Honor, Courage, Sacrifice: Yarnell 19

Posted by Paul Combs on July 2, 2014 at Drawn By Fire.

For information on the Yarnell Hill Fire, go here to Pam McDonald’s post at Wildland Fire Leadership.

Day 1

Read Wildland Firefighter Justin Vernon’s personal thoughts on the Yarnell Fire here.

Perception Equals Reality: Train Like You Fight!

Perception Equals Reality—Even in Training Drills

Make sure your training drills are realistic and effective

Photo by Tim Olk

Photo by Tim Olk

The stairwell was filled with smoke and we had trouble seeing. We stretched the hoseline from the floor below and charged it, but the situation became one big mess. We hadn’t deployed a high-rise pack in a while. At the last high-rise training drill, we were assigned to water supply and didn’t even enter the building. We should have trained more on this!

There are two things all fire departments must do: 1) respond to and mitigate emergencies, and 2) prepare to respond to and mitigate emergencies—and training is the foundation for both. That’s why fire departments must make the right investment in time, effort and—yes—funding, so that training can occur regularly and effectively.

Your training mission should be simple and unchanging: Get your firefighters and officers ready to respond to and handle anything, at any time. But that’s a daunting task, and too often trainers believe that just any training drill will do. Or maybe training takes the first hit in the budget cuts. Despite these challenges, you must utilize realistic and effective training to build a healthy, educated fire department that’s ready to handle anything safely and effectively.

Trainers must be creative thinkers and willing to make an extra effort to prepare and deliver training simulations that offer realistic incident operations and learning environments that lead from thought to action. Realistic simulations build the skill and will of individual firefighters while improving team performance. Perception equals reality, even in training drills.

This concept is the key ingredient to safe and effective emergency operations, and it doesn’t have to drain your budget. For better readiness, reshape your training delivery by starting simple and building complexity along the way; focus on individual confidence and team cohesion that ensures the ability to think and act clearly; and remain open-minded and make adjustments to enact safe and reliable performance.

Plan Realistic Training Drills 
Highly dynamic training requires sound and organized thinking—and a good plan. Planning is critical for developing realistic incident training. A training need exists where there is a gap between what’s required of a firefighter or officer to perform their work competently and what they can actually do. Here are three key components for designing and delivering realistic training simulations.

1. Where they are: Determine the current skill level of your firefighters.
What’s the skill level of your firefighters and officers today? To determine their current skill level, first observe their performance during training and actual incidents. Then ask them what skills they aren’t comfortable with and need to improve on. Following are example questions you may ask:

  • How well prepared are you to handle an apartment fire on the sixth floor of a high-rise building? A residential liquid propane (LP)gas leak with a fire?
  • How many times in the last year have you completed a ventilation task at an actual structure fire?
  • How many times in the last year have you practiced forcing entry through a real door?

Asking these types of questions will help you determine the necessary training and establish the desired outcomes you’re looking for. A thorough needs assessment, while time consuming, will provide more accurate information to build on.

Not all firefighters are alike. Photo Billy Schmidt

Not all firefighters are alike. Photo Billy Schmidt

2. Where you want them to be: Identify the skill level you want your firefighters to attain.
Not all firefighters are alike. They will perform at different levels and you must determine at what skill level you want them to perform. This should be a combined effort between the training staff and a cross section of subject matter experts (SME), usually officers from the field. This group can better identify the skill levels needed and prioritize what training needs the most attention, how often it should be completed and by whom.

3. Develop a SMART plan to meet your training drill goals.
Use the acronym SMART to develop your plan (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely). Producing a believable and achievable SMART training plan is the best way to get “buy-in” from your firefighters and ensure consistent training. All realistic training should begin with basic instruction and practice that builds to a collective simulated exercise. For every simulation exercise, your training objectives should be:

