We Determine The Outcome Of Any Action Or Situation

The human element (you and I) determines the outcome of any action or situation. The world is not a safe place, and I’m not referring to natural disasters or terrorism. I’m talking about human error that changes or destroys lives everyday.


Everyone of us is touched or affected by the decisions or actions of others. Maybe it’s an incorrect dose of medication given during a routine medical procedure, or just stepping on the gas and speeding through a red light. Many people are harmed every day as a result of the errors we make.

Daily life in our complex world is all about us (people); it’s not about technology. Everything we use, whether technology (tools, machines, equipment, etc.) or systems (training, processes, procedures, etc.) is controlled, influenced and/or operated by us (people). Therefore, our performance determines how well the technology and systems will work, and how safe and effective we will be.

From the error of a moment, comes the sorrow of a lifetime  ~Chinese proverb

How do your decisions affect the actions of others? How can you improve your performance?

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.

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

3 keys to managing the incident when things go wrong

Faced with the unexpected, company officers must be able to manage their crews when the incident doesn’t go as planned.

The best time to know emergency procedures—and the worst time to learn them—is in an actual emergency. Normal emergency scene confusion becomes even more complicated when something unexpected happens. Very rapidly, the familiar can become unrecognizable, as the incident becomes more complex. In such situations, a company officer’s leadership is more important than ever.

Let’s look at an example to illustrate: Like many mechanical failures, this one begins with a minor flaw that either went undetected during routine inspections, or wasn’t taken seriously. One small nick in the SCBA mask strap spawned a tear that migrated radically until the strap’s design strength was seriously reduced, which caused it to fail. The weakening of the strap had occurred over many hours of use, but the catastrophe that followed the strap failure developed in just seconds.

During those seconds, the strap separated and smoke began to fill the firefighter’s mask. In an instant, the firefighter was breathing smoke and became visually impaired, which caused him to become disoriented. At one moment, the firefighter was deep in the building helping advance a hoseline with another firefighter and the company officer. The next moment, the firefighter was in trouble, frantically trying to find fresh air. The company officer quickly realized that a member of the crew had a problem, but couldn’t immediately identify the source of the problem.

It’s the company officer’s responsibility to ensure that every firefighter on their crew is familiar with basic firefighter survival skills—in other words, what to do when you get into trouble. Crews must prepare and practice, together, for these events to facilitate a successful outcome.

Managing an unexpected event in a safe and efficient manner requires that the company officer manage three essential elements: people (starting with yourself), information of all sorts from all sources and the event itself.


Managing an unexpected event in a safe and efficient manner requires that the company officer manage three essential elements: people, information and the event itself. Photo Glen Ellman

Manage People
Manage yourself first. You can’t help anyone else if you become a victim. The first priority for a company officer, when your crew is in trouble, is to manage yourself. You must quickly orient yourself to the situation. This is where your personal preparation should begin to kick in. By knowing and practicing the basic self-survival techniques, you can respond systematically to an unexpected event, instead of wasting valuable time trying to come up with a response plan.

Determine the following: What is the status of your air supply? Where are you? What were you doing when the emergency happened? Make a conscious effort to stay calm, conserve your air and begin to control the situation. Your command presence will help you and your crew work together to overcome the problem.

Manage your firefighters. If one of your firefighters is in immediate danger, you must react appropriately and quickly. Who has a problem? Is it a personal behavior problem (sometimes firefighters do crazy things in a dark, hot building) or an injury? Was there an equipment failure or is the firefighter out of air? Is your crew intact or have you lost a firefighter?

Quickly assess each individual, including the following: breathing status (air exchange), SCBA air supply, level of consciousness and mechanical malfunction or entrapment. You and your crew must stay together and communicate as a team; this will enhance your chances of solving of the problem.

Manage Information
Many sources of information contribute to a successful outcome during a crisis situation, but the most critical may be your department’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) that identify the steps required to cope with such emergencies. SOPs help to maintain focus and expedite the workload. Fire crews that practice mayday SOPs before the event will respond more effectively during an actual emergency.

The company officer must have the ability to size-up the situation (problem) and quickly implement a survival action plan. You must ask many questions to correctly identify the situation, but two questions are vital:

• What’s the fire doing? You and your crew originally entered the structure with a specific objective in mind. The fire doesn’t get put on “pause” just because your crew has a problem.
• What are the current conditions surrounding you and your crew? The current and future conditions will dictate whether you stay and attempt to solve the problem or move to safer location.

A vital link to overcoming an unexpected event is the effective exchange of information between the crew in trouble and command. Remember the LUNAR acronym to quickly relay information to command: Communicate your last known LOCATION, your UNIT identification, your NAME/Number, your AIR SUPPLY and any RESOURCES you need.

