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Helping Emergency Responders Identify Hybrid and Electric Vehicles on the Roadway

*Blog Written by Jason Emery, Courtesy of NFPAs Electric Vehicle Safety Training Website

How to Identify Hybrid and Electric Vehicles During First ResponseAs hybrid and electric vehicles become more popular on the roadways, it is more important than ever for emergency responders to understand the best identification methods. Most responders tend to rely on external badging as the sole identification method; this however can result in some vehicles not being properly identified. First keep in mind that there are no industry standards for external markings. Vehicle markings can range from all four sides to a complete absence of external badging. Responders, such as EMS or Fire service personnel must also consider that the potential exists for external markings to become hidden or dislodged as a result of a crash.

During an emergency response, the most appropriate action is for first responders to treat any vehicle as if it is some type of alternative fueled vehicle until you can make positive identification one way or another. Additionally, if at first glance you do not see any badging, be sure to look for less conventional identification methods such as battery vents, dashboard logos or indicators, orange cabling, etc. to ensure that you are not dealing with a hybrid or electric vehicle. For more detailed information on proper identification methods take the online class available soon on our website, or be sure to attend a training class in your area using the NFPA classroom program.

Hybrids vs. Plugin Hybrids During Emergency Response

With the release of more and more hybrid and EV models, it may be difficult to understand some of their more subtle differences. In the case of hybrids and plugin hybrids, while there are certainly some engineering differences, from an emergency responder perspective they are handled the same.

Hybrid vehicles are self-contained units that use both electric motor(s) and an internal combustion engine (ICE) to propel the vehicle. The high voltage battery is recharged through power taken from the ICE and through a process called regenerative braking that captures energy from the braking process. Both of these methods ensure that the user never has to consciously make an effort to charge the battery, it’s done automatically.

Plugin hybrids are simply an offshoot of that concept; they allow for a connection to be made to a Level I or Level II charging station for another charging source for the high voltage battery. These vehicles also include a larger capacity battery to store that extra energy and improve the overall energy efficiency of the vehicle. In the event that you cannot connect to a charger, the high-voltage battery is recharged through the same means as a standard hybrid. Ironically enough when hybrids first were released, there was a concern among manufacturers that people would not understood that they did not need to be plugged in. A decade later that concept has become more acceptable to the general public and the plugin hybrid was born.


Fire Department Training

There is essentially no difference for the first responder in how we handle these vehicles in an emergency situation. Both types contain a high voltage power source and an internal combustion engine with a fuel source and should be treated as such. The only real difference would occur if the plugin hybrid was attached to the charging station at the time of the incident. In this case you would want to secure the power source supplying the charging station as a first step in mitigating the scene.

As always, be sure to use the Identify, Immobilize and Disable approach on all vehicles and assume there is a potential to be dealing with a Hybrid or Electric Vehicle when approaching a crash or fire scene.

>> Blog courtesy of Jason Emery of NFPAs Electric Vehicle Safety Training website. For more information on hybrid and electric vehicles please visit For a more in-depth look at this vehicle and its emergency response procedures, please be sure to take the NFPA/GM Volt safety training course.

About the Author

Jason Emery, who has more than 21 years in the fire service, is a lieutenant with the Waterbury Fire Department in Connecticut. Emery is assigned to the rescue/hazmat company. He has a BS in fire science from the University of New Haven and is a member of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. He is a subject matter expert for the National Fire Protection Association, a member of its development team, and the lead instructor for its Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Training program.

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Why Excellent Customer Service Is Critical to Excellent Emergency Response

Blog by Bill Sturgeon
Retired Division Chief

As professional responders, we all feel burned out at times. Some grow unhappy with this profession. Some neglect giving their very best effort during calls for service.

If you feel this happening, it’s time to stop and think about what you can do to serve your citizens better. The answer may be to look at how other industries, which have nothing to do with emergency response, handle their customers.

The cruise line industry is a perfect example. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you know how positive and upbeat the crew treats everyone. You know that if you need anything, someone will provide it without question and with a smile.

During these tough economic times, it’s extremely important that we treat citizens like they are on a cruise. Granted, emergency response situations are far from a vacation, but the need for first-rate customer service is just the same.

Always be professional, compassionate and kind to your customers. If you treat everyone well, you will feel a sense of pride that will pay dividends in the future when emergency services need public support.

