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How to Effectively Cut Padlocks During Forcible-Entry Operations

*Blog Written by Firetown Training Specialist

How to Cut a Padlock Safely

Padlocks are an easy, inexpensive way for property owners to secure access into specific areas. This common type of lock usually secures mounted hasps by connecting and locking two ends of a chain, or by locking out pre-fabricated hardware on an appliance or machine. Though not commonly seen on main entrance or exit doors of businesses or private dwellings, the padlock can be found on storage unit doors, sheds, fence gates, vehicle access bollard posts, and post-indicator valves (PIVs), to name a few locations.

What Tools to Use to Cut Padlocks

Bolt cutters are the common tool of choice for to cut padlocks during forcible-entry. Unfortunately, most padlocks are made of case-hardened steel, which is very strong in comparison to the materials that bolt cutters were intended to cut.

You will find that most of the time, a set of bolt cutters will make the cut, using a big effort, but the damage to the tool after continual use will render it ineffective over time. Take a look at the bolt cutters on your apparatus and notice the large elongated nicks taken out of the cutting edges. Not only can you damage your bolt cutters by cutting padlocks, but you can hinder processes on the fireground.

You probably haven’t been assigned the “bolt cutters” on the fireground when your company rolls up. There is another tool (or set of tools) on the fireground that is frequently found in the hands of multiple firefighters – and that’s a set of “irons.”

Whether you choose a flathead axe or a sledge maul, you can marry it with a Halligan bar – and padlocks will fear you. When a padlock fails or fractures, it usually does so at the latch cut on the shackle, or at the base of the shackle where it swivels down inside. It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of force to fail and can even be accomplished by a single firefighter with a tool in each hand.

Fire Department Training


Photos from Firefighter Training for Cutting and Forcing Padlocks

Refer to the photos below during firefighter training for representation on cutting and forcing padlocks.

Irons Method No. 1

Irons Method No. 1:

Place the pike end of the Halligan through the shackle of the lock with the striking portion of the Halligan exposed either from the top or the side. One or two good strikes with your axe or maul on the striking surface, and the lock should fail.







Irons Method No. 2

Irons Method No. 2:

Place the fork end of the Halligan over the shackle of the lock so it is straddled. One or two good strikes with your axe or maul at the base of the fork end, and the lock should fail.







Circular/Rotary Saw Method

Circular/Rotary Saw Method:

Using a set of vice grips and a rotary saw with an abrasive blade, you can capture the padlock at its base to ensure that it does not flap around wildly when the saw contacts the shackle. This can safely be done by securing a leash or piece of webbing to the vice grips and pulling it taunt. Have another firefighter assist with this. However, when operating independently, secure the tension by stepping on the leash/webbing with one foot. Make contact on the shackle of the lock at full throttle and complete your cut.



Bolt Cutter Method

Bolt Cutter Method:

Bolt cutters are great for cutting fencing, light to medium gauge chain, and other soft metals. When you have the option to cut the chain or padlock used in such a combination, cut the link of chain closest to the padlock using the bolt cutters. This enables the property owner to later use his key to unlock the undamaged padlock and pull the slack from the chain to secure the lock to the next available link.

Remember to always try and have an alternative method to what you think will probably work when conducting forcible-entry operations.



Firefighter Continuing Education Training

TargetSolutions features more than 450 hours of training for fire departments. Courses are based on the NFPA codes and standards, including NFPA 1001, NFPA 1021 and the NFPA 1500 Series. Courses also cover wildland fire, response to terrorism, and much more.

About the Author

This blog was submitted by Ed Hadfield of Firetown Training Specialist. Hadfield has more than 27 years of fire service experience, rising through the ranks from Firefighter to Division Chief.

