be successful in the vertical ventilation operation on the metal deck roof. The primary problem occurs when firefighters run the chain into the metal trusses that support the metal deck roof.

Generally, no matter how experienced and careful the firefighter may be, the inability to feel the truss until it is too late causes the loss of multiple teeth on the chain, and in many cases causes the chain to be thrown from the bar itself, thus rendering the saw useless.

Utilization of a Rotary Saw with a Metal Cutting Blade
It is important for the ventilation group supervisor to acquire a minimum of two rotary saws immediately for the operation to be successful. As stated, most west coast fire departments don’t normally take rotary saws to the roof. This lends itself again to the need to spot your apparatus close to the occupancy so it doesn’t delay the operations longer than necessary. If the ventilation group is staffed well enough to send a runner back to the truck company to acquire the rotary saws, this would allow the ventilation group to possible begin ventilation operations on skylights, or other man made ventilation openings.

Pulling the Plug with a Rubbish Hook
As stated, the chainsaw is not the tool of choice in most cases. However, often times it is needed to skin the roof covering to expose the metal decking itself.

The best method of removing the top roof covering is to simply cut ventilation plugs the area or size of the ventilation hole the ventilation group wishes to accomplish. To accomplish this task utilize the chainsaw and make a plug cut the area or size of the ventilation opening.

If needed, the plug can be diced into smaller portions to make it more manageable for the pullers to handle. Be careful not to allow the chainsaw to sink into the metal decking, as this might cause the chain to be thrown, and thus rendered useless for further operations.

The goal is to simply skin the roof covering in an effort to expose the metal decking. Once the plug has been established, the best method of opening up the metal deck roof is with the use of rotary saws utilizing either a metal cutting blade, or for greater use the multi-cut or DAX type of blade. The use of the multi-cut blade offers longer duration of operations, without the repeated needed for changing blades.

Working Toward Your Means of Egress
When performing the cutting operations, always work back toward your means of egress. The ventilation group supervisor or Company Officer should remain in an EYES-UP position. This simply means the company officer should refrain from becoming actively involved in the ventilation cutting operations if at all possible. Of course this will be dictated by the staffing levels of the company.

If it is necessary for the officer to become involved in cutting operations he/she should limit the amount of cuts necessary to accomplish the task and then return to the EYES-UP position. This size and location of the ventilation opening is incident driven and specific to the location, and volume of fire within the structure.

A good rule of thumb is to operate in an area nearest to the fire without being directly over the involved area. It is important to note that heat will affect the structural stability of the roof assembly, and operation over the involved area may place the ventilation group in extreme danger.

The goal is to increase visibility and tenability by reducing the rapid build-up and spread of fire within the location. This can safely be accomplished from an area not directly involved in fire activity.

Teamwork and communication with interior crews is essential, and important for overall fire ground safety and survivability. As for the amount of ventilating required, this is incident specific. A good rule of thumb is to communicate with interior crew on their ability to suppress the fire and make headway on the assault. Also, heavy pressurization from a ventilation hole, or fire self-venting is generally an indication of inadequate ventilation, and further ventilation needs to occur.

The key items to remember when faced with metal deck occupancy are:

>> Vertical ventilation on metal deck roofs requires addition equipment in the form of rotary saws, and often multiple blades.

>> Vertical ventilation operations on metal deck roofs do not follow the same type of cut procedures as conventional and light weight engineered structures.

>> Vertical ventilation operations on metal deck roofs take greater time to accomplish. So plan wisely.

>> Natural and man-made openings should be the first choice in vertical ventilation openings.

>> Communications with the interior crew is essential for safe and efficient operations.

>> Preplanning of commercial and industrial occupancies is the best way to lessen the surprise of the metal deck roof on structure fires.

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

Burnsville Fire Department Improves Hands-On Training by Using TargetSolutions for Pre-Training

Burnsville Fire Department has found TargetSolutions to be a tremendous tool for delivering pre-training prior to hands-on training exercises.

Since 1981, the Burnsville Fire Department in Minnesota has strived for efficiency in all areas of emergency response. The goal has always been to carry out its commitment to the preservation of life, safety and the protection of property.

Assistant Chief Brian Carlson plays an important role in helping the department meet that mission by administering training to personnel through the use of TargetSolutions’ industry’s leading web-based training and records management system.

Going through the hassle of manually tracking departmental data is a challenge many departments struggle overcoming. Before Burnsville found TargetSolutions in 2011, it faced the same difficulties.

“Previously, all the data we used would be something that would have to be manually inputted, or manually tracked,” said Carlson, whose department was slowed down by these outdated recordkeeping practices.

With the implementation of TargetSolutions, the department had the tool it needed to simplify and improve training management practices. But Carlson was pleasantly surprised with how TargetSolutions helped the department train more effectively through pre-training coursework.

“We use TargetSolutions to allow our crews to review didactic course information before we do hands-on training,” said Carlson. “When they arrive at training, they know all of the background information and we can jump right into the hands-on training.”

At the end of the day, however, it’s the recordkeeping capabilities that have had the largest impact on Carlson’s department.

“TargetSolutions has really allowed us to use their reporting to rapidly be able to find and extract information and be able to report it for ISO compliance, as well as reports for other elected officials,” he said. “Through reporting we can also see who’s late on assignments. Firefighters are able to receive e-mail notifications for when they’re due; and as the admin of the program I receive e-mails when the firefighters are late on an assignment.”

The implementation of TargetSolutions for online training and records management has resulted in cost savings, Carlson said.

“TargetSolutions has allowed us to keep units at their stations, which helps with response times and fuel costs. For OSHA training, rather than having to call everyone in and pay them off-duty, we can assign those courses through TargetSolutions and have them complete them on-duty.”

Brian Carlson, Assistant Chief

Overall, Carlson said he has been extremely pleased with the platform and the customer support he has received from TargetSolutions.

“I have nothing but good things to say about TargetSolutions, said Carlson. The content is good. The ability to upload our own content is fantastic. What I’ve enjoyed most is the customer service. Whenever I’ve had a question, the e-mails or phone calls have been returned promptly. All in all, it’s been a great product.”

About TargetSolutions
TargetSolutions is the leading provider of web-based technology solutions for fire and EMS departments. These solutions enable departments to maintain compliance, reduce losses, deliver curriculum, and track all station-level tasks, certifications and training activities.

TargetSolutions Helps Clients Add Custom Certificates to Activities

Did you know you can add custom certificates to activities? If your organization would like to create official training documentation for completed activities, TargetSolutions is here to help.

“Some organizations like to be able to show proof of training by creating custom certificates,” said TargetSolutions Client Services Manager Jennifer Antinone. “In some cases this helps them achieve easier recertification and continuing education credit by being able to document this completed training. We are happy to assist with it.”

Upon request, TargetSolutions will create a custom certificate for your organization. In order to produce this certificate, TargetSolutions will need the following information:

>> A copy of your existing certificate, if available

>> Your department’s logo

>> Electronic copy of the signature needed on the document

>> This same person’s full name and title

>> CE provider name and number, if applicable

Once you have gathered these requirements, please contact your account manager with TargetSolutions for more information. The process for adding custom certificates to activities typically requires 3-5 business days.