Most of the staff on a cruise ship barely earns a surviving wage. But they still provide a high level of professional service. They work long hours, and most of them have more than one job aboard a ship. That sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

Low pay, long hours and more than one job is standard for most emergency services workers. But our job was never intended to make us rich. Emergency service has always been about putting the needs of others above our own.

To operate in this profession at the highest level, you need to take care of the details. Make sure your appearance is professional, make sure your equipment is clean and functioning properly, and most of all, make sure your focus is on the needs of your victims.

Times are tough. We can read stories on a daily basis about government officials cutting services. Even emergency services are not immune to the budget axe. Many corporations in America have become extinct because they lost focus on the customer. We need to learn from that.

We shouldn’t forget who our customers are and why we exist. We need to remain above reproach in everything we do and provide customer service in emergency response. We need to be prepared to respond by maintaining a high level of readiness, competency, and cruise ship customer service during calls for service.

Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching, but it’s important to remember somebody is always watching your actions.

>> This blog was originally published with TargetSolutions in March of 2011.

About the Author
William Sturgeon is a 30-year veteran of the United States Fire Service. During his career, he served as a volunteer, military, municipal, and county firefighter and held many positions, including paramedic, EMS supervisor, company officer (special operations), safety officer, battalion chief, assistant chief and division chief.

Garden Apartments: What We’ve Learned

Blog by Will Anderson

Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio

Garden apartments are found in virtually every community in the United States. Typically, garden apartments are grouped together on a large parcel of property with some being set back far off the main street. If these buildings are not properly pre-planned, a fire or serious emergency will prove difficult for responding fire departments.

This article will cover the characteristics of older garden apartments and how sticking with the basics of firefighting leads to a better operation.

There are many characteristics that make garden apartments unique. The first one we might notice is the entrance into the property. The property is usually served by only one driveway. Add in parking for residents and apparatus placement can be very difficult. If were fortunate, we will have at least one operable hydrant on the property. If not, are your engines capable of long lays to the main street? Also, certain buildings may be set back hundreds of feet off the main drive. Pre-connected hoses may not be an option. Are your apparatus set up with static-hose loads capable of reaching buildings with excessive setbacks? And who will carry the equipment needed to mount an attack on the fire? Your arrival at a working fire in one of these buildings is not the time to figure out who will take what equipment to the front door.

More questions to consider: Is access to the building a problem? Are fences or other barricades in your way? Are there security bars on the windows? In short, pre-planning is essential to success.

Garden apartments usually house up to 12 apartments and are around three stories in height; although some may be taller. Most apartments are served by a common entrance with an open interior stairwell serving each floor of the building. These buildings represent an extremely serious life hazard, regardless of the time of day. Also, these buildings attics are most likely an open and unobstructed lumberyard of dry wood underneath the roof surface. While roofs may be peaked or flat, newer roofs will likely be supported by trusses. Older garden apartments will not utilize truss construction. My experience is that garden apartments are not protected by sprinklers or standpipes.

As we enter an apartment from the stairwell hallway, the first room we usually enter is the kitchen. This is followed by the living room, which is connected to a short hallway where we encounter a bathroom and one or more bedrooms. Most living rooms will have a large opening for horizontal ventilation if there is a balcony with sliding doors, or large picture window, as seen in the picture above. Remember, apartments are stacked in a multi-story building. This means routes for fire extension exist in kitchens and bathrooms where plumbing voids run the vertical length of the building. If the fire has reached flashover, the fire may extend via auto-exposure up to the floor above, and possibly even the attic space. This could result in a fast-moving fire as seen in the picture below.

At this particular fire, the fire originated on the second floor (Division 2) in a bedroom of a three-story garden apartment. There was a delay notifying the fire department. At this incident (pictured above), the door to the apartment on fire held. Conditions in the stairwell were clear as the first line was being stretched. Had the door failed prior to the arrival of the fire department, any civilians evacuating would have been overcome by intense heat and deadly smoke making a bad situation even worse.

Crews at this scene were met by a fast-moving fire that had possession of two apartments with extension into a third apartment and the attic space. Life safety must be given the highest priority. Remember, most lives are protected and saved by strategically placing the first hoseline between the fire and any trapped occupants. Before additional hoselines are put into operation, make sure the first line is up and running. Water kills fire. If we darken down the fire and put it out, everything else usually gets better. Searches are less punishing, overhaul is easier, and property and lives are saved.