Times May Have Changed, But Somebody Still Needs to Be the Barn Boss

Blog by Brian Ward
Training Director in Madison, Ga.
This column is a throwback to the history of the fire department – back before we had custom cabs and 100-foot aerials, back when our equipment consisted of a wagon and a fine breed of horses.
Just how important was the “barn boss” to ensuring the equipment, or the horses, were ready to respond at any time? What exactly was the barn boss responsible for? Most importantly, who in your department is filling that role now?
The barn boss doesn’t wear trumpets, but their necessity is beyond any individual in the department. Obviously, there has to be chiefs and officers for day-to-day operations and incident command. However, there is not much to command or operate if the chiefs and officers do not make it to the scene. In addition, if the troops or firefighters are not prepared to respond as quickly as the horses, there’s not much to operate or command.
In order for things to run smoothly the most influential firefighter should step up and be prepared to take the responsibility of making sure personnel are trained appropriately and the equipment is capable of handling all necessary tasks.
We all have our days when we don’t feel like a million bucks, but we never know what call is coming next and it’s essential we are confident in our equipment’s capabilities. Today may just be that day. Think if that was your family, which fire apparatus and which firefighter would you want responding!
The barn boss also needs to make sure all firefighters are fully capable of handling their duties with efficiency and competence. In order for this to happen, firefighters need to be exercised everyday just like the equipment on the apparatus.
Firefighters need to be trained. They need to practice the basics and be introduced to new techniques. Time after time firefighters start off full-tilt with new information but hit a road block and stop learning. Equipment, procedures, best practices, technological developments, standards, research developments – all of these are introduced regularly. A small piece of information may save your life or the life of a crew member. Or that new knowledge might help you work more efficiently.
These are critical tasks for a barn boss. Any chance you have to pass on information and knowledge – cherish that opportunity. You may not receive thanks or a pat on the back, but you will have done something incredibly important to our mission. Keep in mind, you have to lead by example and do the job first. This shows dedication, heart, and commitment to the people around you.
Be the example. Set the bar. Be the barn boss for your department.
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. He is a past training officer, chairman of the Metro Atlanta Training Officers and currently serves on the Honeywell Advisory Council. He is a State of Georgia Advocate for “Everyone Goes Home” and the Membership Task Force Co-Chair and Live Fire Instructor for ISFSI. Brian was recently awarded the National Seal of Excellence from the NFFF/EGH.

Size-Up Communication: A Critical Aspect to Situational Awareness

Blog by Ed Hadfield
In the first part of this series, we discussed the important aspects of the Incident Commander and his/her ability to capture the appropriate level of situational awareness on the fireground. Based upon the presentation of facts within the interior fireground, through intel from group leaders, as well as the intel in which the “Inside Man” presents to the Incident Commander. This article discusses the necessity for the continuous size-up and the situation status report, which will give the individual in charge the ability to make strategic adjustments.
First, the process must be defined and known to all personnel so they understand operational goals of the incident. Often, first arriving command personnel fail to identify the operational objective for all personnel. It cannot be assumed that all personnel arriving have a complete and full understanding of the Incident Commander’s intent. An example would be the Initial Size-Up or “952/Report on Conditions.” An appropriate Size-Up or 952 would layout similar to this:
“Battalion 1 and all incoming units, Engine 1 is on scene with four at 1313 Mockingbird Lane of a two-story single family dwelling with heavy pressurized smoke coming from the upper floors and visible fire on the first floor in the Bravo / Charlie corner. Engine 1 has established a water supply and will Fire Attack in an offensive mode. All incoming units continue primary staging. Engine 1 is Establishing Mockingbird Command with the Command Post in front of the structure.”
If we break this down, we can see how the initial Size-Up/952 lays the foundation for a successful command mode and safe, effective fireground operations based upon the established situational awareness of the first arriving Command Officer. The language in the primary announcement, “Battalion 1 and all incoming units,” is the “heads-Up’ indicator that the first arriving company is about to announce their size-up. This is important for all units to understand and operate under a radio discipline procedure to allow the first arriving Officer to have a clear radio frequency to provide his size-up/952. There is nothing more frustrating for a company officer, than trying to give his report and being drowned out by other units providing what they feel is important information.
The next aspect is to announce the unit identifier and crew strength. This begins to develop the initial accountability profile for the incoming Battalion Chief or other command officers. The “With four” announcement indicates the unit has arrived on scene with all four members. This is critical for second due arriving units to understand as well, given a reduction to “With (3) three” may indicate the second due units maybe assigned the single firefighter on Engine 1 as part of Fire Attack. The next arriving Engine may be assigned a split Company Operations with “Fire Attack and Search” with the firefighter from Engine 1. This is important to anticipate if you are the second arriving Engine Company Officer.
The address indicator is important as well. Although we are generally assigned from dispatch to the correct address on most SFR fires, on multi-family habitations and other larger complex fires, it is important to provide for a corrected address to all incoming units. Particularly for the truck company that may be responding from an opposite direction, to provide for an appropriate spot in front of the structure or to get a good look at three sides of the structure when approaching.
Observations should include the following:
  • Height of Structure: 1 / 2 / 3 Story
  • Type of Structure: Single Family / Multi-Family / Commercial / Industrial / High-Rise
  • Grouping: Center Hallway / Garden style / Strip Mall / Light Manufacturing
  • Conditions: Smoke Showing from the…. Fire Showing from…. Imminent Rescue at the….
  • Identified Hazards: Wires Down / High-Density Security Devices / Possible Collapse Situations
All of the above mentioned factors are designed to “Paint the Picture” for incoming units in order to prepare them for the mode of operations. This short, yet concise, report will speak volumes to those responding to the fireground in the area of positional tool assignments, operational consideration upon arrival, spotting/positioning and set up of apparatus, and overall fireground safety communications to personnel.
Communication of your actions is a required field to accomplish. Identifying the aspect of water supply and your initial actions, establishes the foundation of all other operations on the fireground specific to those other units awaiting an assignment. First, you must announce whether you have captured a water supply or not. If you have chosen to come in on the tank and require additional units to bring you water, you need to clearly identify that in the initial Size-Up/952. Otherwise, units will blow past water supply opportunities, come into your scene and potentially block out opportunities for subsequent responding units to quickly bring water.
Next is your decisive action plan…
NOTE: Hoping for the best is never an action plan.
Make a decision based upon known facts, and identified hazards and risks. Then put the plan into play and support all those associated with the action. In other words, either put the fire out or stand outside and watch it burn. On another note, if you are “On Scene, Investigating” you are NOT, and I repeat…NOT, “in command.” You are investigating and will provide the responding resources with updated information upon its availability. You cannot be “On scene, investigating, and establishing Mocking Bird Command” all at once. Remember, you must have an incident to be in command of it.
Establishing staging or directing units is critical for scene management; particularly in truck placement applications. You may find yourself directing companies to stage away and come in on foot to allow the truck the appropriate spot to utilize ground or aerial ladders. If your organization has a policy that establishes, or directs all incoming units to stage and receive an assignment prior to coming into the scene, you will want to pay particular attention to those specific details to avoid potential congestion at the scene with apparatuses that could eliminate truck placement or additional water supply. If you are striking additional alarms, you MUST establish a staging location and should consider a staging location manager if the alarms are over two.
Last but not least…Make a strong command, and establish a strong command presence. Far too many junior Company Officers are of the belief they need to “Pass Command” and go “Quick Attack.”
The bottom line here is they want to fight fire. They haven’t made the transition from line personnel to Officer and Commander. Now, I’ve heard all the arguments about the need for a quick attack, but the bottom line is this: A strong, established Incident Command System placed into an incident early on will provide the safest of all firegrounds.
The key is to understand that upon arrival, a Company Officer’s size-up and report on conditions are what provides him with the greatest ability to establish a bona-fide action plan, based upon visual observations and critical information at that specific time. Another company officer arriving just a few minutes later is going to see things differently and could assign resources differently based upon those conditions, which could be contradictive to those original actions of the first arriving officer. This is dangerous and counter-productive to the overall fireground.
Identifying the command post is important for all personnel, particularly in those cases of utilization, accountability and direction of resources. The command post can be a generalized location in which personnel, particularly the arriving B/C, would be capable of finding the initial I/C. Optimally, the CP is located in an area of observational awareness and ease of locality.
Size-up communication is a critical component to establishing necessary situational awareness on the fireground.
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 Criteria to Command