  • Specific: What do you want to accomplish? For example, if you are delivering a high-rise drill, your specific goals might be to have crews practice deploying hoselines in stairwells, ventilating stairwells, searching smoke-filled apartments and moving victims down stairwells. Make sure crews know these objectives ahead of time so they can practice the tasks before the drill.
  • Measurable: What is the maximum time allowed to complete fire knockdown, search and rescue, or ventilation? How do benchmarks fit into the incident command picture? The learning outcomes must be measurable.
  • Achievable: What can be achieved? Do not expect crews to perform beyond their capabilities. One crew of firefighters cannot attack the fire, search the building and remove multiple victims. Overloading them will only decrease motivation and teach bad habits.
  • Realistic: Set realistic objectives so that the crews go into the drill believing they can do it. While experiencing failure is an important learning lesson, no one wants to continually train to fail. Remember, the goal is to build confidence, not tear it down.
  • Timely: Time at a chaotic and stressful event is really about tempo. And tempo is the relative speed in time it takes to identify opportunities, make decisions and act faster than the situation. Tempo is central for firefighters to maneuver during an incident, and the aim is for them to learn to seize the initiative—allowing them to better control the chaos of the event. Learning realistic time elements helps firefighters adjust their tempo as a team during real incidents.

Training Approaches
To create training sessions that most effectively prepare firefighters for the real thing, trainers need to focus on several strategies.

Train on the basics before building complexity. Photo Billy Schmidt

Train on the basics before building complexity. Photo Billy Schmidt

Balance Complexity: All training should be seasoned with the right amount of physical and mental complexity. Avoid introducing multiple layers of complexity that do nothing more than overwhelm or test the crew’s limits. Ensure that crews are thoroughly trained on the fundamental skills and tactics before factoring in complexity. Start with basic scenarios and build complexity as the crews develop their skills and strengthen their confidence.

Train to Think Outside the Box:Complex and dangerous situations demand creative thinking so firefighters must learn to think creatively, or outside the box. Remember: There are always multiple ways of doing things. Creative thinking is inclusive thinking; it considers the least obvious as well as the most likely approaches, providing different ways to look at a problem. Exclusive thinking, which excludes other facts and perceptions, smothers imagination and intuition. Firefighters who think inclusively have a willingness to explore all approaches, keeping an open mind to more effective solutions in stressful and ambiguous situations.

Effectiveness over Efficiency:Effectiveness should be the key component when developing training drills. When setting organizational goals related to the training drill, always focus on the outcomes. Ask, “What is it we expect the firefighters to do? What is it we expect the officers to do? How do we expect the teams to perform?” Once those questions are answered, design training programs that focus on effectiveness over efficiency.

Include Boyd’s OODA Loop in training drills as an effective way to process information and make fast decisions. Letting firefighters practice the process of observing what’s happening, becoming oriented to the situation, then making decisions and acting on them to accomplish the objectives will produce effective outcomes, not just efficient drills. The more firefighters realistically train, the faster they’ll be able to intuitively put into action the learned responses built from practicing observation-orientation-decision and action.

Talk about What Was Learned:The first questions firefighters should ask themselves, and officers should ask their team, are “What was done right? What can be done better? What did we learn?” Time and effort should be given to ensure that the correct learning outcomes were delivered. What firefighters and officers take away from training will guide their decisions and actions at real events. Every training drill should end with a debriefing and critique that includes everyone involved. Too often, training drills conclude without providing time for facilitators and firefighters to discuss their training performance. For every training drill critique, do the following:

  • Do everything possible to get everyone involved and talking. No one person should do all of the talking. Real dialogue from everyone will provide a mountain of information for learning and improvement.
  • Officers should be given ample opportunity to critique their team’s actions, which will provide a clear indication of the officer’s capability to learn and further train their team. Facilitators, and the officer’s immediate supervisor, can observe what was learned and how future training can be supported just by listening to the officer.
  • Position everyone at a vantage point where they can see the area where the training action took place. Draw sketches on a marker board or walk back through the scenario to discuss the good points and areas for improvement.
  • When covering points for improvement, don’t say, “You should have done this,” or, “You should have done that.” It’s much better to ask probing questions that can bring out detailed answers. For example, ask, “When you entered the smoke-filled stairwell, what action was taken?” Follow that question with, “What did you think of the action?” Using a series of questions will draw everyone into the discussion. More importantly, everyone has ideas and this can elicit contributions to the discussion—which is essential to the learning process.

A Final Word
Firefighters and officers are faced with unique and dangerous challenges everyday; our decisions and actions can save lives and protect property. The way we train is crucial to addressing these challenges. Training cannot become a “numbers game” focusing just on preparedness rather than readiness. Training must be shaped to meet the reality of today’s incidents and the people who will work together to face them. Providing realistic training drills will condition everyone to be ready for any situation—to be more decisive, deliberate and correct in their actions.