Part of a successful incident is the prior knowledge we have of the buildings in our first-due area. Make it a point to get out and learn what types of buildings youre up against. A quick walk around the exterior can make you aware of hydrant locations, overhead obstructions (wires, overhangs, etc.), grade/terrain changes, parking issues, and exposure concerns. Once inside the building, make it a point to locate the utility shut-offs, attic access or roof hatches, and learn the layouts of a typical apartment.

EMS incidents are an excellent opportunity to do this. Identifying these building features will take no more than 10 minutes. Its time well spent. You owe it to yourself, your crew, and your family to make sure everyone goes home at the end of the shift. Thanks for reading and be safe!

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. He has an Associate’s degree in Fire Science, another in Emergency Medical Services, and is nearing completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science Administration.

Steps for Improving Your Working Memory During Stressful Situations

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

It probably comes as no surprise that we have a limited capacity to remember and recall things. This is true of both short-term (or working) memory and long-term memory. This article addresses some of the vulnerabilities of working memory and how you might overcome them.

Capacity: The capacity of working memory is far smaller than most of us would like to believe. The proof of this first came into prominence in the 1950s when Princeton psychologist George Miller discovered the average person can take in, process, comprehend and recall about seven (give or take two) pieces of unrelated information. Miller’s research has been robustly confirmed with additional studies conducted worldwide. Subsequent studies revealed that by adding stressors into the environment, the average of seven pieces of information can be reduced to five.

Five to seven pieces of unrelated information is the limit of working memory. It is no coincidence that span of control is recommended to be in the five to seven range. That number was not randomly selected. Rather, it was based research that started with Miller and continues today.

Forgetfulness: It’s a cruel fact, but when your working memory begins to get overloaded or overwhelmed, it begins to forget things. Unfortunately, unlike your computer, your brain is not equipped with a convenient delete key you can depress to forget something. The delete function is present, nonetheless. You just are not in conscious control of it. What your brain chooses to forget is determined at a level you cannot control.

Sadly, your brain isn’t very good at prioritizing the short-term information storage and retrieval based on what you may, at the moment, think is important. The process for what moves on to long-term storage (termed consolidation) and what is not yet completely understood. But it appears that past experiences and emotions play a big role in what is stored and what is lost. You need to know that some of the most important information (as you perceive it, anyhow) may be shed by the brain and, once shed, is lost from memory. This can include incident information critical to survival.

Fixing the Problem: I probably don’t have to spend much time convincing you that if you are vulnerable to forgetting critical information under stress, your situational awareness becomes at great risk of loss as well. There are ways you can reduce the impact of short-term memory loss and improve firefighter working memory. Here are just a few suggestions:

1. Don’t Try to Multi-Task: It is, virtually, impossible to multitask when it comes to paying attention. Going back and forth between tasks (termed interleaving) is very demanding on the short-term memory and some memory of both tasks is subject to degradation.

2. Share the Workload: The old adage that two heads are better than one is true, so long as there is an understanding between those two heads that each person will play a certain role in managing information and avoid duplication by remembering all the same stuff. Assigning someone to monitor radio traffic is a good way to shed short-term information processing workload.

3. Write It Down: Writing down what needs to be remembered, which as seemingly simple as that advice may appear, is not done often enough in the haste of incident management, especially in the early stages of the incident when information is coming in at a furious pace and the focus is on mission critical task completion. This is also the time when stress is highest and the potential for memory loss is greatest.

4. Prioritize in Advance: Identify in advance the most important pieces of information you’ll need to manage. Use a checklist to ensure you’re gathering and documenting that information. Checklists also serve as a good to-do list of things that need to be accomplished.

Checklists and Worksheets: You are attempting to manage two types of short-term memory: Retrospective memory, the memory of everything that has already been done; and, Prospective memory, the memory of everything that has not yet been done but needs to get done. Under stress, the prospective memory is the more vulnerable. Checklists help manage prospective memory. Worksheets help manage retrospective memory.

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 ( has enjoyed over a million visits since its launch in October 2011. He can be reached via e-mail at

Soften the Structure: A Rapid Intervention Company Safety Solution

Blog by Ed Hadfield

Firefighters are injured and killed in structure fires at an alarming rate. According to the NFPA, residential structure fires account for 79 percent of all occupancy fires in America. With that said, as Incident Commanders, we often fail to recognize the importance of providing a Softening Solution on our residential structure fires. In this article I will explain the importance of:

>> Structure Identification
>> RIC Assessment
>> Access and Egress Portal Softening Techniques
>> Portal Identification
>> Softening Techniques on Residential Structures

For the last few years, fire service agencies across America have done an adequate job addressing the issue of Rapid Intervention and the use of Rapid Intervention Company (RIC). However, we still find fire service organizations fail to utilize the RIC in a proactive fashion.