Blog by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO
Retired Fire Chief and Web Master for Situational Awareness Matters
There is a lot of emphasis these days on the need for strong incident management. In fact, when things go wrong one of the contributing factors often cited is the lack of command presence or issues with the quality of command. This is critical because the inccident commander is the “big picture” person – the person charged with developing and maintaining strong situational awareness for the entire incident (versus at a company level).
What does it take for a person to effectively command an incident? This is a question I get asked often, and the answer may be easier than you think. Based upon my experience in firefighter safety, coupled with my education in neuroscience, here are the criteria I would recommend. The person who is going to serve as the incident commander should:
Training: Receive training in how to command an incident. This goes beyond training on how to perform line tasks. The skill set required to command is very different than front-line skills. To be effective, commander training is essential.
Experience: Gain experience through commanding training incidents and having a mentor while at real incidents. Build the skill set at a pace that allows confidence to build.
Hands Off: The cognitive capacity (i.e., brain power) needed to command an incident with multiple companies working is huge. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it requires the cognitive horsepower of at least two people. It takes a lot of brain energy (and attention) to process and understand all the information coming into a commander’s eyes and ears. If the commander is hands-on (i.e., performing firefighting duties), there simply isn’t enough capacity to effectively do both jobs. The hands-on task of firefighting will override the cognitive task of commanding.
Big Picture: To be effective, the commander must be in a position to capture, process, comprehend and recall critical clues and cues on the macro (big picture) level. The closer the commander is to the action, the harder it is to see and hear the critical clues and cues.
Working Command
In some agencies, the first arriving officer establishes a working (or mobile) command and joins the firefighting crew. It is not for me to judge if, or when, this may be an appropriate action as there are so many factors that could influence this decision. However, it is indisputable that the officer who chooses to go hands-on and focus at the task-level (versus the big picture) cannot effectively develop, or maintain, big picture situational awareness. It’s equivalent to being on an airplane where the pilots set the automated flight management system and then come off the flight deck to serve drinks and snacks to the passengers. When no one is flying the plane, bad things can happen. When no one is commanding at the big-picture level, bad things can happen. Do whatever you think is best under the circumstances you face. Just understand the risks involved to both yourself and others when no one is serving as the big-picture, hands-off commander.
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 1 million visits since its launch in October of 2011.

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.