Manage the Event
Surviving the unexpected emergency in a safe and efficient manner requires the company officer to quickly but systematically troubleshoot the problem, develop a survival action plan, communicate the plan to the crew and command, and then execute it as quickly as possible. The following are some suggested survival actions that company officers may consider.

Alert command that you have a problem. Even if you think you can solve the problem, don’t wait until it’s too late in the emergency to call for help. If this is a serious situation, such as a lost or trapped firefighter, you must report a mayday to command, which will immediately redefine the incident objectives to include you and your crew.

If it’s a problem that can be solved by you and your crew, or possibly with the assistance of another crew working nearby, then request “emergency traffic.” Relay to command your unit identification and personnel accountability report (PAR), your location, your problem, your actions, your crew status including available air, and what you need (give solutions, not just problems).

After communicating with command, which should be brief, take action on dealing with the problem. If you can solve the problem, then communicate that to command and exit the structure. Once you’ve exited, communicate your PAR and any further needs or information to command.

If you can’t solve the problem, report a mayday immediately! The most important factor in calling a mayday is to actually make the mayday call. You should know, before engaging in firefighting operations, when and how you will make this important decision.

Some examples of possible mayday conditions you or a member of your crew may encounter include:
• Becoming entangled or stuck with low air remaining;
• Falling through a roof;
• Being caught in a flashover;
• Falling through a floor;
• Becoming disoriented and losing connection with other firefighters and/or the hoseline;
• Your primary exit blocked by fire or a collapse and you’re unable to get to a secondary exit; or
• Your low-air alarm begins to sound and you’re not near an exit, door or window.

When encountering any of these conditions, you must immediately call a mayday and report your status to command. Keep the crew together and continue to attempt to solve the problem and/or search for an exit and get out of the building.

Help them find you. Activate your portable radio emergency distress button and your PASS device, when appropriate. Continue to monitor the radio and update command. You may have to turn your PASS devices off to talk, and then back on once you’re done. If conditions deteriorate, retreat to an area of safety.

If you and your crew are still unable to get out, then get into a horizontal position on the floor, which will maximize the audible and visual effects of the PASS device. Aim flashlight beams toward the ceiling and use tools to make tapping noises to assist rescuers in locating you.

Are You Ready?
Fighting fires today is more hazardous than ever before. Fire crews must be prepared for the unexpected. As a company officer, you will face no greater challenge than managing an unexpected incident where a crewmember’s life is on the line.

Ask yourself, “Have I properly prepared myself, and my crew, for an unexpected, challenging event?”

Posted by Fire Rescue Magazine on December 1, 2009

Margin: Is There Room For Error?

What is margin and how does it impact operations in a complex and dynamic environment?

Watch this video from WildlandFire LLC to learn how margin looks to us in the field, and if we understand it, how we can use it to be safer and more effective.

We all have the power to control margin. What actions can you take to build margin?

Firefighter Critical Success Factors: How Do You Measure Up?

Performance-clean-standard-crop-1Observing Firefighter Performance: 3 critical factors contribute to firefighter excellence

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  -Aristotle

After many years of observing firefighters at my department during training operations and on the fireground, it’s apparent that some of them perform significantly better than others, especially during unforeseen, dangerous events. Firefighters at my department undergo similar initial training programs (recruit academy) and on-duty recurrent training. So what makes one firefighter perform better than another?

Statistics from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Crew Resource Management Program reveal that approximately 50 percent of all firefighter line-of-duty deaths are attributed to some type of firefighter or crew error. Therefore, the reasons behind excellent performance versus merely acceptable performance should be a serious concern for company officers and fire departments.

It’s easy to identify and report the mistakes that firefighters make during training sessions. After all, firefighters are human, and all humans make mistakes. But we can do better than merely relying on post-incident reports. We can observe the attitudes and performance of those firefighters who distinguish themselves during training and fireground operations. Demonstrated excellence in a training environment is no guarantee of excellence during a true emergency. However, firefighters who display excellence during training and normal fireground operations will most likely demonstrate similar behavior during an actual emergency.

Performance-2-Brian Bastinell 2003Critical Success Factors

Excellent firefighters share certain attributes and attitudes that are present at all times. In my observation, excellence boils down to the following three critical success factors:
1. An intimate knowledge of and a passion for the fire service profession;
2. A professional attitude that includes understanding the job’s dangers, practicing situational awareness and reacting conservatively to a challenging event; and
3. The acceptance and use of the department’s operational procedures.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the three.

Critical Success Factor No. 1:

An intimate knowledge of and a passion for the fire service profession. Highly successful firefighters take pride in knowing their profession, much more than the minimum required training. They spend time reading articles in professional trade magazines, talking about tools and techniques with other firefighters, critiquing their own incidents, attending conferences or classes and, most important, reviewing their department’s operational procedures. They are very familiar with the tools and equipment carried on their apparatus, and how best to use them. They accept, understand and practice the Incident Management System (IMS).