As Incident Commanders and Rapid Intervention Group Supervisors, it is important to recognize the primary goal of identifying and removing all potential hazards on the fire ground in an effort to reduce the chances of deployment.

In the event of an RIC deployment, the keys to success are: firefighter identification, location of the down firefighter, and the reason for entrapment. Once those factors have been established, the quickest access route and egress portal must be identified and used if the down firefighter is to be found in a sufficient amount of time. This should be done prior to the MAYDAY being called, and well planned by the RIC.

Structure Identification:
Structures typically fall into the following categories:

>> Residential
>> Commercial
>> Industrial
>> High-Rise

Each structure type also has a number of different groups. Therefore, we must break our occupancies into both structure type and group. For example, the residential structure has multiple groups including: residential single story, residential multi-story, multi-family habitations and the ever increasing residential care facility. Each group presents various hazards associated with the firefighting operations that must be addressed by the RIC team during their softening phase.

Additionally, any structure that is heavily secured or has multiple protected openings should be declared a high-density structure. This declaration gives clear direction to RIC personnel and a warning to all other personnel that are operating in or on the structure itself.

RIC Assessment:
Once the RIC has conducted primary structure identification, their initial actions to soften the structure should begin.

The RIC needs to assess the primary access portal, determine the number of personnel interior the occupancy, and address the primary portal for known hazards. Typical known hazards in this situation include the rather small orifice of the access portal given the number of personnel that have entered it, the potential of access portal closure, and lastly the lack of lighting at the access portal itself. All access and egress portals on any structure need to be addressed in this fashion.

Access and Egress Portal Softening Techniques:
For the purpose of the article, we will assume that personnel have responded to a large two-story residential structure that is considered a high-density structure, meaning it has multiple protected openings. Given this scenario, your company is assigned RIC responsibilities. Again, the goal of RIC is not only the protection of those personnel assigned to the incident, but you are also tasked with providing them support in the event of a civilian rescue. One of the best methods of support in this instance is to soften the structure for all personnel and RIC operations.

Portal Identification:
Once we have arrived on scene and identified this as a high-density structure, the next actions are to identify the primary access portal, determine which companies have entered this area, as well as determine approximately how many personnel are operating inside the occupancy.

For example, let’s say the first-due company went in the structure with a 1hose line after forcing the security screen door and the inward swinging front door.

As a softening technique, your goal would be the elimination of the security screen door from the structure and removal of the front door completely from the occupancy. First, utilizing a rotary saw cut the security screen door off its hinges and remove it completely from the occupancy. This will leave only the metal frame, which is lag-bolted into the occupancy itself. Then with your Halligan bar; pry the inward swinging front door out of the door frame at the hinge points. Once you have completed this task, drop a box light approximately 18 inches on the inside wall with the light shining across the floor area.

Next, you must identify the area of most danger to interior personnel. By conducting a structure assessment, you are looking for the area of greatest pressurization and generation of smoke. This is a general indicator of where the main body of fire may be located.

Given this is a two-story occupancy, it is safe to assume personnel will be working on the second floor conducting search operations, checking for extensions, and potentially engaging in firefighting operations.

At this point, personnel must be assigned to remove any protected opening from the upstairs windows or balcony doors. As part of an RIC assignment, it is imperative that you pay particular attention to the first-arriving officer’s size-up. When he/she has indicated they are on scene of a two-story residential occupancy that is a high-density structure, it should give you clear direction to bring a ladder as part of your RIC tool complement. Once the bars or other security devices have been removed, attempt to force the opening without breaking the glass. Unless horizontal ventilation is being requested, the glass will remain intact, but the opening should be forced to provide interior personnel with an egress portal that will allow for a rapid egress should it be required. Again, the key is to work from the area of greatest risk to interior personnel back to the area of least danger. Typically, this is the area where the initial attack has been made.

Lastly, once you have cleared a protected opening, it is important to immediately sweep and search inside that particularly opening. Much like the technique of Vent-Enter- Search, this technique includes Force-Sweep/Search-light-identify. As we all know, civilians will usually attempt to leave a burning structure. Given that fact, as you soften the structure, you will be accessing areas that interior crews may not be capable of searching immediately. Therefore, as part of your softening task, you could likely come across a civilian rescue just inside the door you are forcing for your brother firefighter.