Until next time, get prepared, be ready and stay safe!

This article was published first at FirefighterNation.com on July 5, 2012.

Train Like You Fight: Rules of Engagement

Video of the Rules of Engagement from John Buckman

This is Safety and Health Week and the theme is “Train Like You Fight.” The theme captures two angles of responder safety:

  1. Safety on the training ground and reduction of training-related injuries and death
  2. The importance of adequate training to prepare for safe fireground operations

For more information on Train Like You Fight, go to 2014 Safety and Health Week

Remembering The 750 Adams Fire, April 11, 1994

April 11, 1994: Two members of the Memphis Fire Department made the supreme sacrifice while operating at a residential high rise fire at 750 Adams Street.

Take some time to remember them by viewing the short video from the incident and reviewing the incident’s key issues.

Incident Key Issues:

  • Early command and control
  • Accountability
  • Crew integrity
  • Emergency survival actions
  • Communications
  • PASS devices

Where is the “750 Adams” in your area? What problems are created, and what tactical and Command solutions (strategies)  must be applied?

Fighting Fires in Half-Story Buildings

Buildings with half-stories over full-stories present special challenges for firefighters because of the knee walls that create confined spaces. These structures are usually single-family dwellings, but some larger structures may be renovated into multi-family dwellings.

Knee walls are vertical walls that stretch 3-4 feet internally from the floor toward the peak of the roof in the half-story part of the structure. A concealed space is created behind the knee wall and usually extends the length of the room and is most times used for storage or concealing plumbing or electrical wiring. These concealed spaces present an increased risk for rapid fire extension.

Half-story buildings can be found anywhere, even in South Florida (there are several in my battalion, especially in the older cities).

Apply Intentional Command to efficiently synchronize resources and effectively attack rapidly evolving, complex and severe problems.

Full Speed Size Up

What is the occupancy?
What is the life hazard?
Where are the occupants?
Where is the fire?
What is the fire doing to the building and where is it going?
What is the ventilation situation?

What problems are created, and what tactical and Command solutions (strategies) must be applied?

Key Things to Remember

The keys to fighting fires in half-story buildings:

  1. aggressive truck work on the fire floor and floor above
  2. timely advancement of hoselines on the fire floor and floor above
  3. adequate resources (firefighters, equipment, and water) to stretch and operate lines and open up concealed spaces

Row House Fire: Philadelphia

Video by: phillyfirenews. Video info: Row Home Fire in West Philadelphia on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. The fire was located on the 1600 block of N. 60th Street. Video provided to PhillyFireNews.com by Fox29

Apply Intentional Command to efficiently synchronize resources and effectively attack rapidly evolving, complex and severe problems.

Full Speed Size Up

  1. What is the occupancy?
  2. What is the life hazard?
  3. Where are the occupants?
  4. Where is the fire?
  5. What is the fire doing to the building and where is it going?
  6. What is the ventilation situation?

What problems are created, and what tactical and Command solutions (strategies)  must be applied?

Midtown Manhattan High Rise Fire

Over 200 FDNY firefighters battled a fire on the 20th floor of a 40 story apartment fire yesterday.

One person was killed and another critically hurt after a large fire broke out in a midtown Manhattan high-rise Sunday morning, officials say.

More than 200 firefighters worked to put out the three-alarm blaze, which began on the 20th floor of the 40-story building at 500 West 43rd St., on 10th Avenue., according to the FDNY.

Crews were able to get to the scene quickly, within 5 minutes, but it took some time for firefighters to get to the upper floors, according to authorities.

Fighting a fire in a high-rise building requires a tremendous commitment of both personnel and supervision. Command must coordinate the operation into various divisions and groups as quickly as possible. Search and rescue operations have to be well-planned and strategically coordinated with handlines. Operational reaction time at a high-rise fire is much greater than for any other type of structure. Expect up to a 20 minute delay, even with a quick on scene time. Focused command coordination combined with preassigned tactical operations are required to safely and effectively control a high-rise fire.

Are you ready for a high-rise fire? Is your command staff trained and prepared to coordinate a high-rise fire operation? Do you have a tactical plan ready to battle the fireground factors involved with a high-rise fire?

My Recent Presentation: Arrival, Now What?