Excellent firefighters are knowledgeable about building construction and pre-fire plans. They know the different types of construction and how they affect safety and operational tactics on the fireground. They are students of the fire service and are always seeking more knowledge.

Because they are human, excellent firefighters still make mistakes. But their mistakes are fewer, less serious and more quickly discovered and corrected than those made by other firefighters.

How does an intimate knowledge of and a passion for the fire service influence the daily activities of an excellent firefighter? The answer is simple: Firefighters are constantly making life and death decisions. To make a decision, they must collect and analyze the current information and compare it with past experiences and lessons learned. The excellent firefighter draws on a wider range of information, which leads to better decisions. Lacking important information, especially the understanding of basic operational and safety procedures and techniques, can result in disaster. In the fire service, knowledge is not just power; it’s safety.

Critical Success Factor No. 2:

A professional attitude that includes understanding the job’s dangers, practicing situational awareness and reacting conservatively to challenging events. Professional firefighters know that the fire ground is dangerous and that conditions can change rapidly, without warning. They are not complacent. They are skeptical. They are alert and are always asking themselves, “What if…?” “What will we do if we cannot contain the fire to this room?” Excellent firefighters are prepared with a backup plan should the initial plan fail.

Because they are skeptical, these excellent firefighters will sense abnormalities sooner than their peers. They will anticipate, and thus avoid, potentially hazardous events. When unexpected events do occur, they will identify and handle them more effectively than other firefighters.

A constant situational awareness is one of the most important aspects of the critical success factors. Firefighters who exhibit constant situational awareness always know what their objective is, how much air they have and most important, where they are with regard to some reference point in the structure. Many case studies from tragic fireground incidents cite a loss of situational awareness.

A challenging event is anything that occurs on the fireground that could potentially affect safety. An equipment failure would be considered a challenging event, as would a change in the weather; either could compromise safety. In response to challenging events, excellent firefighters take actions to preserve or enhance the current level of safety. Examples include not entering a fire building if the conditions are deteriorating too rapidly, or revising strategies because of changing weather. The first goal of any fireground operation is firefighter safety; everything else comes second. The excellent firefighter is aggressively conservative.

Critical Success Factor No. 3:

The acceptance and use of the department’s operational procedures. All fire departments should have a complete set of operational procedures called standard operating procedures (SOPs) or standard operating guidelines (SOGs). Regardless of the name, operational procedures provide structure for fireground operations.

Some firefighters rely on operational procedures more than others; some take them for granted, and some ignore them completely. When asked why operational procedures are important, firefighters might reply, “So everyone will do things the same way.” But there’s much more to them than standardization.

Operational procedures provide firefighters with time-tested, consistent, safe methods of accomplishing many normal and abnormal tasks. They help firefighters avoid the surprises that might occur if there were no prescribed methods for handling the event.

Lastly, adherence to the department’s operational procedures help keep firefighters prepared and ready to react to unexpected events, which might include a low air bottle alarm, a lost firefighter, or an incident that escalates rapidly in size or complexity. These challenging events can be anticipated and practiced. Department operational procedures provide firefighters with a set process for dealing with such events, and excellent firefighters embrace their use.

Are You Observing?

The lesson learned by observing excellent firefighters is clear. The excellent firefighter has a passion for the profession, understands the dangers of the job, is aware of their surroundings, responds conservatively to challenging events and accepts and uses operational procedures.

How do your firefighters measure up against these critical success factors? Do they continually study their profession and practice the responsibilities of their position? Do they take seriously, the potential dangers that come with their job and prepare for them? And do they review, accept, and practice the department’s operational procedures in order to perform safely and effectively?

The three critical success factors can be a company officer’s checklist for safe and effective fireground operations, and a long and successful fire service career. So ask yourself honestly: If someone was observing you, would you rate as an excellent firefighter?

This was from an article written for Fire Rescue Magazine that was published in February 2007.

Cluck! Cluck! Cluck!

Posted by Paul Combs on 

When it comes to safety, sometimes we are no better than a group of chickens clucking, scratching, and scurrying about the barn yard! We say all the right things about safety, complain about the lack of safety, and will even criticize and chastise others when things go wrong – but are you courageous enough to stand up for what’s right when the time comes? Have you ever looked the other way because you didn’t want to call someone out or embarrass a buddy?

Perhaps it’s time to shut up and put up. Read, learn, and put safety measures into practice that will ensure, as best as we can, that we all go home without enjury. The fireground and apparatus operations will never be 100% risk free, but we can do a helluvah lot to increase our odds.

So, what’s it going to be? Are you going to take action or just cluck away?