The technique of Force-Sweep/Search-Light-Identify includes creating the access/egress point, placing a foot on the door jam or frame fanning out with your body and Halligan bar, and sweeping/searching the area of the portal for anyone that may be in the immediate vicinity. Multiple civilians have been located through utilization of this technique. Following your forcible entry or softening operations, a rapid search/sweep should be conducted. After an all-clear is accomplished, provide some lighting to the access/egress portal.

Finally, clearly identify to all companies operating inside which division or area has been softened, searched, and cleared.

The key element of any RIC operation is to remember, Any RIC deployment is a defining moment. The contents of this article clearly identify a change in the methodology and operations of most RIC operations. These operations are taking RIC operational set- up procedures, forcing you to think outside-the-box of conventional RIC wisdom.

Remember that 79 percent of all fires occur in residential structures. Of those, a majority of all firefighter fatalities occur in these seemingly benign fires. Dont let the routine fire become the one that takes the life of your brother or sister.

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 Essentials of Honorable Leadership

Blog by Mark Emery, EFO
President of Fire Command, LLC

If all learned skills must begin with the fundamentals, what are the fundamentals of leadership?

Many experts define leadership as the action of leading a group of people or an organization. What that definition describes is supervision and management, not leadership. The evidence is that a person can be promoted to a position of supervision or management without being a leader. Thus it is imperative to prepare leaders at all organizational levels.

Again, it is important to not confuse leadership with supervision or management. The distinction is crucial; not making this distinction is why groups and organizations experience ongoing conflict.

While it is possible to draft a job description for a Supervisor or a Manager, it is impossible to draft a job description for a Leader. Imagine saying to someone, starting Monday morning you will be a leader.

Consider this: The actions of a prison guard ensure that the inmate group gets things done; goals like cooking meals, mopping floors, doing laundry, meeting license plate production quotas, etc. Does that mean that the prison guard is a leader? Of course not, prison goals will be met whether or not the guard is a leader. The supervisory success of the prison guard is entirely based on position and authority.

Although the role, responsibility, and authority of people may vary, the intrinsic template of truly honorable leadership does not vary. Often missed by traditional leadership programs is the fact people should be a leader before they become a supervisor or manager. Each member must be able to lead themselves before they attempt to supervise others.

It is not uncommon for so-called leadership programs to morph into supervision and management programs. Thus, a leadership gap is perpetuated. Fundamentals of leadership essentials must permeate the organization, top to bottom. Not all people will supervise, but all people should possess the template for honorable leadership.

Once the honorable leadership template has been internalized individually, and institutionalized organizationally, honorable leaders will proliferate and the ultimate manifestation of organizational development will emerge: Trust.

About the Author

Mark Emery is president of Fire Command, LLC in King County, Wash. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program and has a degree from California State University Long Beach. In 2010, he retired as an operations battalion chief with the Woodinville, Wash., Fire & Life Safety District.

Scenario-Based Simulation Training Helps Firefighters See ‘the Big Picture’


Blog by Joe Pronesti
Captain with the Elyria Ohio Fire Department

In almost 25 years in the fire service, not a single day has gone by in which I didn’t thank the Lord for my blessings. But I’ve come across a few who weren’t as grateful. The types who come in at 8 a.m., or whatever time their shift begins, and are simply there just to collect a paycheck.

If you are a company officer or a command level officer in a small- to mid-size department and you haven’t seen a ton of fire, I have one word of advice: Beware. The easily contracted disease of complacency can reach out and infect you. Its important you don’t let this happen.

My recommendation is to keep your head in the books. Study video, audio and constantly challenge yourself to be ready to face a fire or emergency, no matter how long it’s been since your last one.

Be prepared so you will always have the capability to see the big picture. Never stop studying and analyzing fire, smoke behavior tactics and strategy. People who have been married a long time say the key to a successful marriage is being able to put forth an effort every day to your spouse. The same holds true in firefighting. Put forth an effort — even when you’re off-duty or not in the station — and you will have a successful and happy career.

Keep in mind, almost everything we do at a fire impacts the safety of other firefighters, as well as the success of the operation. Fortunately, technology is here to help us prepare, including software for simulations. Consider picking one up in an effort to help with bell hits.

One of the greatest things about these simulators is their ability to localize simulations. All you need is a camera to get out of the station and take some pictures of your buildings.