GFFSLast Friday, I had the privilege of speaking at the the Great Florida Fire School in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Hundreds of firefighters attended the week-long conference that included both lecture and practical programs ranging from live fire to classroom classes. A few of my friends delivered the following classes: Applications of Positive Pressure (Captain John Flynn), The Courage Within (Driver/Operator Ric Jorge), and Gauges Don’t Lie (Doug Watson).

My program was a compilation of a few of my previous lectures on crew resource management that address stress, situation awareness, decision making, and intentional command all rolled into one. I called it Arrival, Now What: The First Fifteen are the Most Important! Why are the first 15 minutes the most important? It’s simple, that’s where more things happen than we have time and resources to handle. This highly compressed time frame increases chaos that forces us to play catch up, and we have to be more aware of it and have a better approach to handle it. Following are some takeaways from my presentation, just to get you thinking.

Numerous “fireground frictions” impact impact the first fifteen minutes of an incident. Frictions are “uncertainties that complicate performance” and they include, but are not limited to, disorientation, extreme fire behavior, loss of situation awareness, task saturation, and command confusion. Watch the video below for information about how new materials and technologies that are making fire-related risks much greater and our challenges for more difficult.

How do we transform unproductive confusion and disorder into controllable challenges? We study the predictability and performance of buildings and today’s fireground, and we improve the skill of controlling chaos. New scientific studies are showing us (seeing can be believing) how our tactics sometimes help or hinder the situation. The video below shows how controlling the door can seriously impact a fire event, and can help us control the fire (watch the temperatures change).

To stay ready, we have to practice sensible approaches that improve situation awareness, reduce task saturation, and improve decision making in those highly compressed time frames. Here are some of the sources I used to make my point:

What other problems (frictions) can you identify in the first fifteen minutes of an incident? How do you transform unproductive confusion and disorder into controllable challenges? What are you doing to stay ready?

I'm teaching Controlling Chaos at The Great Florida Fire School

  • Date: November 7, 2012
  • Time: 8am to 12pm
  • Event: The Great Florida Fire School 2012
  • Topic: Controlling Chaos: Making Critical Life and Death Decisions
  • Where: Treasure Coast Public Safety Training Complex at Indian River State College
  • Location: Ft. Pierce, Florida
  • Registration: Click here to register.
  • More info: Click here for more info.

Chaos is complete disorder and confusion, creating unpredictable behavior that typically leads to undesirable outcomes.  This course will address how firefighters should control the flow and change of complex and dangerous situations.  The firefighter needs an acute sense of awareness, the ability to adapt to changing situations and the skill and timing to make critical decisions fast.  This course explores how the mind and body linked together performs under stress and delivers practical, actionable advice for controlling and surviving complicated and chaotic events.

Using case studies and dramatic video of real emergencies, this course will challenge you with thought exercises and tactical decision games.  You will learn fast, effective tools to help transform unproductive disorder into controllable and manageable events at the emergency scene.  This program is relevant to all operational positions.

Controlling Chaos Page

What Questions Should We Ask After Going To Training?

What was learned at training and how will it be applied to real incidents?

What was learned at training and how will it be applied to real incidents?

Your firefighters just completed scheduled training delivered by your training division. Field supervisors (company and chief officers), for a variety of reasons, may not be able to attend every training session with their firefighters. You were not at this one to observe how they were trained and what they learned. Someone else (your training division or maybe even contract instructors) was teaching and coaching your firefighters.

If you are a front line supervisor (company or chief officer) and you send firefighters to training, you are responsible for working with them to determine what was learned, who needs remediation, and how best to apply what they learned on a real incident. A critical role of the officer is coaching their firefighters to ensure that their work is safe and effective.

Whether you were at training with them or not, here are a few questions supervisors can ask (or you can ask yourself) after firefighters have completed training:

  • The purpose of this training was to ________________ ; HOW was _______________ accomplished?
  • WHAT have you learned?
  • HOW will you apply the training to your specific role/area? To your team’s role/area?
  • WHAT other lessons did you pick up?
  • Do you need more training? WHAT kind and HOW much?
  • (Supervisor) HOW can I support you in doing and applying what you learned?
  • HOW can we measure the impact of the training on our current work?

How do you get feedback on your firefighters’ training performance? How do you expand and improve on what they learned at training for better performance at a real incident with you?