To help you get started, below is a template of a scenario you can incorporate into your own simulation training.

Simulation Training

Here’s the scenario: A call comes in around 7 p.m. on a hot summer night. Dispatch states police officers are on the scene. There is a working fire in a truck parked between an occupied multiple-family dwelling and a long time vacant. Upon arrival, this is the only information you have.

You can incorporate any questions you want, but below are some standard ones to help you get started:

1. Do you need more help?
2. Where would you spot first engine and truck?
3. How does the construction involved effect fire spread?
4. First line position/size?
5. Second line position/size?
6. Search to start where?
7. Would you start search ahead of line(s)?
8. Ventilation issues/profile?
9. Additional thoughts concerns, etc.

Now in this particular simulation, I used nine questions, but you may want to follow a known fire service acronym, like COAL WAS WEALTH, for example. Use your imagination and remember, keeping your skills sharp is critical to success.

So next time your crew is sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, instead of talking about city politics or the state of your department, put a picture of one of your buildings on fire on the table for everyone to analyze. I guarantee you will generate excellent banter, leading to knowledge. The end result will be a more educated, safer department, more prepared to see the big picture.

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.


In the Presence of Overwhelming Evidence: Self Awareness for Fire Commanders

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

You might think that if a commander were faced with overwhelming evidence that the incident they are operating at was not going well they’d see it and do something different to prevent a tragic outcome. Yet, evidence to the contrary is well documented in the investigation reports. Why, in the face of overwhelming evidence, would a commander not change the plan?

One explanation is, they can’t see it. Not because they are physically removed from the incident and therefore cannot see the bad things coming (though that can be a contributor). Rather, they’re looking right at it and cannot see it. They’re blind to what is right in front of them.

It seems implausible. I know there are skeptics and critics. That is why I devised an exercise that I use in the Mental Management of Emergencies program where I have participants solve a simple problem. They write their answers down on a piece of paper and then raise their hand. I come around to see what they’ve written. Then I ask them if they are certain their answer is right. They look at the paper and affirm it is (often with a great degree of confidence).

The only problem is, their answer isn’t right and the instant I tell them it’s not and the reason its not, they immediately realize it. But right up to that point, they were blind to it. The overwhelming evidence that proved they were wrong was written in their very own handwriting and they were staring right at it. And yet they couldn’t see it.

This exercise serves as a powerful example of the stubborn nature of the human brain. You see what you want to see. You can lock on to a solution to a problem and refuse to see alternative solutions. And, sadly, in the presence of overwhelming evidence that you’re wrong, you may take a stand (even argue) that you are right. These human factor challenges can have catastrophic consequences for first responders. And sadly, you may never know you’re displaying these undesirable traits until it’s too late.

The key to working through these challenges is awareness. Not situational awareness. Rather, self-awareness. Understanding your own limitations and shortcomings as a human being and acknowledging these challenges exist. So when someone comes up to you and points out the overwhelming evidence that you’re on a path to catastrophe, you don’t reflexively argue and defend your position. Rather the alarm bells go off in your head and you seek to reconcile your error in time to change the outcome.

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 ( has enjoyed over a million visits since its launch in October 2011. He can be reached via e-mail at

Considerations for Smaller-Sized Departments Dealing with High-Rise Fires

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

Serving as a Platoon Chief with the Euclid Fire Department in Ohio, there’s no shortage of work to do. Like most of you, our call volume is up, while our budget is down. In 2012, we answered nearly 8,500 calls for service with a staff of around 80 cross-trained firefighter/paramedics.

Euclid offers a little bit of everything. We have a major interstate (I-90) that allows more than 1 million vehicles to pass through each week. We have heavy and light industry, commercial buildings, two major rail lines, rapid transit buses, and a large Metro-Park, which all bring the chance for technical rescue and hazardous material incidents.

We also have an aging housing stock. More than 85 percent of homes were built before 1970, and thousands of these houses are nearing the century mark. Also, since the 1960s, the city has seen more than 30 high-rises built, all of fire-resistive construction (Type 1). Most are residential, a handful are commercial. Our tallest building is 21 stories and I’m told were home to the largest apartment complex for senior citizens between Chicago and New York City.

Daily, we’re faced with EMS calls, elevator emergencies, alarm activations, odor investigations, or some type of fire in these buildings. The personnel of the Euclid Fire Department have become very well accustomed to operating in our high-rise buildings.

This blog will cover a serious fire in a seven-story commercial building that I functioned as Incident Commander (IC). There were several lessons learned and reinforced from this fire that I wish to pass on. This isn’t to say I’m an expert, I haven’t seen it all, but there was a lot to learn from this experience that I’d like to share:


When I entered the fire service in 1995, it was taboo to talk about mistakes made at a fire. It was perceived as a sign of weakness. If you learned anything from anyone else, it was usually how to not do something. A little over a decade ago, however, I realized there was a better way to look at things. Professional development took on a new meaning for me. Suddenly, I couldn’t get enough training. This belief still holds true today.

The fire I’m focusing on in this article occurred at 3 a.m. We received multiple calls for fire showing from a high-rise office building. It was only six months prior I was with a crew of firefighters performing a company inspection of this building. I remember thinking then that a fire in this 60,000 square foot building could be very bad. Now we were faced with fire showing from multiple windows on the second floor.

Prior to my arrival, I requested our Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) to be activated. We were responding with two engines, one truck and three ambulances. I was in a command vehicle. We knew all hands would be going to work based on what we were being told. The mutual aid request would bring an additional three engines, one truck, and one ambulance from neighboring cities. I should mention that our medics assigned to an ambulance typically function in a firefighting capacity at working fires unless they’re specifically designated to serve as an EMS crew.

On arrival, crews began receiving their assignments. Attack was the first assignment given. It’s been my experience that the sooner we get water on any fire, the better things seem to be. The fire was auto-exposing up to the third floor. Due to the size of the fire, I assigned a back-up line to protect the attack crew. The third assignment given was vertical ventilation of the stairwell. This process consisted of opening up roof doors and roof hatches.

What working incident could go without a problem or two, right? During the offensive firefight, interior crews communicated they were making progress, but they had low pressure. A few moments later the pump operator informed me we had lost our supply line. Suddenly, a large amount of water was seen bubbling up from underground. We had a water main break and lost our hydrant.

At that point, interior crews had made some progress, but I ordered all interior crews down to the first floor until a new supply could be established. Within a couple of minutes, we had secured a second water supply from a neighboring department (Willoughby Hills Fire Department), which also responded on the box. In the meantime, the assisting Wickliffe Fire Department, which was handling RIT duties, was redeployed to the exterior to set up a ground monitor on the Delta side of the building to prepare for a defensive attack. The team secured its own water supply to support efforts. Fortunately, we never had to go defensive on this fire.

Interior crews quickly went back to work on Division 2 of the building. Searches were being conducted on the upper floors, utilities were being controlled, and significant progress was being made. About this time I received a radio report that a large section of drop ceiling had collapsed on a crew of firefighters, but entanglement was being addressed. One firefighter was able to free himself and his crew with large wire cutters he carries for such an event. A “MAYDAY” was never called because this well-trained crew kept its calm and performed extremely well under pressure. A back-up crew was in place and RIT was standing by if either were needed. Fortunately, neither was.

This fire reinforced many different topics relating to our job and our safety. Here’s an overview of the key takeaways:

>> Small departments are initially at a disadvantage for serious fires in high-rises: We know high-rises are not relegated to metropolitan areas only. Smaller cities have these building, and despite limited staffing, need to be ready. We have a minimum staffing of three on each apparatus (one officer and two firefighters). Ambulances have a minimum of two. We typically arrive with 10-12 firefighters at a high-rise incident. We’re forced to rely on mutual aid from surrounding communities. Getting that first line in operation is extremely important. The saying is so true: So goes the first line, so goes the fire.

>> Training is paramount: Training issues in high rises can provide a department with opportunities to hone their skills. Pay attention during company inspections. Know the locations of the FDCs, standpipes, and boiler and elevator rooms. Are there compactor shafts in your high-rises? What’s your plan for a compactor fire? Do you know which type of elevator key is needed? Are the elevators hydraulic or electric? Do you know the numbering system of the apartments? Where is the Knox box location? If you open a standpipe but have no water, can you troubleshoot the problem? Are you hooking up on the fire floor or the floor below? Do your standpipes have pressure-reducing valves (PRV)? The opportunities to learn are nearly endless in a high-rise. Do your part to teach your younger, less-experienced members how to stay alive in these buildings.

>> Complacency: If we bring a 2.5-story wood-frame mindset to a high-rise building, were setting ourselves up for failure. Failure in our business means injury and maybe death. Our department has a good amount of experience with fires in residential high-rises. We lack experience with fires in commercial high-rises. As I was giving assignments to crews at this fire, I told each crew to slow down and think about what we were going into. I told them this fire was different than what were used to. After the fire, several members came up to me and thanked me for telling them that. It made them realize the seriousness of the fire and how a commercial high-rise differs from a residential high-rise. Residential high-rises of Type 1 construction are compartmentalized very well. It’s unlikely the fire will extend beyond the apartment of origin unless it auto-exposes to the floor above or the occupant leaves the apartment door open as they escape. By code, the doors are supposed to be self-closing. Also, the apartments are typically no larger than 700-800 square feet. Conversely, commercial high-rises cover large open areas. Each floor of the fire building we faced was nearly 8,000 square feet in size. Most are much larger than this. Also, commercial high-rises likely have increased fire loads, maze-like interiors, HVAC systems that can spread smoke and fire, and drop ceilings that may have illegally-stored wiring and conduit above the ceiling panels. When these drop due to fire exposure, they can trap and kill unsuspecting firefighters below. The point is to know your buildings!

>> Role of the Incident Commander: It’s easy for a new command-level officer to feel the need to help by pulling hose, propping doors, making a connection to a hydrant, etc. when staffing is limited in a small department. Don’t do it! Another featured contributor at TargetSolutions is Dr. Richard Gasaway. He is considered the subject matter expert on situational awareness and writes extensively on the topic and how it pertains to the role of the Incident Commander (IC). Please take the time to read his material. It will make your fireground safer! To provide crews with the best possible chance for success, an IC needs to be totally focused on his/her job. If an IC is pulling hose, how can he/she be focusing on the big picture? We face risk at each fire we respond to. As an IC, some risk can be controlled and some can’t. You owe it to your personnel to provide them with the best chance for success. You can do this by totally focusing on the needs of the incident, staying one step ahead, knowing your personnel, and delegating tasks to support officers or senior advisors.

This first article covered a lot of information. I hope it stimulates some discussion amongst your members around the kitchen table. Regardless, firefighters have a duty to pass on their experience to new members. Dennis Smith of FDNY (retired) once said, “a true mark of a leader lies in how he treats and teaches the lowest member of a department: the probie.” Officers have a duty and obligation not only to their firefighters, but also to their families. Company officers, you have to do your part to make sure your crew goes home safe and healthy at the end of their shifts.

Chief Officers have the same job, but also the additional responsibility of doing their part to make sure these same firefighters go home safe and healthy at the end of their careers. By working together, we can make that happen.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!


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. He has an Associate’s degree in Fire Science, another in Emergency Medical Services, and is nearing completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science Administration.

Fire Service Needs Leaders Who Are Willing to Do the Right Thing

Blog by Richard Blackmon

Captain, Fulton County Fire Rescue Department (Ga.)

Have you ever noticed that doing the right thing takes more work than not doing the right thing? Sometimes, it would just be much easier to just turn a blind eye, right? But in our profession, it’s essential we never turn that blind eye. Reason being, someone might get hurt or killed.

Doing the right thing starts with rookie firefighters and goes all the way to the top. When the new firefighter is doing their regular daily routine, such as house work, do they always do the right thing?

Sometimes it might be easier to look past the item that needs cleaning, but why not just take that extra step and clean it? When the driver is checking off the equipment and sees that something needs attention, it’s on them to do the right thing and get it done. If someone’s life ever depends on that equipment, it will be too late to go back and do the right thing.

As a fire officer, doing the right thing is critical to the department. Holding personnel accountable and to a high standard is essential. If you make a practice of turning a blind eye, you might as well wear blinders to work.

Once you let something just go by failing to take action you have set a low benchmark for yourself. Trust me when I say it takes work to always do the right thing. You have to set your standards early in your career and stay focused and dedicated.

Sometimes it will take courage. But be strong. Don’t ever be afraid to do the right thing. You have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be proud of the person you’re looking at. Not your boss or subordinates or peers, but you!

You can never get in trouble for following your departments SOPs. Set your bar high, stand tall and do the right thing. You’ll be better for it and so will your department and the community you serve.

About the Author

Richard Blackmon is a captain with the Fulton County Fire Rescue Department in Georgia. He has worked in the fire service for more than 15 years and is a training officer for his department. Before joining the fire service, he served as a master sergeant in the US Air Force and saw combat in Grenada, Panama and the first Gulf War.